lørdag den 5. april 2014

Visiting The Factory House

Feitoria Inglesia. That is how the Portuguese call the Factory House in Porto. It is not a house for everyone. It is for the British.
No doubt that the British were and still are an important part of the Port production and trade. That is a well known fact and you can just look at the names of the big old Port Company to verify it. Because of that the British Port Shippers have their own society and house in Porto. It started in the 17th and 18th centuries when the British merchants began to form Factories in Portugal, inspired by the Portuguese feitorias along the west coast of Africa. In Porto the Factory House was founded in 1727 as a meeting place both for business and for religious and more social activities.
The present Factory House was build in Rua do Inglezes in 1790 with Consul John Whitehead as architect. The name of the street today is Rua Infante D. Henrique and most tourists and port lovers pass the house on their way from the centre of the town down to Ribeira or Vila Nova de Gaia.   
I visited the house recently. The house is beautiful with its columns but on the other hand simple and discreet as well. Inside it is elegant and full of history of the port trade and the British Association. Let me add a few words to some of the rooms.

Entrance Hall and Staircase
The Entrance Room or Piazza has Tuscan pilasters and six columns. In both sides there are benches, which original served as resting places for the bearers. Opposite the entrance is the central staircase with granite steps leading to the next floor and the whole way up.

The Ballroom
In the centre of the main floor is the Ballroom with wooden floor, blue painted walls, seven big chandeliers and a Music Gallery. It is still used now and then for the member’s private balls.

Drawing Room, Map Room etc.
The house has several rooms, which serves different purposes. The Billiard Rooms is not used anymore, but the old table is still placed there. The Reading Room has a wide selection of local and foreign newspapers, and in the Writing Room you can ask for old copies of The Times from 1832 until today. Besides that you can find the Visitor’s Book here, dating back to 1812. In the Map Room there are old large maps on rollers and on the wall above the fireplace Baron Forrester’s well known Map of the Douro has its place.  

The Library
The Library is not used often today. But the lady who showed me around, Mrs. Olga Lacerda said that now and then a member is a bit early for the weekly luncheon and sits there for a while reading a bit. And there are a lot of books to choose among. The Library contains more than 20.000 books covering a lot of different topics.

The old Kitchen
Above the Dining Room the old kitchen is a sort of museum today with its old stove, pots and pans and antic machines like a giant knife sharpener. The servants had to run up and down a small staircase while serving.

The Dinning Room and the Dessert Room
The two famous nearly identical rooms have chairs for 40 persons around each table. The dinner was served in the first room and afterwards the present members and guests moved to the exactly same place in the Dessert Room, where the port was served. Today there rooms are used for different events and then of course every Wednesday for the traditional luncheon. Port is normally served blind, and the members have to guess which one it is.

The Wine Cellar
The giant wine cellar has more floors. All the British companies has to contribute with 20 cases of their port every year a vintage is declared and besides that the members must personal donate bottles when they join the club. Because of that you can find shelves with Graham’s, Taylor’s and Fonseca etc. and others with names like Charles Symington, Nick Heath and David Guimaraens.  

Let me finally mention a couple of special dinners that has taken place in the Factory House. During the Napoleonic Wars against the Frenchmen the house was closed. After the Portuguese and the British troops regained Porto it opened again with a special dinner the 11th of November in the year 1811 at 11 am, where 11 courses and 11 wines were served. 100 years later (11.11.1911) the same event took place and again in 1961 and last in 2011.
At the same time 2011 the Vintage Port Club in Denmark arranged a similar event, having some of the same courses and wines as they did in Porto. And as a very seldom gesture, Dominic Symington, who was the Treasurer of the Factory House at that time, send a couple of bottles of the special Factory House Vintage to the club. 

You can read more in John Delaforce´s book ”The Factory House at Oporto”.

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