Mad King George III's tin bathtub unearthed in royal palace restoration

King George III's bathtub
King George III's tub, seen here, was found wedged inside the kitchen's chimney at Kew palace.

(CBS News) On a recent visit to Kew Palace in West London, CBS News learned a few things about one of the Queen Elizabeth II's ancestors by going through King George III's old home.

Special section: Queen's Diamond Jubilee

There are bigger and better-known royal palaces in Britain, such as Buckingham Palace - the Queen's London digs, and Kensington Palace where William and Kate will live and where Princess Diana lived between her divorce and her death. But the little palace at Kew in West London may provide a better glimpse of how the royals have lived through the ages. It's where beleaguered King George III lived more than 200 years ago - the King George who lost America to those uppity colonials.

A waxwork bust is all that remains of the poor king - no sign of the famous blood disorder that made him famously mad. But details of his troubled life have been discovered in the palace's kitchen.

Lee Prosser, curator of Historic Buildings, said the place was "absolutely full of junk" when his first visited the kitchen in 2001.

Because Kew Palace was abandoned by later royals, the Georgian kitchen block had become an untouched junk room. The kitchen has now been restored and is a window into the past.

One of its secrets is a tin bathtub for the King located in the kitchens where the hot water was.

"Wedged up right inside the chimney was a strange looking object, which turned out to be the bathtub," Prosser said. "George III, because he had bouts of illness, was prescribed baths as part of his treatment.

When CBS News visited three months ago, the kitchens were a construction site. These days, they reveal the latest modern appliances of the 1700s, including a bread oven, a barbecue that can handle a whole sheep and charcoal stoves that put out huge amounts of heat - whether you want them to or not.

Food historian Marc Meltonville has brought the kitchens to life, dressed in period garb and cooking period grub fit for a king.

Meltonville said, "On this day, the king would have started, like every meal, with soup. We made a barley broth. And then it moves on to all the other dishes, there's some roast woodcock, some roasted mutton."

The restoration snapshot is of a particular date, February 6, 1789, the day King George III is said to have emerged from his first - but not his last - bout of madness.

Meltonville said of that day, "He was better, and that's quite important, not just for the nation, but for the cooks. While you're an invalid, you eat invalid food. You might even be so ill that you're being spoon-fed. On the 6th of February, we like to say the king got this fork back - he ate a proper dinner."

The award-winning movie, "The Madness of King George," showed he was a hard guy to cater for, spitting soup in the face of a courtier. And the real-life kitchens show just how hard a job it really was.

Meltonville said, "It's a way of looking at the social history of the palace. The life of kings and queens is not that accessible to all of us. We don't all understand it, but when you walk into a place like this, this is where people worked. It helped bring to life a royal court."

The royal kitchens have always been a labor-intensive place. It's not a problem, if you're a royal and have lots of labor.

  • Mark Phillips, CBS News London correspondent
    Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent based in London.