Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, History, History of Medicine, Literature, Mrs Beeton, Museum, TV Programme, Vintage

Hidden Killers of The Victorian Home

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

BBC4’s hour-long documentary Hidden Killers of The Victorian Home  has been one of my recent television highlights. Dr Suzannah Lipscomb reveals some of the hidden horrors lurking in a typical, middle-class, Victorian home.  Joining Dr Lipscomb in her quest to uncover these invisible dangers were a whole host of experts including:  Judith Flanders; Dr Suzy Lishman; Prof. Andrew Meharg; Colin King; Matt Furber; Sarah Nicol; Dr Matthew Avison; Nathan Goss and Max Wagner.

The Victorian era was a time of rapid change. The Industrial Revolution enabled many to prosper, leading to greater social mobility for some and the emergence of the new middle-classes. Dr Lipscomb states that as a result of Industrialisation, by the end of the Victorian era, 25% of the population were categorised as middle-class. The middle-classes, with their disposable income, were looking to splash their cash. Gadgets for domestic use as well as decorative items for the home were a particular favourite and the Victorian consumer was spoilt for choice. However, in this unregulated, pre-trading standards era, the margin for human catastrophe was huge.

Arsenic and lead were two particular toxins that caused many, often unexplained, deaths. In a time before health and safety dominated our everyday lives, danger, sometimes death, was never far away and could be found in the most unlikely of domestic items. Vivid green pigments in wallpaper contained traces of arsenic, children’s toys were coated with lead paint and feeding bottles for babies were breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases making them one of the leading contributors towards infant mortality in Victorian Britain.

©Come Step Back in Time. Tiny waists, a fashionable Victorian look. Exhibit from the Fashion Museum, Bath.
©Come Step Back in Time. Tiny waists, a fashionable Victorian look. Exhibit from the Fashion Museum, Bath.

The fashionable silhouettes of the hour-glass shape or ‘wasp’ waist meant that corsets were very tightly laced and vital organs became misshapen. In the BBC4 documentary there featured a liver specimen from a lady whose tight-lacing habits had put so much pressure on her rib-cage that indentations appeared on the organ itself.

©Come Step Back in Time. Exhibit from the Fashion Museum, Bath.
©Come Step Back in Time. Exhibit from the Fashion Museum, Bath.

Whilst researching this article, I found the following which appeared in a newspaper from 1895. The piece discusses both trends and dangers of tight-lacing as well as the gradual move towards dress reform – The Rational Dress Society was established in London in 1881. Although, I do get the impression from reading this article that dress reform is viewed by the author with some degree of suspicion: ‘..The dress reformers who are determined to abolish all waists, no matter how sylph-like or how divine..’ The aesthetic for a tiny waist seems to appeal to the author :

Fads in CorsetsLonger in the waist, but not to be laced so tightly. The dress reformers who are determined to abolish all waists, no matter how sylph-like or how divine, will wax indignant when they learn that the latest news of the corset market is the appearance of the longest waisted corset yet offered to women. Heretofore “five clasps and a half” has been considered “extra long”. This gave what the corset experts call a three-inch waist. Women whose anatomy demanded something even longer-waisted than that have had corsets made to order. But now in a few days there will appear a six-clasp corset, and the waist measure thereof will be about four inches – not four inches around, but four inches on the length of the corset bones. This measure of the waist is a term with which most women are not familiar. It means that in bending the corset top and bottom together there is a springy motion which commences a certain distance above the lower edge of the corset. That is the lowest edge of the waist. The point near the top of the corset where the springy action practically ends is the top of the waist. Short-waisted persons may only measure two inches. Four inches indicates that the wearer must either be as slim as a rail or else intend to crowd and crush her vitals into a space that would be almost fatal to a constant wearer after a few years. There is a tendency, however, which all manufacturers and dealers in corsets notice; to wear corsets looser than ever… They [dressmakers] say the ambition of a young woman is to show an hour-glass figure. When she wears tight sleeves and narrow shoulders she laces to secure the hour-glass effect. With the immense sleeves giving such breadth of shoulders it would be perfectly ridiculous to lace into a wasp waist. So the dressmakers claim that the big sleeves are saving many women from death by corsets badly worn. The fact that corsets are worn less tightly laced is partly responsibly for this new six-clasp, four-inch waist style.

(The Western Mail, Saturday 11th May, 1895)

Following marriage, increasing numbers of middle-class women found themselves in charge of running a household for the very first time. A great many of these women had little or no prior knowledge of what this new responsibility entailed. It was to this demographic that domestic goddess, Mrs Isabella Beeton (1836-1865), targeted her famous tome, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861). Apart from multiple chapters containing recipe suggestions, the book also includes advice on hiring and firing staff, first aid, household legal matters as well as a chapter on the ‘Management of Childhood’.

Particularly relevant to this article is Mrs Beeton’s advice on what to do should a poisoning occur in your home.  (please do not follow this advice in modern-day cases. For suspected incidents of poisoning, you should seek professional medical help IMMEDIATELY. Extract featured is purely for historical interest.):

When an alkali is the poison, give drinks of weak vinegar or lemonade. When an acid, chalk and water, whiting plaster from the walls, or white of egg; if a narcotic, give strong coffee, and do everything to keep the patient awake, walking him about, opening the windows wide, applying cold water to his face, and so on. (p.1874)

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

Until The Pharmacy Act of 1868, the sale, dispensing and compounding of poisons was, to a large extent, unrestricted. Arsenic was used as rat poison, sheep dip and on fly papers and thought to be an effective treatment for malaria, asthma, skin problems, rheumatism and even morning sickness. (Victorian Pharmacy: Rediscovering Forgotten Remedies and Recipes by Eastoe, J. and Goodman, R., 2010, p.121, Pavilion Books). In the early decades of the Victorian era, people were largely ignorant of the harmful effects of ingesting, touching or being close to products containing arsenic. The symptoms of arsenic poisoning (fever, chills and sweating) resembled those associated with cholera, which was one of the nineteenth century’s biggest killers, hence mis-diagnosis and incorrect treatment for arsenic poisoning being commonplace.

Mrs Beeton also gives advice on bottle-feeding, which she refers to in her publication as ‘rearing by hand’. Using feeding bottles during the Victorian era was a very popular alternative to breast-feeding. Some of the bottles were earthenware, made in Staffordshire, others were glass.  They were very difficult to clean and although bottles were supplied with long-handled brushes to help with the task, these receptacles became silent killers due to the fact that fatal germ deposits gradually built-up over time. This led to bottles earning the nickname, ‘killer bottles’. (please do not follow this advice at home for cleaning your baby bottles, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Extract is featured purely for historical interest). Mrs Beeton recommends:

There are two methods that may be employed in this artificial system of feeding – the one is to give the child its meals from a spoon, the other is to allow it to suck from a bottle. Of these the latter is preferable. It is most essential to the success of this method of feeding that the bottle or bottles be kept scrupulously clean, as dirty bottles frequently give rise to “thrush”. The best form of bottle to use is the boat-shaped one, with a rubber nipple fixed to the end or neck. No bottles with rubber tubes should be used, since milk sticks to the inside of the tube, and cannot be removed. This milk when decomposed will set-up diarrhoea. The bottle and teat must be scalded after each meal in hot water and soda, the teat turned inside out, and both rinsed in cold water. They then should be allowed to stand in cold water in which a little boracic acid has been dissolved. (p.1914)

I came across in the course of research so many interesting newspaper articles reporting incidents of domestic tragedy from this period. Sometimes death was averted and other times not. Quite a few of the articles specifically relate to the consumption of food that unwittingly contains toxic substances.  Since I am currently writing a publication on the history of blancmange, I have chosen here two extracts that relate to the potential hazards of consuming this seemingly innocuous desert:

A Providential Escape – A few days ago one young family of the Hon. A. Ellis, residing at Bognor, were, together with the governess and two maids, nearly poisoned, owing to their having eaten some blancmange, a part of which was coloured a bright light green; very fortunately this green part had an unpleasant taste, which prevented their eating more of it. The medical man who analyzed the remaining quantity found it to contain a verdigris powder. Whilst he had it in a liquid state he dipped into it a knife, which became instantly covered with this green copperas, and he asserts that there was a sufficient portion of this poisonous powder in the quantity analyzed to kill six persons. As it is, the two maids and governess and one of the children are still suffering from its dangerous effects. It appears this powder for colouring the green part had been purchased from a pastrycook in london but it is to be observed that such an article ought never to be sold for such purposes, and this has been inserted as a caution to the public.

(The Blackburn Standard, 18th February, 1846)

Poisoning at a public dinner – great excitement has existed at Northampton, in consequence of the sudden illness of 20 out of about 60 persons who attended a public dinner at the New Hall, which followed the ordination of the Rev. G. Nicholson, B.A., as the minister of the Ring-street dissenting chapel, in the room of the Rev. T. Milner. The viands were of the usual substantial kind, and before the cloth was removed some of the gentlemen were seized with sickness and vomiting, while others were taken ill at a later period of the entertainment. One of them, Mr Cornfield, an accountant in the town, expired at five o’clock on Thursday morning. The dinner was provided by a Mr Franklin, at whose house the whole of the cooking utensils were seized by order of the magistrates. At the inquest held on the body of the deceased, the medical witnesses stated that they had detected copper in the green colouring stuff which coated the blancmange used at the dinner. A verdict of “Manslaughter” was accordingly returned against Mr Franklin, by whom the dinner was provided, and against Randall, the cook.

(The Examiner, 17th June, 1848)

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Doctor's House and Surgery. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Doctor’s House and Surgery. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Interior of the Doctor's House and Surgery, no. 2 Furnace Bank. Rebuilt brick-by-brick, a majority of one Duke of Sutherland's cottage built on Wellington Road (no.15), Donnington, Telford. 1862. Opened on site 22nd October, 1986.
©Come Step Back in Time. Interior of the Doctor’s House and Surgery, no. 2 Furnace Bank. Rebuilt brick-by-brick, a majority of one Duke of Sutherland’s cottage built on Wellington Road (no.15), Donnington, Telford. 1862. Opened on site 22nd October, 1986.

On my recent trip to the excellent Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire, I wandered in and out of the many shops and cosy cottages with their glowing ranges and welcoming costumed inhabitants. I tried to imagine what life must have really been like for those living in an industrial town during Victorian times. It is all too easy to foster a rose-tinted view of Victorian life.

©Come Step Back in Time. Inside the Doctor's House and Surgery, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Inside the Doctor’s House and Surgery, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Inside the Doctor's House and Surgery, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Inside the Doctor’s House and Surgery, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

Documentaries such as Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home are a stark reminder, to anyone interested in the social history of the period, to look for the truth behind the social myth.

©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

Blists Hill is not actually a real town, it has been developed over a number of years by The Ironbridge Gorge Trust and covers an area of fifty-two acres. Its purpose is to immerse visitors in the atmosphere of a small industrial town at a pivotal time in British history – the period between 1890 and 1910, late Victorian early Edwardian.

©Come Step Back in Time. Inside McClures General Draper and Outfitters, no. 3 Canal Street, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire. An original building from Stafford Place, Oakengates, Telford (exterior and shop front only). c.1880. Opened on site on 4th Apri, 2009.
©Come Step Back in Time. Inside McClures General Draper and Outfitters, no. 3 Canal Street, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire. An original building from Stafford Place, Oakengates, Telford (exterior and shop front only). c.1880. Opened on site on 4th April, 2009.
©Come Step Back in Time. Grocery and Provisions Shop (A.F. Blakemore & Son), no. 7 High Street. An exact replica of Owen's Grocer's shop and warehouse, Market Street, Oakengates, Telford, Shropshire. c.1890. Many of the items on display in the shop are from Chester's Salopian Stores, Westbury, Shropshire. The shop opened on site on 14th July 2000.
©Come Step Back in Time. Grocery and Provisions Shop (A.F. Blakemore & Son), no. 7 High Street. An exact replica of Owen’s Grocer’s shop and warehouse, Market Street, Oakengates, Telford, Shropshire. c.1890. Many of the items on display in the shop are from Chester’s Salopian Stores, Westbury, Shropshire. The shop opened on site on 14th July 2000.

In 2013, Blists Hill celebrates its 40th anniversary. Many of the buildings on the site are original and are from other parts of the region but have been saved and reconstructed to create the Victorian Town you see today. What is remarkable about the site is the fact that in the 1960s when historic buildings were being swept away to make room for modern constructions, the forward thinking Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust stepped in and managed to rescue some of them, ensuring that our heritage is now preserved for future generations to enjoy and study. After this initial period of rescue and reconstruction, the focus of Blists Hill shifted toward turning the site into a Victorian Town:

…the focus of Blists Hill shifted as people and not processes became the new priority. Efforts turned to recreating a coherent environment in which visitors could experience what it was like to live and work when Britain was the Workshop of the World at the very end of the 19th century. Blists Hill Open Air Museum became Blists Hill Victorian Town.

But Blists Hill has never been just a museum of buildings and old things. When the decision was made in the 1980s to put museum staff into Victorian costume, carefully replicated from original patterns, a new standard of interpretation was born. The site came to life. Since then, professional actors have added another dimension to street life, and special themed events have helped emphasise the significance of customs and traditions in the lives of ordinary working class Victorians.

(Blists Hill Victorian Town Souvenir Guidebook, 2011, p.51 & 53, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust)

If you were a fan of the BBC’s Victorian Pharmacy (2010) then you may will recognise Blists Hill’s Bates & Hunt’s Pharmacy and Chemist’s shop as being the location used for the series. I could have spent hours in Bates & Hunt’s Pharmacy examining all the pills, potions and lotions that have been superbly re-displayed.

©Come Step Back in Time. Interior of the Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
©Come Step Back in Time. Interior of the Pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

The Pharmacy is based on an original building which was located at the corner shop, Constitution Hill, Wellington, Telford in Shropshire. The date of the store is c.1890 and the contents come from West Cliffe Pharmacy (latterly Pars & Co.), Poole Hill, Bournemouth. The Pharmacy has been at Blists Hill since 9th July, 1984.

  • For more information about and to plan a visit to Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire, CLICK HERE;
  • For more information about events at Blists Hill and the other Ironbridge museums, CLICK HERE.

    ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
    ©Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.

Posted in Country House, Decorative Arts, Fashion History, History, Horticultural History, Literature, Museum, Vintage, World War One

Bathing Beauties

Beach huts, Bournemouth beach, Dorset.

This year the British Summer has not been conducive to swimming in the sea which is a shame because I enjoy sea-bathing and am fortunate enough to live on the South Coast of England.  However, we have had a few scorching hot days and on one such day, a couple of week’s ago, I hopped on a ferry to the Isle of Wight and made an impromptu visit to Osborne House.  I usually visit Osborne two or three times a year, it is such a special place, beautiful gardens and stunning architecture.  The impetus for this visit being the recently restored private beach which opened for visitors to Osborne on 27th July.  I certainly was not disappointed, it is a magical and peaceful place. I walked from Swiss Cottage on the estate, down through the woodland walk and onto the beach.

View on approach to the beach at Osborne House.

I sat quietly in the exedra, a limestone alcove, decorated inside with exquisite examples of Minton tiles.  The alcove was completed in 1869.  This is the exact spot where Queen Victoria quietly perused her paperwork and indulged in her passion for watercolour sketching.

Queen Victoria’s beach alcove, Osborne House.
View looking out from the beach alcove at Osborne.
Roof of the beach alcove which is decorated with Minton tiles.
Dolphin detail underneath the wooden bench in the alcove.
Queen Victoria’s bathing machine.

Victoria’s Bathing Machine has also now been relocated from Swiss Cottage to the beach. The bathing machine was installed at Osborne in 1846 and first used during the summer of 1847.  The veranda had curtains hung across it to protect Her Majesty’s modesty. A ramp, 146 metres long, stretched from shore to sea and the machine’s wheels were guided along by the grooves. The beach pavilion, which dates back to the 1940s when it was built for convalescing officers during World War Two, has now been restored and transformed into a beach café for visitor refreshments.

The beach is now a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and boardwalks have been erected to protect the fragile areas of vegetation on the foreshore.  Victoria and Albert’s children loved to play on the beach. Albert enjoyed swimming and when at Osborne tried to do so everyday. He encouraged Victoria to swim regularly too.  Victoria’s love of the beach at Osborne can be seen in a number of her journal entries. Here is one lovely entry in particular:

We are very sorry and this is our last day in this dear place,….enjoyment of which will I am sure add many years to our lives……A very fine bright day, but still very cold.  We walked down to the beach and played about with the children.  In the afternoon, our last here, which is so sad, Albert drove me about.  The country was looking so lovely and the sea so blue.

(24th September, 1845, Osborne House, Isle of Wight. Original entry can be read here . The complete on-line collection of Queen Victoria’s journals from the Royal Archives.)

Sea bathing became popular in Britain during the second half of the eighteenth centuryKing George III (1738-1820) is credited with its inception, after having made a number of visits to Weymouth in Dorset to ‘take the sea air’.  Doctors promoted the health benefits of sea immersion believing it to be a cure for all ills and effective in treating scurvy, jaundice and gout.

Advert from a London newspaper, 1895, offering trips to the seaside by train.

It wasn’t really until railways connected coastal towns to major cities, c.1885, that the sea bathing really began to take-off.  Along the south coast towns such as Lyme Regis, Lymington, Southsea, Bournemouth, Southampton, Weymouth, Brighton and Swanage prospered as a result of this new craze.

Strict Victorian moral codes meant that no flesh could be shown by the female bather and swimming costumes that failed to cover the entire body were considered indecent. The invention of the bathing machine enabled the bather to be horse-driven/wheeled right-out into the sea away from prying eyes. The bather would then discreetly descend into the water without anyone seeing them.  Men were expected to wear a bathing suit as well and segregated bathing continued, in many resorts, until well into the Edwardian era.

Lyme Regis, Dorset.

Lyme Regis – Dorset

A picturesque coastal town, described by Regency travel writer M. Phillips in Pictures of Lyme-Regis and Environs (1817) as:

The charms of this amphitheatrical bay is considered, as it unquestionably is, – one of the most enchanting spots for a Watering-place, that can be found around the British Islands. The scenery altogether is magnificent…The invalid, from the fine sea bathing and sea air, for such it may be truly expressed, rarely visits Lyme without great benefit.  In the spring and autumn, when the frequent variations of the atmosphere operate so unfavourably at most other fashionable resorts for sea bathing…The Assembly and Card Rooms are elegant and spacious, and are delightfully situated opposite the Three Cups Inn….Sedan chairs are kept for the accommodation of the company.

The Bathing Rooms afford another superior attraction, and accommodation, and are situated at the eastern part of the town; and another equally commodious, at the Cobb, where hot and cold baths, are as complete as can be desired.  It is but just to observe, that an eminent Physician, Dr. Baker, in analysing the sea water at Lyme to be more saline and heavier than the sea water at any other part of the coast.  At the upper baths is also a commodious Reading Room, where London and Country papers are to be seen. The pleasant walk adjoining the baths, is for the use of Subscribers.

(Phillips, M., 1817, pp. 6, 7, 13 & 14)

This was the period before the railway had reached Lyme Regis. Phillips would have travelled to the town on board the interconnecting Mail Coach service. According to Phillips, the distance from London to Lyme Regis was one hundred and forty-two bone shaking miles. The railway came late to Lyme Regis, it arrived in 1903. The town had a station up until 1963 when it was closed down.  The nearest station today is Axminster. Lyme Regis did suffer as a result of the delayed arrival of the railway and in the latter part of the nineteenth century lost a lot of its visitors to the nearby coastal resorts of Bournemouth and Swanage.

Some of the pretty seafront architecture in Lyme Regis.

Hot and cold inland bathing houses also flourished during the Regency and Victorian periods.  By the 1820s, Lyme Regis had three such bathing establishments, including one owned by J. Bennett, an enterprising shoemaker who saw a business opportunity and opened Bennett’s Hot Baths in 1824.

Local businesses often rented out bathing machines to visitors who preferred to swim in the sea rather than use the bathing houses. In the early part of the nineteenth century bathing machines would have been horse-drawn. Although the aim for the bather, during this period, was to engage in full sea immersion rather than traditional swimming.  The first bathing machine to be rented-out in this fashion in Lyme Regis was one owned by the proprietors of The Three Cups Inn.  By 1834, there were four machines in operation along the sands between the town and the famous Cobb.

During the Edwardian era and after the arrival of the railway, Lyme Regis saw its visitor numbers begin to increase. In Edwardian Lyme Regis, by Jo Draper (2008) there is a description, taken from Seaside Watering Places (1900-1901), which describes the town during this period thus:

The season is during July and August.  The parade – a terraced walk above the beach – is sheltered on one side by the famous Cobb, and on the other by smaller houses built close to the water’s edge and Church Street…The beach is hard, and good for walking on when the tide is out…There is good bathing, either from the machines, for which tickets must be obtained in town, or before 8am, from the Victoria Pier.  The sands to the east of Lyme are firm and a good walk can be taken along them, when the tide is out, to the village of Charmouth about 2 miles off.

(Draper, J., 2008, p. 18)

Lymington – Hampshire

In 1825, there were two bathhouses in Lymington, Legge’s Baths and Mrs Beeston’s Baths, the latter located on the edge of the sea marsh.  A warm bath cost 3/6; shower 2/6; cold bath with guide 1 shilling; cold bath without guide 6d.  The guide was a gentleman whose job it was to help the bather along with the aid of a rope harness tied under the bather’s armpits.

Lymington Sea Water Baths.

In 1833, The Lymington Sea Water Baths opened, they remain open today making it the oldest surviving Lido in Britain.  It was built by William Bartlett and Mrs Beeston ran it from 1872. Shortly after the Sea Water Baths opened, a bath house was opened nearby (now Lymington Town Sailing Club).  Historian, Vivien Rolf, in Bathing Houses and Plunge Pools writes of the bath house at Lymington:

Built in a neo-classical style, the central building was hexagonal, with an upper floor for social gatherings, and ground floor vaulted entrance hall which echoed the design of the subterranean baths below, where salt water flowed in at every high tide and was heated in the boilers.  Hot, cold and ‘vapour’ bathing was available, with separate wings of the building catering for ‘ladies and gentleman’.  Outside was an extensive open-air swimming pool.

(Rolf, V., 2011, pp. 47-48)

Lymington also had Assembly Rooms which provided facilities for those taking the waters or partaking in seabathing activities. The railway came to Lymington on 12th July 1858.  Nearby the towns of Milford-on-Sea and Barton-on-Sea were already emerging as popular seaside resorts. Although there were no bathing machines on offer as these two resorts.

Publicity poster for Southsea resort. Portsmouth City Museum.

Portsmouth and Southsea – Hampshire

A Pump-Room was set-up on the site of Clarence Pier, Portsmouth in the early 1800s and extended in 1825-6.  This extension included Assembly Rooms, Reading Rooms and marble seawater baths.  Southsea gained in popularity as a family resort after 1860 when the railway came to town and in 1885 the branch line was extended from Fratton to Granada Road. Bathing in Southsea remained segregated until 1910 with men and women’s bathing machines positioned at least fifty yards apart from each other.  Bathing machines fell-out of fashion in the 1920s when a trend emerged to have suntanned skin. Covering-up with head-top-toe bathing outfits was no longer favoured, bathers now wore suits that just covered the trunk of their body.

However, in Portsmouth and Southsea there were protests until the late 1950s early 1960s, about women wearing bikinis on Southsea promenade.  It all came to a head on the weekend of June 25th and 26th 1960, when a decision, once and for all, was made as to whether bikinis should be allowed to be worn along the promenade. The question was put to the vote among the (all-male!) committee of Portsmouth City Council.  The result was a resounding ‘yes’.  Gwen Robyns, the then Women’s Editor of the Daily Mirror, commented about the incident:

A bikini on the right girl in the right place and at the right time is an appealing sight.  It makes a girl feel deliciously feminine.  Fifty per cent of all bathing suits sold over the counter this summer have been bikinis. But you’ve got to be firm all over to wear them.  It’s fatal to have spare tyres and tummy bulges.

(Monday, June 27th, 1960, Daily Mirror)

Queen Victoria would not have been amused! I have found a fun British Pathé film made in Southsea in 1933, ‘Rehearsal Time: Meet ‘The Juggling Demons’ – Southsea’. Notice the male and female swimwear fashions of the period. CLICK HERE.

1930s, woollen, male swimming suit on display at Portsmouth City Museum.
Ladies 1930s stretch synthetic swimming costume and matching hat. Red House Museum and Gardens, Christchurch, Dorset.
Snazzy, vintage rubber bathing hat. Portsmouth City Museum.

Hilsea Lido – Hampshire

Hilsea Lido was designed by City Engineer Joseph Parkin and opened on 24th July 1935.  It is a stunning example of 1930s, Art Deco architecture. During the interwar years Lido lifestyle was all the rage, a place for the body beautiful to be seen and admired. This lifestyle was a far cry from the Victorian and Edwardian viewpoint that bathing was a solitary and private activity. Hilsea was a social hub where swimming and diving competitions, water polo matches, aquatic galas, novelty events and re-enactments of Naval battles using model boats regularly attracted 1,000 spectators.  The pool was built in the 1930s, during the Depression era, where jobs were scarce and money too tight to mention.  Hilsea Lido was nicknamed the ‘People’s Pool’ because it was built by the local people for the local people.  The Lido is thriving today and is still known as ‘Hilsea Lido: Pool for the People’.

Southampton – Hampshire

Although a bustling and thriving sea port, Southampton was once considered to be a fashionable spa resort.  In the mid to latter part of the eighteenth century, fashionable ladies were transported in their bath chairs from the main High Street, passing through Biddle’s Gate en-route to the Assembly Rooms.  The most famous establishment at the time was Mr Martin’s Baths.  The ladies wore flannel gowns and covered their heads with silk material or a leather bag.

Portsmouth resident Jonas Hanway, writing in his Journal of Eight Days Journey from Portsmouth to Kingston upon Thames; through Southampton, Wiltshire, etc. (1756) commented on Southampton’s emerging popularity as a sea bathing resort:

In this reign of saltwater, great numbers of people of distinction prefer Southampton for bathing; but you agree with me, that the bathing-house is not comparable to that of Portsmouth; not only as being smaller and uncovered, but here is no water, except at certain times of tide; whereas at Portsmouth one may always bathe. Shall you forget the proof we saw here of the fantastical taste of the age we live in, by the bathing vestments, intended for the ladies, being flounc’d and pink’d?

Swanage, Dorset.

Swanage – Dorset

Known as ‘Swanwich’ in the early part of the nineteenth century, Swanage became an important seaside resort along the south coast of England and its popularity increased when the railway arrived in 1885.  Shortly afterwards, the Pleasure Pier opened in 1896.  Swanage was a popular destination for day-trippers who travelled to the town by paddle-steamer right-up until the outbreak of World War One.

William Morton Pitt, MP (1754-1836) worked hard to promote the town as an up and coming Watering Place.  He even went as far as turning the Old Mansion House into a Hotel, re-naming it Manor House Hotel.  It was later renamed the Royal Victoria Hotel following a one-night stay by Princess Victoria. In 1825, Pitt built his seaside complex, Marine Villas (which included the renamed Royal Victoria Hotel).  The aim of the Villas was to accommodate the influx of visitors wishing to take the waters but wanting a high standard of residence whilst doing so.  Marine Villas housed the cold salt water baths, billiard and coffee rooms. The sea water would enter the baths via grills at the north side of the villa when at high tide would reach a height of five feet.  The Baths closed in 1855.  Pitt died in 1836, a bankrupt having sunk all of his fortune into transforming Swanage into a flagship sea bathing resort.

Ariadne guarding the cold water plunge bath in the grounds of Stourhead, Wiltshire.

Stourhead – Wiltshire

If you were wealthy then creating a plunge bath or bathing grotto in the grounds of your country retreat was one alternative to travelling to the seaside and mixing with the hoi polloi.  That is exactly what banking magnate Henry Hoare II (1705-1785), or Henry the Magnificent as he was also known, did on his vast estate in Wiltshire.  In 1743 he began to transform the landscape around his country seat, Stourhead, making the lake a central feature. The landscape of Stourhead is full of references to the text of Virgil’s Aeneid. There is a grotto which contains a cold plunge bath and displays a mix of classical, pagan, Christian and literary references.  At the edge of the bath is an inscription, translated by Alexander Pope (1688-1744), of a classical poem:

Nymph of the grot these sacred springs I keep

And to the murmur of these waters-deep

Ah spare my slumbers gently tread the cave

And drink in silence or in silence lave.

A Final Word on Bathing from Samuel Pepys

I cannot write a an article on the fashion for bathing without a nod to inland city of Bath Spa, Somerset.  On Saturday 13th June, 1668, diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) visited the famous Cross Bath in Bath Street. There had been a warm water spring at this location since Roman times. Pepys wrote:

Up at four o’clock, being by appointment called up to the Cross Bath, where we were carried one after one another, myself and wife and Betty Turner, Willet, and W. Hewer.  And by and by, though we designed to have done before company come, much company come, very fine ladies; and the manner pretty enough, only methinks it cannot be clean to go so many bodies together in the same water…..Strange to see how hot the water is; and in some places, though this is the most temperate bath, the springs so hot as the feet not able to endure. But strange to see, when women and men herein, that live all the season in these waters, that cannot but be parboiled, and look like the creatures of the bath!  Carried away wrapped in a sheet, and in a chair home.

The Cross Bath has now been restored and is opened to the public again. For more information on the recent restoration of The Cross Bath, Peter Carey has written an excellent article, CLICK HERE.

Bathing at The Cross Bath, Bath, Somerset, 17th Century.
Posted in Country House, Mrs Beeton

Mrs Beeton’s Advice to the Footman, Valet, Lady’s Maid and Housemaid.

Advertisement for the Ewbank Carpet Sweeper found in 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

I had fun at the weekend delving into my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition) in order to whet your appetite for the fabulous second series of Downton Abbey, which continues on Sundays, ITV 1, 9pm.  I have chosen extracts from Mrs Beeton’s advice for the Footman, Valet, Lady’s-Maid, Housemaid and also include some household recipes that I hope you will find interesting and useful.


‘Footman’s morning duties – He is expected to rise early in order to get through his early morning work before the family are stirring.  Boots and shoes, knives and forks, should be cleaned, coal scuttles filled, lamps in use trimmed, then any gentleman’s clothes that require it brushed, hot water taken up and baths prepared before he tidies himself, has his own breakfast, and lays that for the family.  At breakfast the footman carries up the urn and places the chief dishes upon the table.  If any waiting is required, he does it assisted by parlour-maid or house-maid.  During the morning his time will be occupied in cleaning plate, windows, etc., according to the rules of the house in which he is engaged, and he will have to answer the front door and look after the sitting-room fires.  After these duties will come laying the table for luncheon.

Afternoon duties –  As at breakfast, where only one man-servant is kept, but little waiting is required at luncheon after the soup or hot dishes have been served.  These taken away, the footman will have his own dinner.  When the family have left the dining-room, the footman clears away, washes the glass used, and cleans the plate.  He then prepares himself either to go out with the carriage or to answer the door to visitors, as the case may be.  When required to go out with the carriage, it is the footman’s duty to see the inside is free from dust, and he should be ready to open and close the door after his mistress.  In receiving messages at the carriage door he should turn his ear to the speaker, so as to comprehend what is said, in order that he may give his directions to the coachman clearly.  When the house he is to call at is reached, he should knock and return to the carriage for orders.  In closing the doors upon the family, he should see that the  handle is securely turned, and that no part of the ladies’ dress is shut in.

Politeness and civility to visitors is one of the things masters and mistresses should exact rigorously.  When visitors present themselves, the servant charged with the duty of opening the door will open it promptly, and answer, without hesitation, if the family are “not at home”, or “engaged”.  On the contrary, if he has no such orders, he will answer affirmatively, open the door wide to admit them, and precede them to open the door of the drawing-room.  If the family are not there, he will place chairs for them, and intimate civilly that he goes to inform his mistress.  If the lady is in her drawing-room, he announces the name of the visitors, having previously acquainted himself with it.  In this part of his duty it is necessary to be very careful to repeat the names correctly; mispronouncing names is very apt to give offence.  When the visitor is departing, the servant should be at hand, ready, when rung for, to open the door; he should open it with a respectful manner, and close it gently beyond the threshold.

Evening duties – For dinner, the footman lays the cloth, arranges knives, forks, and glasses etc and places chairs enough for the party, distributing them equally on each side of the table.   In opening wine, let it be done quietly, and without shaking the bottle; if crusted, let it be inclined to the crusted side, and decanted while in that position.  In opening champagne, it is not necessary to discharge it with a pop; properly cooled, the cork is easily extracted without any explosions; when the cork is out, the mouth of the bottle should be wiped with a napkin. As soon as the drawing-room bell rings for tea, the footman enters with the tray, which has been previously prepared; hands the tray round to the company, with cream and sugar, the tea and coffee being generally poured out, while another attendant hands cakes, toast, or biscuits.  If it is an ordinary family party, where this social meal is prepared by the mistress, he carries the urn or kettle, as the case may be; hands round the toast, or such other eatable as may be required, removing the whole in the same manner when tea is over’            (1915:pp.1764-66)

Valet and the Lady’s-Maid

‘Some of the duties of the valet – His and the lady’s-maid’s day commences by seeing that their employer’s dressing-room is in order; that the housemaid has swept and dusted it properly; that the fire is lighted and burns cheerfully; and some time before the master or mistress is expected, they will do well to throw up the sash to admit fresh air, closing it, however, in time to cover the temperature which they know is preferred.  It is their duty to air the body linen before the fire; to lay out the clothes intended to be worn, carefully brushed and cleaned.  All the articles of the toilet should be in their places, the razors properly set and stropped, and hot water ready for use.  A valet often accompanies his master when shooting, when he would carry the extra gun and load for him.

Shaving – A valet should be should be prepared to shave his master if required; and he should, besides, be a good hairdresser.  Shaving over, he has to brush the hair, beard and moustache, arranging the whole simply and gracefully, according to the style preferred.  Every fortnight, or three weeks at utmost, the hair should be cut, and the whiskers trimmed as often as required.  A good valet will now present the various articles of the toilet as they are wanted; the body linen, necktie, which he will put on, if required, and afterwards, waistcoat, coat and boots, in suitable order, and carefully brushed and polished.  Having thus seen his master dress, if he is about to go out, the valet will hand him his cane, gloves and hat, the latter well brushed on the outside with a soft brush, and wiped inside with a clean handkerchief, respectfully attend him to the door, open it for him, and receive his last orders for the day.

Hairdressing – is one of the most important parts of the lady’s-maid’s office.  Lessons in hairdressing may be obtained, and at not at unreasonable charge, and a lady’s-maid should initiate herself in the mysteries of hairdressing before entering on her duties.  If a mistress finds her maid handy, and willing to learn, she will not mind the expense of a few lessons, which are almost necessary, as the fashion and mode of dressing the hair is continually changing.  Brushes and combs should be kept scrupulously clean, by washing them about twice a week; to do this oftener spoils the brushes, as very frequent washing makes them so very soft.

Care of linen –  On its return from the wash, it is very necessary to examine every piece separately, so that all missing buttons be supplied, and only articles properly washed in perfect repair passed into the wardrobe.

The Wardrobe – It is the valet’s and lady’s-maid’s duty, where it is permitted, to select from the wardrobe such things as are suitable for the occasion, to see that their employer’s wardrobe is in thorough repair, and to make him or her acquainted with the fact if they see that any additions to it are prepared.  A lady’s-maid should possess a thorough knowledge of dressmaking and repairing and restoring clothes.  Dresses of tweed, and other woollen materials may be laid out on a table and brushed all over; but in general, even in woollen fabrics, the lightness of the issues renders brushing unsuitable to dresses, and it is better to remove the dust from the folds beating them lightly with a handkerchief or thin cloth.  Silk dresses should never be brushed, but rubbed with a piece of merino, or other soft material, of a similar colour, kept for the purpose.  Summer dresses of barège, muslin, mohair, and other light materials, simply require shaking; but if the muslin be tumbled, it must be ironed afterwards.   If feathers have suffered from damp, they should be held near the fire for a few minutes, and restored to their natural state by the hand or a soft brush, or re-curled with a blunt knife, dipped in very hot water.  Satin boots or shoes should be dusted with a soft brush, or wiped with a cloth.  Kid or varnished leather should have the mud wiped off with a sponge charged with milk, which preserves its softness and polish.  Furs, feathers and woollens require the constant care of the waiting-maid.  Furs and feathers not in constant use should be wrapped up in linen washed in lye.  From May to September they are subject to being made the depository of the moth-eggs.  The valet and the lady’s-maid should have a good knowledge of packing, and on them devolves the task of getting tickets, looking out routes, securing seats, carriages and berths, as the case may be; while they are also responsible for the luggage.  When travelling by rail, unless they occupy the same carriage as their master or mistress, they should, when the train stops for any length of time, be in attendance in case anything should be required.  A knowledge of foreign languages is a most useful qualification.’  (1915:pp.1772-4)


‘The upper housemaid’s duties – would include, besides a general superintendence, the care of the household linen, the covering of furniture, the dusting, if not the sweeping, of the drawing-room, the helping to make the chief beds and other tasks, always making it her duty to go the round of the bedrooms, both morning and evening, to see that toilet tables, wash-hand stands, fires, et., are in order. 

The first duty of the housemaid – in winter is to open the shutters of all the lower rooms in the house, and take up the hearthrugs in those rooms which she is going to “do” before breakfast.  After the shutters are all opened, she sweeps the breakfast-room, sweeping the dust towards the fireplace, of course previously removing the fender. She should then lay a cloth (generally made of coarse wrappering) over the carpet in front of the stove, and on this should place her housemaid’s box, containing blacklead brushes, leathers, emery-paper, cloth, black-lead, and all utensils necessary for cleaning a grate, with the cinder-pail on the other side.  She now sweeps up the ashes and deposits them in her cinder-pail, which is a japanned tin pail, with a wire sifter inside, and a closely fitting top.  In this pail the cinders are sifted, and reserved for use in the kitchen or under the copper, the ashes only being thrown away.  Bright grates require unceasing attention to keep them in perfect order.  A day should never pass without the housemaid rubbing with a dry leather the polished parts of a grate, as also the fender and fire-irons.  A careful and attentive housemaid should have no occasion ever to use emery-paper for any part but the bars, which, of course, become blackened by the fire.  Before sweeping the carpet, it is a good practice to sprinkle it all over with tea-leaves, which not only lay all dust, but give a slightly fragrant smell to the room.

Morning work – After the breakfast-room is finished, the housemaid should proceed to sweep down the stairs, commencing at the top, whilst the cook has the charge of the hall, doorstep and passages.  After this she should go into the drawing-room, cover up every article of furniture that is likely to spoil, with large dusting-sheets, and put the chairs together, by turning them seat to seat, and, in fact, make as much room as possible, by placing all the loose furniture in the middle of the room, whilst she sweeps the corners and sides.  When this is accomplished, the furniture can then be put back in its place, and the middle of the room swept, sweeping the dirt, toward the fireplace.

Bedroom work – Breakfast served, the housemaid proceeds to the bedchambers, throws up the sashes, if not already done, pulls up the blinds, throwing back the curtains at the same time, and opens the beds by removing the clothes, placing them over a horse, or failing that, over the backs of chairs.  She now proceeds to empty the slops.  In doing this, everything is emptied into the slop-pail, leaving a little scalding-hot water for a minute in vessels that require it; adding a drop of turpentine to the water, when that is not sufficient to cleanse them.

Lights – The chamber candlesticks should be brought down and cleaned, gas and electric globes cleaned, and the parlour lamps trimmed – and here the housemaid’s utmost care is required.  In cleaning candlesticks, as in every other cleaning, she should have cloths and brushes kept for that purpose alone; the knife used to scrape them should be applied to no other purpose; the tallow-grease should be thrown into a box kept for the purpose; the same with everything connected with the lamp-trimming; always bearing in mind, that without perfect cleanliness, which involves occasional scalding, no lamp can be kept in order.  After scalding a lamp, it should be rinsed out with a little spirits; this will prevent the oil sputtering on first being lighted after the scalding.’ (1915:pp. 1775-1780)

Historic household cleaning products, the Village Shop exhibit, Breamore Countryside Museum, Nr. Fordingbridge, Hampshire.

Household Recipes

‘Black Lace, to Revive – Make some black tea about the strength usual for drinking and strain it off the leaves.  Pour enough tea into a basin to cover the material; let it stand 10-12 hours, then squeeze the lace several times, but do not rub it.  Dip it frequently into the tea, which will at length assume a dirty appearance.  Have ready some gum-water and press the lace gently through it; roll it in a cloth and pat it well; after which, pin it to a towel in any shape you wish it to take.  When nearly dry cover it with another towel and iron it with a cool iron.  The lace, if previously sound and discoloured only, will after this process look as good as new.

Burnt Saucepans – Pans and saucepans that have been burnt should never be filled with soda water, as this, although it removes the burnt portions, also makes the saucepans liable to burn again.  Instead of soda water, fill them with salt and water, and leave till next day, then bring slowly to boiling point.  The burnt particles will come off without any difficulty, and there will be no after effects.

Crickets and Beetles – If the rind of cucumber is laid on floors where crickets and beetles abound, they will soon disappear.  A method of destroying the pests is to place a deep saucer of stale beer upon the hearth at night, and rest three or four sticks upon the edge for the insects to crawl up.  When once they get into the beer they soon drown.

Finger Nails –  If the finger nails have become stained or discoloured in any way they should be soaked in a pint of warm water containing a dessertspoonful of lemon juice.  If the nails are very brittle, it is a good plan to dip them for a few minutes each day in lukewarm sweet oil, which has the effect of making them less liable to crack or break off at the least provocation.

Flies – Beer or treacle in a saucer, or treacle smeared on sheets of paper will attract and kill flies.  If a small quantity, say the equivalent of a teaspoonful, of carbolic acid be poured on a hot shovel it will drive files from the room.  A sprig of fresh mint hung up in a kitchen will also drive away flies.

Hair, Treatment of – Twice a month wash the head with a quart of soft water, in which a handful of bran has been boiled, and in which a little white soap has been dissolved.  Next rub the yolk of an egg, and wash it off thoroughly with pure water, rinsing the head well.  Wipe and rub the hair dry with a towel, and comb the hair from the head, parting it with the fingers.  If the hair has been very dry before the washing, a little bay rum should be used.

Lace, to Preserve – Silk lace should be soaked in hot milk and borax to prevent it from turning yellow.  White paper should never be used for keeping lace in when not in use, but blue tissue paper must be employed, the corners being folded over and secured with pins, so that the rays of light may not discolour the lace.

Laundry Soap – Mix 6 lb of washing soda with 3 lb of unslaked lime, and pour 4 gallons of boiling water over both.  Stand until very clear, then drain off the water and add 6 lb of pure fat.  Boil all together until it begins to harden, stirring almost constantly.  This will require nearly 2 hours.  When boiling, thin with 2 gallons of water.  Try the soap by pouring a little on a cold plate, and when thick enough, throw in a handful of salt, and take from the fire.  Pour into a wooden tub wet with cold water.  When cold cut into bars or cakes.

Lip salve – A good salve, useful for cracked lips, is made of equal parts of almond or olive-oil and the best white wax.  The latter should be melted, then set at the side of the fire, the oil added, and both beaten together and stored in small pots.

Pomade – Beat up 1/4 lb of pure hog’s lard, then add 2 pennyworth of oil of almonds, and mix thoroughly, adding a few drops of any scent that may be preferred. Put the mixture into small pots, and keep carefully covered.

Ribbons to clean – Mix 1/2 a pint of gin, 1/2 a lb of honey, 1/2 a lb of soft soap, and 1/2 a pint of water together; then lay each breadth of ribbon on a clean table, and scrub well on the soiled side with the mixture.  Have ready plenty of cold water and into it dip the ribbon, holding it by the corners.  Do not wring the ribbon, but hang it up to drip for a minute or two, after which it should be laid in a clean cloth and ironed quickly with a very hot iron.

Satin Shoes – White satin dancing shoes which have become soiled may be easily cleaned by means of spirits of wine.  A piece of new white flannel should be dipped in the spirits and rubbed in a rotary direction over the soiled portions, a fresh piece of flannel being substituted whenever this is necessary.  Shoes of white satin should always be kept in blue tissue paper, and if laid on one side for any length of time the paper should be covered with a thick piece of wadding so as to exclude the air and keep the satin from turning yellow.

Shampoo – Shave 4 ozs of good white Castile soap, and pour over it a pint of boiling water.  Put it into a porcelain vessel, where it will keep hot until the soap is dissolved.  Keep this after it cools in a glass jar, as it becomes a kind of jelly.  When ready to use it, beat the white of an egg into it.  Wet the head all over, rubbing the mixture into the scalp well before using any water; then rinse the head several times, with hot water first and finishing with tepid.

Silk Stockings, to wash – For these soap should not be used, but a decoction of bran and water.  To each pint of water add 2 tablespoonfuls of bran and wash the stockings in this.  Rinse thoroughly in a succession of clear waters.

Tea Stains on Linen – If fine linen is stained with tea, even after a long time, the stains can be removed by applying glycerine.  A little of the best glycerine should be rubbed on the stained parts before washing.

Violet Powder – Reduce 6 ozs of the best starch to the finest powder, and sift it through a piece of muslin; then rub into it 2 drachms of powdered orris-root.  The powder can be tinted with rose-pink or a little stone-blue.  If desired it can be scented with lavender, lemon or attar of roses.

Wine Stains on Linen – When these are observed a little milk should be put on the fire to boil, and when boiling the stained portion of linen should be held in it until the spot disappears sufficiently to enable it to be washed out completely with soap and water.’  (1915:pp.1790-1818)

For the more information about Breamore House and Countryside Museum. Click Here.

Selection of historic cleaning products on display in the Village Shop exhibit, Breamore Countryside Museum, Nr. Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Mrs Beeton

Edwardian and Victorian Dinner Parties

Tara Howard Proprietress of Langtry Manor Hotel, Bournemouth dressed as Lillie Langtry. Langtry Manor host a 6 course Edwardian Banquet Experience every Saturday. Image supplied by kind permission of Ms Howard.

Dinner parties in well-to-do Victorian and Edwardian households developed into events that were as much about the food as they were about promoting the social status of the hosts.   Until the Victorian era, it was fashionable to dine buffet style, all of the courses brought to the table at once.  This type of dining was known as service à la Française.   Mrs Beeton in her domestic bible, Household Management, gives an interesting account of early dining practices:

‘….A Greek dinner-party was a handsome, well-regulated affair.  The guests arrived elegantly dressed and crowned with flowers.  A slave, approaching each person as he entered, took off his sandals and washed his feet.  During the repast, the guests reclined on couches with pillows, among and along which were set small tables.  After the solid meal came the “symposium” proper, a scene of music, merriment and dancing, the two latter being supplied chiefly by young girls.  There was a chairman, or “symposiarch”, appointed by the company to regulate the drinking, and it was his duty to mix the wine in the “mighty bowl.”  From this bowl the attendants ladled the liquor into goblets, and with the goblets went round and round the tables, filling the cups of the guests.’ (1915 Edition: pp. 1682-1683).

In the early 19th century the Russian Ambassador Prince Alexander Kurakin is credited with revolutionising dining habits.  In 1808, whilst acting as Russian Ambassador in Paris, he introduced to Parisian society a new dining style, service à la Russe.   The popularity of this style spread across Europe and Mrs Beeton observes that ‘…dinner service à la Russe was introduced into England in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and after a few years’ rivalry with the dinner à la Française almost succeeded in banishing the latter.’ (ibid. p. 1685)

Dinner table set for service à la Russe. Illustration from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1915 edition.

In Service à la Russe each course is presented one at a time and in a set order.  It was not uncommon for there to be 14 different courses, each one being cleared away before the next one presented.  The cutlery is pre-set and the table laid with empty water, wine and champagne glasses.  Each setting had a service plate on top of which was placed the napkin, arranged in a creative way and every guest had his/her own place-name card of a fancy design.

Menu, in French, for a dinner hosted by Buckingham Palace for Edward VII to celebrate Derby Day 31st May 1905. Reproduced in 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton.
Instructions to create the ‘Rose and Star’ napkin. Mrs Beeton, 1915 Edition.
Selection of Name-Place Cards. Mrs Beeton, 1915 Edition.

This style of dining required a large number of servants to ensure that each successive course was delivered and cleared away efficiently.  Only the wealthy Victorian and Edwardian host would have been able to have afforded the required number of servants for a traditional, 14 course, dinner service à la Russe.   We still adopt today, albeit in a simplified form, the dining method of eating one course at a time.

Mrs Beeton’s Menu for a Summer Ball Supper à la Russe

Hot Dishes

Julienne Soup; Lamb Cutlets with Peas; Quails and Watercress

Cold Dishes

Salmon Mayonnaise; Lobster Salad; Prawns in Aspic

Chicken masked with Sauce; French Pigeon Pie; Galantine of Turkey Poult

Roast Chickens; Ham and Tongue; Medallions of Foie Gras (Goose Liver)

Sandwiches; Salad

Strawberries in Jelly; Pistachio Cream; French Chocolate Cake;

Mixed Fruit with Kirsch; Coffee Eclairs; French Pastry;

Vanilla Cream Ice; Lemon Water Ice.

Salmon Mayonnaise, Mrs Beeton, 1915 edition.

Lamb Cutlets and Peas, Mrs Beeton, 1915 Edition.

Mrs Beeton’s Mayonnaise

Ingredients – 2 yolks of eggs, 1 teaspoonful of French mustard, 1/2 a teaspoonful of salt, a pinch of pepper, 1 tablespoonful of tarragon vinegar, about 1 pint of best salad oil, 1 tablespoonful of cream.

Method – ‘Put the yolks into a basin, add the mustard, salt and pepper, stir quickly with a wooden spoon.  Add the oil, first drop by drop and afterwards more quickly, and at intervals a few drops of the vinegar.  By stirring well, the mixture should become the consistency of very thick cream.  Lastly, add the cream, stirring all the while.  A little cold water may be added if the sauce is found to be too thick.  In hot weather, the basin in which the Mayonnaise is made should be placed in a vessel of crushed ice.’

Mrs Beeton’s Salmon Mayonnaise  

Ingredients – cold boiled salmon, lettuce, cucumber, beetroot, gherkins, capers, boned anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, Mayonnaise sauce.

Method – ‘A Mayonnaise of Salmon may consist of a large centre-cut, a thick slice, or the remains of cold salmon cut into pieces convenient for serving.  In all cases the skin and bone must be removed, and the fish completely masked with thick Mayonnaise sauce, the stiffening properties of which are greatly increased by the addition of a little liquid, but nearly cold, aspic jelly.  When procurable, a little endive should be mixed with the lettuce, for although the somewhat bitter flavour of this salad plant is disliked by many people, its delicate, feathery leaves greatly improve the appearance of any dish which it forms a part.  Many other garnishings, in addition to those enumerated above, may be used; the leaves of the tarragon and chervil plants, and fancifully-cut thin slices of truffle, being particularly effective when used to decorate the surface of Mayonnaise sauce.’

Mrs Beeton’s Pistachio Cream

Ingredients – 1 pint of cream, 4 ozs of pistachio nuts, 2 ozs of castor sugar, 1 oz of leaf gelatine, a little sap-green liquid colouring.

Method – ‘Blanch, skin and chop the pistachios finely.  Dissolve the gelatine and sugar in 3 tablespoons of water.  Whip the cream stiffly, add the gelatine when cool, the pistachios, and sap-green drop by drop, until the desired colour is obtained.  Pour into a decorated mould and let it remain on ice or in a cold place until firmly set.  Moulds should be thoroughly clean, and when possible rinsed with cold water, before being used.  In preparing them for decorated creams, they are usually coated with a thin layer of jelly.’

If you want to experience the elegance and sophistication of an Edwardian Banquet, the Langtry Manor Hotel, Bournemouth, Dorset host a 6 course Banquet Experience every Saturday evening (£39 per guest – Tel: 01202 553 997).   The staff wear period costume to serve you. Between the 4th and 5th course there is also a 10 minute live performance of the “Life of Lillie Langtry”.   For further information on Victorian/Edwardian actress Lillie Langtry, together with history and further images of the charming Langtry Manor Hotel, click here.

A member of staff in period costume, serving at the Edwardian Banquet, Langtry Manor Hotel, Bournemouth. Image by kind permission of Ms Tara Howard.
Miss Cherie Howard performing the “Life of Lillie” recital at the Edwardian Banquet, Langtry Manor Hotel, Bournemouth, Dorset. Image by kind permission of Ms Tara Howard.
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Mrs Beeton

Mrs Beeton – Bread, Biscuits and Pies

Bread Cutter, featured in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.

Continuing with my Mrs Beeton and Great British Bake Off  inspired postings,  I have chosen some of Mrs B’s delicious recipes for bread, biscuits and pies.  Autumn is just around the corner and with the evenings drawing in, there is no better time than now to take to the kitchen for a home-cooking bakeathon.

Illustration showing different types of bread, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition


  • Mrs B’s advice on how to choose flour;
  • Home-made bread;
  • Rice bread;

Mrs B’s advice on choosing flour

‘The quality of wheat varies much with the weather of each season at home, and also with the weather and soil in countries that differ more from each other than our wettest season from our driest…… Good flour is dry and does not lose more than 12 per cent. in weight when heated in an oven.  If the flour is remarkably good and dry, a greater weight of water is taken up, and consequently a larger number of loaves are made from the same amount of flour.  Cloths are sometimes thrown over bread hot out of the oven to retain the steam and prevent the loaves from becoming dry….. The finest flour procurable in this country is “Vienna” or “Hungarian”, as it is more generally called, and it is always the dearest flour on the market.’ (Chapter 46, p. 1399, 1915 edition)


25g = 1oz      100g = 4oz       225g = 1/2 lb     450g = 1lb   1 Peck = 8.81 litres   1 quart = 2 pints

Home-made bread

Ingredients – 1 peck of flour, 2 ozs of compressed or distillery yeast, 1 1/2 ozs of salt, 3 quarts of water.

Method – ‘Turn the flour into a clean pan, and make a “bay”, or hole in the centre.  Let the water be about 80 degrees Fahr., or blood-warm, so it feels neither hotter nor colder than the hand when placed in the water.  Put the water into a bowl, add the yeast and salt, and stir up well with the hand till dissolved, then turn it into the bay, and make up into rather a stiff dough; knead well, and leave to dry, cover over with a clean cloth, and set the pan of dough in a warm place to prove for at least 2 hours, then give it another good kneading and drying over, and leave it for another hour; turn out onto the board, divide into suitable-sized pieces, make into loaves, prove and bake.’

Rice bread

Ingredients – 1 lb of rice, 7 lbs of flour, 1 oz of salt, 1 1/2 ozs of compressed yeast, water.

Method – ‘Wash the rice in cold water, put it in a clean saucepan, cover with water, set over the fire, and cook until tender.  Turn the flour into a clean pan, make a hole in the centre, put in the boiled rice, add 1 quart of cold water, and stir-up gently without mixing in much flour; test the heat, and if cold enough, add the yeast, dissolved in another pint of water, stirring it into the rice with another handful of flour.  Cover over with a clean cloth, and let it stand for 2 hours, then add the salt in fine powder, and make into dough, using any more water that may be necessary for the purpose.  Cover over, and leave the dough to rise, mould up, prove, then bake in a moderate oven.  The rice can be boiled in milk if preferred.’

Different types of biscuit illustration from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.
  • Arrowroot biscuits or drops;
  • Cocoanut gems;
  • Ginger biscuits;
  • Lemon biscuits.

Arrowroot biscuits or drops

Ingredients – 1/2 lb of butter, 6 eggs, 1/2 lb of flour, 6 ozs of arrowroot, 1/2 lb of castor sugar.

Method – ‘Beat the butter to a cream; whisk the eggs to a stiff froth, add them gradually to the butter, stir in the sugar a little at a time, and beat the mixture well.  Smooth down all the lumps from the arrowroot and sift it with the flour and then add to the other ingredients.  Mix all well together, drop the dough on a buttered tin in pieces the size of a shilling, and bake the biscuits for about a 1/4 of an hour in a slow oven.  Sufficient to make from 3 to 4 dozen biscuits.’

Cocoanut biscuits

Ingredients –  1 lb of grated cocoanut, 2 lbs of sugar, 5 eggs, 2 teacupfuls of flour.

Method – ‘Rasp a good fresh cocoanut on a grater, letting none of the rind fall.  Spread the cocoanut thus grated on a dish, and let stand in some cool dry place 2 days to dry gradually, or desiccated cocoanut can be used in the proportions given.  Add to it double its weight of powdered and sifted loaf sugar, the whites of 5 eggs whisked to a stiff froth, and 1 teacupful of flour to every pound of sugar.  Drop the mixture on a baking-tin 1 spoonful at a time, like rock cakes, or into proper drop-cake tins.  Bake in a very gentle oven for about 20 minutes; move the biscuits out of the tins while warm, and when cold, store them in a tin container.  Sufficient for 3, 1/2 lbs of biscuits.’

Ginger biscuits

Ingredients – 1 lb of flour, 1/2 lb of fresh butter, 1/2 lb of castor sugar, 3/4 of an oz of ground ginger, 2 eggs.

Method – ‘Rub the butter and ginger into the flour on the board, make a “bay” or hold, break in the eggs, and wet-up into a nice workable paste, using a little milk if necessary.  Roll down in thin sheets,  and cut out with a plain round cutter, set them on to a greased baking-sheet, and bake in a cool oven.  Sufficient to make 4 dozen biscuits.  Seasonable in winter.’

Lemon biscuits

Ingredients –   1 1/4 lbs of flour, 3/4 of a lb of castor sugar, 6 ozs of fresh butter, 4 eggs, the grated rind of a lemon, 2 dessertspoonfuls of lemon-juice.

Method – ‘Rub the butter into the flour, stir in the castor sugar and very finely minced lemon-peel, and when these ingredients are thoroughly mixed, add the eggs, which should be previously well whisked, and the lemon-juice.  Beat the mixture well for 1 or 2 minutes, then drop it from a spoon on to a buttered tin, about 2 inches apart, as the biscuits will spread when they get warm; place the tin in the oven, and bake the biscuits a pale brown for 15 to 20 minutes.  Sufficient for 3 or 4 dozen biscuits.’

Raised Game Pie with Aspec Jelly, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition.
  • How to make rough puff pastry (paste);
  • Raised game pie;
  • Pigeon pie;
  • Beefsteak and potato pie.

How to make rough puff pastry (paste)

Ingredients – 8 ozs of flour, 6 ozs of butter (or equal quantities of butter and lard), 1/2 a teaspoonful of lemon-juice, salt, about 1/4 of a pint of water.

Method – ‘Sieve the flour on to a pasteboard, divide the butter into pieces about the size of small walnut and mix them lightly with the flour.  Make a well in the centre, put in the lemon-juice, salt, and 1 tablespoonful of water, mix lightly, keeping the pieces of butter intact, and add water gradually until a moderately stiff paste is formed.  Roll into a long strip, fold it equally in 3, turn it round so as to have the folded edges to the right and left, and roll out as before.  Repeat until the paste has been rolled out 4 times, then use; or, if convenient, let it remain for 1 hour in a cool place before being used.  Sufficient for 1 pie of average size.’

Raised game pie

Ingredients – game of any kind, equal quantities of finely chopped veal and pork, veal forcemeat, paste (see previous posting for Pork Pie recipe for instructions on how to make this paste), coarsely chopped truffle, stock that will jelly when cold (preferably game stock), egg, salt and pepper.

Method – ‘Mix the veal and ham together, season liberally with salt and pepper, and add 1 or 2 tablespoonfuls of chopped truffle.  Divide the birds into neat joints, and remove all bones except those which are deeply imbedded in the flesh and difficult to detach.  Make and mould the paste as described in the recipe for pork pie, and line the bottom and sides with veal forcemeat.  Put in the prepared game, season each layer with salt and pepper, and intersperse small pieces of the meat force, taking care to leave spaces to be afterwards filled with stock.  Pile the game high in the centre, cover with a thin layer of veal force, put on the cover, then follow the directions given for preparing, baking and finishing the pork pie.’

Pigeon Pie

Ingredients – 2 or 3 pigeons, 1 lb of rump steak, 1/4 of a lb of ham or lean bacon, 3/4 of a pint of good stock, 2 hard-boiled eggs, the yolk of 1 egg, puff paste, salt and pepper.

Method – ‘Cut each pigeon into 4 or more pieces, according to their size; cut the beef into small thin slices, the ham into strips, and the eggs into sections or slices.  Put these ingredients into a pie-dish in layers, season well, and pour in stock to 3/4 fill the dish.  Put on the cover, moisten and press the edges together, make a hole in the centre of the top, decorate with leaves, brush over with yolk of egg, bake in quick oven until the paste is risen and set, then cook at a lower temperature for about 1 hour.  Have ready a few of the pigeons’ feet,  scalded and the toes cut off, also the remainder of the stock.  Before serving, pour in the stock through the hole in the centre of the pie, and replace the pastry ornament with the feet, fixing them in a nearly upright position.  The pie may be served either hot or cold; if the latter, the stock must form a jelly when cold.  Sufficient for 6 to 8 persons.’

Beefsteak and potato pie

Ingredients –  1 1/2lb of beefsteak, potatoes to fill the dish, 1 small onion parboiled and finely chopped, 1 tablespoonful of flour, 1 teaspoonful of salt, 1/2 a teaspoonful of pepper, short crust paste.

Method – ‘Peel the potatoes, and cut them into thick slices.  Cut the meat into thin slices, about 2 inches long and an inch wide.  Mix the flour, salt and pepper together on a plate, dip the slices of meat in the mixture, and roll them up tightly.  Line the bottom of the pie-dish with slices of potato, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover with rolls of meat, and add a little onion, but use it very sparingly unless the flavour is much liked.  Repeat until the dish is full, add boiling water to 3/4 fill the dish, and cover with short crust paste.  Bake for 2 hours in a moderately hot oven, and, before serving, pour a little hot beef gravy, or hot water seasoned with salt and pepper, through the hole in the top.’

I thought I would finish with a picture of my husband’s version of Mrs Beeton’s beefsteak and potato pie.  He used puff pastry instead of short crust for the cover and a cat motif as his decoration of choice – nicer to look at than embedded, scalded pigeons’ feet.  I would like to think that the cat has had the last laugh and polished off the pigeon!

My husband's version of Mrs B's beefsteak and potato pie.
Posted in History, Museum, Theatre History

Lillie Langtry – Victorian and Edwardian Socialite, Actress and Businesswoman

Lillie Langtry, The Sketch, August 30th 1899.
 “It is amusing to think how I first graduated from a professional beauty to the rank of an amateur, and finally to that of an actress.”
(Mrs Langtry, April 1885)

Lillie Langtry (née Emilie Charlotte Le Breton) was born at St. Saviour’s rectory on the island of Jersey, 13th October 1853 and died in Monte Carlo on 12th February 1929.  She is buried in St. Saviour’s churchyard.   Lillie’s life was a complex tapestry of fame, fortune, international travel, scandal, love and loss.  She possessed a strong independent spirit and charm that saw her through many of life’s ups and downs.   She also had good business acumen and was also a successful racehorse owner, winning Cesarewitch twice with her horses Merman (1897) and Yutoi (1921).  

In 1874 she married Edward Langtry and following their move to London became the toast of high society.   One of her many admirers, and a gentleman with whom she had a three-year affair, was Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.  Albert Edward succeeded Queen Victoria to the throne in 1902 and took the title of Edward VII.   They first met at a dinner party on 24th May 1877, her husband was also in attendance.   The affair began later on that same year and lasted until 1880.  

In 1877 Edward purchased a plot of land in Bournemouth’s East Cliff area and commissioned The Red House to be built.  This house became the couple’s private love retreat.  Lillie designed the house.   The building is now a charming and beautifully kept hotel called Langtry Manor.   We recently spent a fabulous Sunday at Langtry Manor, indulging in a traditional afternoon tea, followed by a guided tour of some of the house’s historic features and finishing-off on the first floor in the mini-museum of Lillie’s life.


The Red House, now Langtry Manor hotel, Bournemouth, Dorset.
View of the Dining Hall at The Red House, from the peephole Albert had installed.

Albert installed a peephole on the first floor so that he could check on arriving guests and decide whether he wanted to greet them or not.

Lillie's initials E.L.L. (Emilie Le Breton Langtry) carved into the inglenook oak fireplace, Dining Hall, Red House.
Lovely mini-museum on the first floor containing memorabilia connected to the life of Lillie Langtry, including a small display with relevant artefacts and pictures from 1877.
Lillie used her diamond ring to scratch her initials and intertwined love hearts on one of the side windows at The Red House.

In April 1879 Lillie began an affair with Prince Louis of Battenberg (1854-1921) and on 8th March 1881 Lillie gave birth to her daughter Jeanne-Marie in Paris which was rumoured to be the Prince’s child.  The child was brought-up as Lillie’s niece and told who her father was on the eve of her wedding day.  In July 1879 she also began an affair with the Earl of Shrewsbury and in June 1880 the pair had planned to run away together    The birth of Jeanne-Marie began a turbulent period in Lillie’s life.  Her husband Edward was declared bankrupt in the same year and the scandal created by rumours surrounding Jeanne-Marie’s father and Lillie’s many indescretions, resulted in Lillie being ostracized by society.  

Never one to be down for long, the enterprising Lillie became an actress and joined Bancroft’s company at The Haymarket Theatre, London.   Lillie made her professional début on the 15th December 1881 as Kate Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer (Oliver Goldsmith).  She then founded her own theatre company.  She became an American citizen in 1897.  Lillie loved America and toured the country many times between 1882-1889.  Lillie finally divorced her husband in 1897 and married Hugo Gerald de Bathe in 1899.  Edward died destitute in 1899.

Lillie also endorsed Pears’ Soap.  The following extract is from an 1884 advert:

‘Pears’ Soap – specially prepared for the delicate skin of ladies and children.  Prevents redness, roughness and chapping.  Fair white hands, bright clear complexion, soft healthful skin.  Mrs L. says, “Since using Pears’ Soap on the hands and complexion I have discarded all others.’

Lillie endorsed many beauty products. From the display at Red House (now Langtry Manor hotel).

I came across the following in a Scottish newspaper in April 1885 describing a visit made by a journalist to Lillie’s house in Eaton Square, London:-

‘The door of Mrs. Langtry’s house in Eaton Square is opened by a young Celestial named Wang-Fo, endowed with a pigtail of exceeding length and a surcoat of pale purple silk.  There are colossal footmen in attendance, but the picturesque substitute for a boy in buttons is Wang-Fo, a Chinaman in whom there is apparently no guile, and who was picked-up in ‘Frisco by Mrs Langtry, who, with the beautifully confiding nature of woman, believes him to be the son of a sometime wealthy merchant in that lively city – in short, the son of better days.  Wang-Fo politely inducts the visitor into a morning-room, furnished with a capacious couch of black satin…..In the drawing-room overhead hangs her own portrait, by Mr Poynter, R.A….. Presently appears Mrs Langtry, robed in an elegant costume which would prove very trying to a less beautiful complexion.  It is of steel-gray brocade with a mysterious scarf-like garnish of soft cachemire of the identical shade.  No other colour except her own hue of pale ivory, and hair of blonde-cendree, is visible upon Mrs Langtry, except a little cream-coloured Valois colour and the tip of a tiny black satin shoe, embroidered with gold.  Under one splendidly moulded arm the actress carries a purely white English terrier with a suspicion of the bull-dog in his head and fore-legs [Billy].’

If you are in Bournemouth I thoroughly recommend a visit, stay, meal or afternoon tea at Langtry Manor, Derby Road, East Cliff, Bournemouth, BH1 3QB, Tel: 01202 553887,, e-mail:

Posted in History, History of Medicine, TV Programme

The Victorian Pharmacy – Pills, Custard and Plasters!

Pill advert from 1895

I recently discovered, in a London newspaper from 1895,  some fascinating adverts for pharmaceutical products and thought you would be interested to see them.  Also, if you are a fan of the BBC 2 series Victorian Pharmacy,  the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s website has a really good article available to view from the July/August 2010 issue of Professional Pharmacy.   Jeff Mills discusses the making of the BBC series with one of the participants, Professor Nick Barber.   

Advert for Bird's Custard Powder, 1895.

On Victorian Pharmacy, Ruth Goodman recreates the recipe for Bird’s Custard.  Originally formulated by Chemist Alfred Bird.  His wife had an egg allergy and this prompted Alfred to create a custard powder that would bind without having to use eggs.  He made his first batch in 1837.  The product was so successful that Alfred decided to go into manufacturing, setting-up Alfred Bird & Sons in Birmingham.   In 1895, he had expanded his product range to include blancmange powder and jelly powder.  Bird’s Custard powder is still available and popular today.  We always have a tub of it in our store cupboard, if you add a dash of good quality, organic vanilla essence it makes the most delicious accompaniment to stewed rhubarb and ginger.


Advert for Allcock's plasters, 1895.

Plasters in Victorian times were not exactly the same as they are today.   Plasters were made by the Chemist out of flattened leather, white sheepskin or chamois shaped according to where it was to be placed on the body.  The plasters were partially covered with a thin layer of either melted resin, wool fat or beeswax which contained active ingredients, often essential oils.   When the plaster was placed onto the body part, heat would melt the resin, fat or wax and the oils would penetrate through the skin to ease the symptoms.   The plasters were packed into a box, each layer separated by grease-proof paper.   They sold well in the Victorian Pharmacy.

Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Mrs Beeton

Cooking Tartlets with Mrs Beeton

Pudding, Ice, Cake and other Moulds, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management , 1915 Edition.
Let’s cook again with Mrs Beeton.  Here are  Mrs B’s recipes for:
  • Lemon tartlets (Fr. Tartelettes au Citron) – two different methods;
  • Parisian tartlets (Fr. Tartelettes à la Parisienne);
  • Frangipan tart (Fr.  Tourt à la Frangipanne)
  • Pork pie.

Lemon tartlets – Method one

Ingredients:  Short paste (see earlier blog posting), 4 ozs of butter, 4 ozs of castor sugar, 3 yolks of eggs, 1 lemon.

Method: Cream the butter and sugar well together, beat each yolk of egg in separately, and add the juice of the lemon and the rind finely grated.  Let the mixture stand in a cool, dry place for at least 24 hours, then bake in patty-pans, previously lined with the short paste.

Time taken: To bake, from 15-20 minutes.  Quantity: sufficient for 1 tartlets.

Lemon tartlets – Method two

Ingredients: Short paste (see earlier blog posting), 4 lemons, 4 ozs of loaf sugar, 4 ozs of blanched finely shredded almonds.

Method: Pare the lemons thickly, boil the fruit in 2 or 3 waters until tender, then pound or rub through a fine sieve.  Replace in the stewpan, add the sugar, almonds and lemon-juice, and boil until a thick syrup is obtained.  Line 10 or 12 patty-pans with paste, fill them with the preparation, and bake for about 20 minutes in a moderately hot oven.

Time taken:  To bake from 20 to 25 minutes.  Quantity: sufficient to make 10 or 12 tartlets.

Parisian tartlets

Ingredients:  Short paste (see earlier blog posting), 3 ozs of butter, 3 ozs of castor sugar, 2 ozs of cake crumbs, 1 oz of cornflour, 1 oz of ground almonds, 2 small eggs, 2 tablespoonfuls of cream, 1 dessertspoonful of lemon-juice, 1/2 a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon.

Method: Cream the butter and sugar well together until thick and smooth, add the eggs separately and beat well.  Mix the cream and cornflour smoothly together, stir the ingredients into the mixture, add the ground almonds, cake crumbs, cinnamon and lemon-juice, and mix well together.  Line 12 tartlet-moulds with paste, fill them with the preparation and bake in a moderate oven from 15 to 20 minutes.  When about 3/4 baked, dredge them well with castor sugar.

Time taken: 30 to 40 minutes.  Quantity: sufficient for 12 tartlets.

Frangipan tart

Ingredients: short crust (short paste) (see earlier blog posting), 4 eggs, 1 1/2 ozs of butter, 1 1/2 ozs of sugar, 1/4 of an oz of flour, 1/2 a pint of milk, 1 bay-leaf, 2 or 3 fine strips of lemon-rind, nutmeg.

Method:  Mix the flour smoothly with a little milk, simmer the remainder with the bay-leaf, lemon-rind, and a pinch of nutmeg, for about 15 minutes, then strain it on the blended flour and milk, stirring meanwhile.  Return to the stewpan, add the butter, sugar, and slightly beaten eggs, and stir by the side of the fire until the mixture thickens, but do not let it boil.  Line a tart-tin with the paste, pour in the preparation when cool, and bake from 25 to 30 minutes in a moderate oven. Serve cold.

Time taken: To bake, about 1/2 an hour.  Quantity: sufficient for 1 large or 2 medium-sized tarts.

Note from Mrs B on Frangipanni puddings.  They were originally made chiefly of broken bread and a great variety of flavouring substances.  This was named after the Marchese Frangipanni, head of a very ancient Roman family whose privilege it was to supply “holy bread” or wafers to St. Peter’s cathedral, hence the name, derived from the Latin words frangere (to break) and panis (bread).  The Marchese Frangipanni was the inventor of the complicated, but very durable, perfume which bears this name.

Pork pie

Ingredients:  1 1/2lb of lean pork, 1lb of household flour, 6 ozs of lard, 1 small onion, 1/4 of a pint of water, cayenne, pepper and salt.

Method: Cut the meat into dices, and season it well with salt and pepper.  Place the bones in a stewpan, add the onion, salt and pepper, cover with cold water, and simmer for at least 2 hours to extract the gelatine, in order that the gravy, when cold, may be a firm jelly.  Put the flour into a large basin, and add to it a good pinch of salt.  Boil the lard and water together for 5 minutes, then add it to the flour, stirring it thoroughly until cool enough to be kneaded.  Knead until smooth, cover with a cloth, and let the basin stand near the fire for about 1/2  an hour.  Throughout the whole process the paste must be kept warm, otherwise moulding may be extremely difficult; but overheating must also be avoided, for when the paste is too soft it is unable to support its own weight.  At the end of this time, re-knead the paste, put aside about 1/4 for the lid, and raise the remainder into a round, or oval form, as may be preferred.  If an inexperienced worker finds any difficulty in raising the pie by hand alone, a small jar may be placed in the centre of the paste, and the paste moulded over it.  When the lower part of the pie has been raised to the necessary shape and thinness, subsequent work may be made much easier by putting in some of the meat, and pressing it firmly down to support the lower part of the pie.  Before adding the lid, moisten the meat with 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of the prepared seasoned gravy; the remainder is re-heated, and added after the pie is baked and still hot.  Three or four folds of greased paper should be pinned round th pie to preserve its shape, and prevent it becoming too brown.  The pie should be baked for at least 2 hours in a moderate oven, and its appearance is greatly improved by brushing it over with yolk or egg when about 3/4 baked.  Slices of hard-boiled egg are often added with the meat.

Time take: To bake, about 2 hours.  Quantity: enough to make 1 medium-sized pie.

Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Mrs Beeton, TV Programme

Afternoon tea with Mrs Beeton

The Victorian Kitchen display at Tudor House and Gardens, Southampton, Hampshire

Time to cook with Mrs Beeton again.  This posting is inspired by the second series of BBC’s The Great British Bake Off which began yesterday, Tuesday 16th August, 8pm on BBC2.  I love the mix of contemporary baking and historical background of some of the food created.  This week the 12 amateur bakers tackle 24 perfect cupcakes in 2 hours, Mary Berry’s recipe for coffee and walnut battenberg cake and finally, a tiered, showstopping cake.  Compulsive viewing for all foodies and food historians!

I have selected a few lovely recipes from my 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, to create afternoon tea à la Mrs B:

  • Tea bread;
  • Macaroons;
  • Ratafias;
  • Queen cakes (the forerunner of cupcakes and featured in one of the history segments on The Great British Bake Off);
  • Saucer cake for tea;
  • Afternoon tea scones;
  • How to make marzipan;
  • How to make the perfect cup of tea.

    Assorted Pastry from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition


25g = 1oz      100g = 4oz       225g = 1/2 lb     450g = 1lb

Tea Bread

Ingredients: 2lbs of flour, 1/4 of a lb of butter, 1/4 of sugar, 1oz salt, 1 1/2ozs of yeast, 1 1/2 pints of milk and water, 4 yolks of eggs.

Method: Make the milk and water lukewarm, turn it into a convenient-sized basin, dissolve the yeast and 2ozs of the sugar in it, stir in 1/4 of a lb of flour, cover over with a clean cloth, and stand aside in a warm place for 20 minutes.  While this is standing, weigh the remainder of the flour on to the board, rub the butter into it with the hands, then make a bay; add the other 2ozs of sugar, the yolks of eggs, and the salt in fine powder, and then if the ferment is ready put it into the bay, wet up into a smooth paste, give it a good kneading, then cover over with a clean cloth, and leave it to prove.  When well proved, divide up into pieces about 2ozs in weight, and form them into various shapes – twists, crescents, scrolls, rosettes, or any other shape fancy may suggest.  As these are formed, set them on to a clean tin, cover them over and leave to prove.  When well proved, wash them over with a beaten-up egg, and bake in a moderately warm oven to a nice colour.

These rolls are very much appreciated for afternoon tea, tennis and garden parties, and are an excellent adjunct to coffee, cut up into slices and dried in the oven as rusks.

Time taken: About 2 hours  Quantity: sufficient for 30 to 40 rolls.


Ingredients:  1/2 lb of ground sweet almonds, 3/4 lb of caster sugar, the whites of 3 eggs, wafer paper.

Method: Mix the sugar and ground almonds well together on the board, then put them into a large marble or porcelain mortar, add the whites of eggs, and proceed to well rub the mixture into a smooth paste.  When it begins to get stiff and stands up well it is ready, or if uncertain whether the paste has been pounded enough, try one in the oven, and if all right, lay sheets of wafer paper over clean baking-sheets, and lay out the biscuits upon it with a spoon, or savoy bag, place a few split almonds on the top of each, then bake in a cool oven.

Time taken: 15 to 20 minutes in a slow oven.  Quantity: Sufficient for 24 to 36 biscuits.


Ingredients: 3/4 lb of sweet ground almonds, 2ozs of butter, 1 1/4 lbs of caster sugar, the whites of 6 or 8 eggs.

Method: Exactly the same as for macaroons, but the paste must be a little softer and they must be laid out in very small drops on to sheets of clean white baking paper, laid over baking-plates, and baked in a cool oven to a very pale in colour.

Time taken: 20-30 minutes.  Quantity: Sufficient for 60 or 80 ratafias.

Queen cakes

Ingredients: 1lb of flour, 1/2lb of butter, 1/2lb of caster sugar, 3 eggs, 1 teacupful of cream, 1/2lb of currants, 1 teaspoonful of baking-powder, essence of lemon, or almonds, to taste.

Method: Sieve the baking-powder well with the flour on to a sheet of paper.  Put the butter, sugar and cream into a clean basin, and beat up to a light cream.  Add the eggs 1 at a time.  When all the eggs are in, add the flour and fruit, and moisten with milk to the consistency of cake-batter.  Put it into small buttered tins, and bake the cakes from a 1/4 to 1/2 an hour.  Grated lemon-rind may be substituted for the lemon and almond flavouring, and will make the cakes equally nice.

Time taken:  1/4 to 1/2 hour.  Quantity: sufficient for 2 or 3 dozen small cakes.

Saucer cake for tea

Ingredients: 1/4lb of flour, 1/4 of a best cornflour, 1/4lb of castor sugar, 1/4lb of butter, 2 eggs, 1oz of candied orange or lemon-peel.

Method: Mix the flour and cornflour together; add the sugar, the candied peel cut into thin slices, the butter beaten to a cream, and the eggs well-whisked.  Beat the mixture for 10 minutes, put it into a buttered cake-tin or mould; or, if this is obtainable, a soup-plate answers for the purpose, lined with a piece of buttered paper.  Bake the cake in a moderate oven from 3/4 to 1 hour, and when cold put it away in a covered canister.  It will remain good for some weeks, even if it be cut into slices.

Time taken: 3/4 to 1 hour   Quantity: sufficient for 1 cake

Afternoon tea scones

Ingredients:  4ozs of flour, 1oz of butter, 1 tablespoonful of caster sugar, 1/2 of a teaspoonful of cream of tartar, 1/4 of a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, 1 egg, a little cold water.

Method: Rub the butter lightly into the flour, and add the remaining dry ingredients.  Beat and stir in the egg, adding cold water or milk to make a light dough.  Roll out thin, cut into small rounds, and bake on a hot griddle or in a sharp oven.


Ingredients: 1lb of loaf sugar, 12ozs of ground almonds, 3ozs of sifted icing sugar, 2 whites of eggs, 1 1/2 gills of water (gill is approximately 1/4 of a pint).

Method: Boil the sugar and water to 240F, then draw the sugar boiler or pan aside, and when the syrup has cooled slightly add the almonds and whites of eggs.  Stir by the side of the fire for a few minutes, then turn on to a slab, stir in the icing sugar, and work with a spatula until the preparation is cool enough to handle.  Knead until perfectly smooth, add flavouring to taste, and mould into desired shapes.

How to make the perfect cup of tea

In order to make good tea it is necessary that the water should be quite boiling, but it must on no account be water that has boiled for some time, or been previously boiled, cooled, and then re-boiled.  It is a good plan to empty the kettle and refill it with fresh cold water, and make the tea the moment it reaches boiling point.  Soft water makes the best tea, and boiling softens the water, but after it has boiled for some time it again becomes hard.  When water is very hard a tiny pinch of carbonate of soda may be put into the teapot with the tea, but it must be used very sparingly, otherwise it may impart a very unpleasant taste to the beverage.  Tea is better made in an earthen than a metal pot.  One good teaspoonful of tea will be found sufficient for two small cups, if made with boiling water and allowed to stand 3 to 4 minutes; longer than this it should never be allowed to stand.  The delicate flavour of the tea may be preserved, and injurious effects avoided by pouring the tea, after it has stood 3 or 4 minutes, into a clean teapot which has been previously heated.

Fancy Cakes from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 edition.
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Mrs Beeton

Making pastry Mrs Beeton’s way – Part 1 – Short Crust Pastry

How to make pastry – Mrs Beeton 1915 edition
In chapter 31 – ‘Pastry making, tarts, tartlets, icing, etc’, Mrs B. advice on pastry making is clear, ‘…the quality especially to be desired in pastry is lightness.  The best pastry is therefore that which contains the greatest quantity of the coldest air prior to baking.’ (1915: 879)
25g = 1 oz       100g = 4 oz     225g = 1/2 lb    450g= 1lb
Rich Short Crust
1lb flour; 1/3 of a lb of butter; 2 yolks of eggs; 1 level tablespoonful of castor sugar; 1 teaspoonful of baking-powder.
Rub the butter lightly into the flour, add the baking-powder, sugar, yolks of eggs, and a little water if necessary, but this paste must be rather stiff, and when the butter is soft, or the paste is being mixed in a warm place, only a few drops of water may be required.  Roll out thinly and use at once.  The crust for fruit tarts should be lightly brushed over with cold water, and dredged with castor sugar before being baked.
Preparation time=  15 minutes,  will make 2 tarts of medium size or 24 patty-cases.
Short Crust
8 ozs of flour; 2 ozs of butter; 2 ozs of lard; 1 yolk of egg, 1 teaspoonful of baking-powder; a good pinch of salt; about 1/8th of a pint of water.
Rub the butter and lard lightly into the flour, add the baking-powder, salt, yolk of egg, and as much water as is necessary to form a stiff paste.  Roll out to the required thickness and use at once.
Preparation time = 15 minutes, sufficient for 1 medium-sized tart.
Short Crust, Plain
1/2 lb of flour; 3 ozs of lard; clarified fat or dripping; 1 teaspoonful baking-powder (heaped); 1/4 of a teaspoonful of salt; 1/4 of a pint of water.
Pass the flour, salt, and baking-powder through a sieve into a large basin, then rub in the fat, add the water, and work into a smooth paste with a knife.  Roll out to desired shape and thickness, and use at once.  When required for fruit tarts, 1 tablespoonful of sugar should be added to the above ingredients.
Preparation time = 15 minutes, sufficient for 1 medium-sized tart.
Let me know if you think Mrs Beeton’s recipes for short crust pastry work better than your normal methods?  Happy baking!