I recently made a thrilling discovery in my parent’s attic, an edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1915 by Ward, Lock & Co., Limited. My mother had carefully packed the treasured and well-loved hand-me-down into a storage crate. Unfortunately, the book was put to rest as it had become a little too well-loved and fallen into a rather parlous state. The first edition, printed in 1861, sold 60,000 copies and by 1868 sales had topped 2 million. The 1915 edition has twice the number of pages and is four times the size of the first edition. It includes hundreds of photographs, numerous coloured plates and over 2,000 new recipes contributed by Swiss Chef, Mr C. Herman Senn and his team. Herman Senn was a prolific writer of cookery books and one of the founders of the Universal Cookery and Food Association (UCFA), which evolved into the organisation now known as The Craft Guild of Chefs. Many of these new recipes helped to add an international dimension to the book. This edition also features a section on ‘Colonial and Foreign Cookery’, aimed at ‘…Britons living under other skies’, so that they could, ‘…learn how to combine the dishes of their adopted country with those of the Motherland ……and give a complimentary and characteristic repast when welcoming guests from abroad.’ (1915:Vii)
Isabella Mary Beeton (née Mayson) was born on the 12th March 1836 and died on 6th February 1865 after contracting puerperal fever following the birth of her fourth child. Mrs Beeton was a working journalist and made frequent contributions to her husband’s magazine, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. The Beeton’s first home was a large Italianate property at 2 Chandos Villas on the Woodridings Estate in Hatch End which they moved into after one month’s marriage in August 1856. The move to Hatch End was a turning point for Isabella. She found herself running a household and in charge of staff for the first time. She began to write extensively articles on all aspects of household management and cooking, to help over young women who had found themselves in a similar position of running a home for the first time. The readership for Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was predominately low to mid-level members of the Victorian/Edwardian middle-classes. Her writing elevates mundane domestic tasks to the level of professional craft.
There are some food historians who believe Mrs Beeton’s book to have very little relevance for the modern-day cook, I beg to differ. Although many of the ingredients stated are no longer available, such as ivory dust, the techniques given in many of the recipes are still as useful and relevant today as they were 150 years ago. I look forward to bringing you some of my favourite selections from this edition.
Great news for anyone interested in the history of medicine, the hugely successful series The Victorian Pharmacyis currently being repeated on BBC2, Monday evenings at 7pm. Professor Nick Barber, historian Ruth Goodman and PhD student Tom Quick bring to life the challenges faced by the Victorian pharmacist. The BBC recreated an everyday pharmacy at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge.
I recently stumbled upon a charming little Museum situated on Swanage sea front. The Swanage Museum was founded in 1976 by a group of enthusiastic artists and historians. The displays have been arranged and constructed with care by a team of volunteers. One of the exhibits that caught my eye is the replica of Lloyds Dispensing Chemists shop (see image above) which was situated at 42 High Street in Swanage. Following Pharmacist Henry Lloyd’s death in 1933, the business was carried on by his wife Kathleen and later by their daughter Mary. The shop closed in 1995. Some of the equipment in the images will be appear familiar if you are a fan of The Victorian Pharmacy!
Here is how the Victorian pharmacist created pills from raw ingredients:
all the dry ingredients were pulverised and mixed in a pill mortar and pestle;
excipient was added, drop-by-drop to bind form into a pliable mass. Excipient was usually syrup of liquid of glucose;
the mass was then rolled into a ball and then into a long, even sausage-style length;
the sausage-style length was cut into portions;
using the pill machine, the pill mass would be rolled to the number required to create rounded portions;
each pill round was roughly rolled between the finger and thumb and a smooth finish was created by using the pill rounder in a circular figure of eight movement;
the well-rounded pills were then set aside to dry.
Summer is now well and truly upon us. If the thought of donning your swimsuit and heading for the beach fills you with utter dread, then perhaps you should take your cue from Queen Victoria. Get yourself a bathing machine. The perfect way to combat the pain of pebbles pressing into the arches of your feet as you make a quick dash to the sea, hoping against hope that no one has noticed your bikini diet, you began in January, has spectacularly failed.
The bathing machine was invented in the 18th century so that invalids, who were unable to walk to the sea, could ‘take the waters’. Salt water was believed to be the new miracle cure-all. The machine also had a secondary function, the preservation of modesty when changing into bathing attire. When Queen Victoria came to the throne, Brighton was one of the more popular sea-side resorts. In 1847, at her summer retreat Royal Osborne on the Isle of Wight, Victoria took her first swim in the sea. Her bathing machine was built by a Portsmouth coachbuilder, had a pitched roof, dressing rooms and plumbed-in WC. The bathing machine became increasingly popular throughout the second half of the 19th century and even featured in advertisements for Bovril and Beecham’s Pills. Companies then saw the perfect marketing opportunity and used the side of the bathing machines as advertising billboards. Pears and Sunlight soap adopted this method of reaching a mass audience and their sales figures soared!