Aug 312013

Let us spare a thought today for a man who changed the face of gardening, a man responsible for all those beautiful football pitches cut with meticulous patterns, the man who helped retired sea captains to make their lawns into striped perfection: Edwin Beard Budding. Yes, that’s right, not exactly a household name for a man who invented the lawnmower. And also, for good measure, the adjustable spanner…

A mowerBeard was an engineer born in 1795. He lived in Stroud in Gloucestershire – an area bristling with woollen mills. He was familiar with the bladed reel used at the local mill belonging to Listers, used to trim the irregular nap from the woollen cloth. He reasoned that he could use the revolution of a roller, linked to gears, to turn a series of curved blades in order to trim grass. And having experimented in his back garden, he took out a patent on 31 August 1830. The original machine had a width of nineteen inches but he opted for two different sizes – one designed for park keepers and the other for ‘gentlemen.’ As Budding himself said “Country Gentlemen may find, in using my machine themselves, an amusing, useful, and healthy exercise.”

The smaller machine sold for seven guineas, the larger one for ten. They started to be made early in 1831 by two pioneers under licence from Budding – John Ferrabee at his Phoenix Foundry near Stroud, and James Ransome of Ipswich.

Up until then grass cutting involved either sheep or a man-with-a-scythe, so your average household did not feature a lawn. Suddenly Suburban Man could emulate the Gentleman Landowner – he too could have his spot of green, meticulously trimmed and rolled. He did not need the help of a herd of sheep, or get in a team of reapers – he could go out and get fit while pushing his shiny new mower!

Examples of the first mowers can still be seen in places such as the Stroud Museum and at the Science Museum in London – this picture appears courtesy of their website here.

A mower  built by J. R. and A. Ransomes of Ipswich to Edwin Budding's patent No. 3157 of 1830

The first examples were difficult to propel and therefore a bar was added at the front– so that it was a two-man operation, one to push and one to pull. Nevertheless public gardens and parks found it highly efficient – the head gardener at London Zoo, a Mr Curtis, announced that ‘with two men, one to draw and another to push, the new mower did as much work as six men with scythes and brooms’.

So, as we start up our mower-bot and set it trimming our verdant acres, or climb aboard our trusty ride-on mower, or plug in the hover-mower, let us raise a glass of Pimms to the man who started us all off on this merry-go-round: Edwin Budding!

Pimm's-Serve-Image(Picture courtesy of Diageo.)


Aug 232013
David Garrick life-mask

David Garrick’s life-mask

As a follow-up on my post about the funeral of Eleanor Hall  (here) I have asked Philip Spinks, a retired ambulance paramedic who has been researching the funeral of David Garrick, to do a guest blog for me.  He writes:

“Recently, at my local records office, I came across a contemporary copy of the 1779 funeral bill of the actor and theatre manager David Garrick. I didn’t know much about undertakers’ bills, let alone those of 250 years ago, and was keen to discover more to make sense of it all: ‘it all’ entailed eighteen closely written pages Mister Ireland, the undertaker, had presented to the Garrick’s executors.

Was this account, with all its trappings and paraphernalia, typical of a funeral for the wealthy? Garrick left about £100,000, so perhaps it was. Liza Picard’s book Samuel Johnson’s London gave a few pointers to the cost of London funerals at that time: a poor person’s funeral may cost about £15 and one for the ‘middling sort’ about £100. Garrick’s funeral bill totalled £1,391!

Portrait of David Garrick in wax, courtesy of V & A Museum

Portrait of David Garrick in wax, courtesy of V & A Museum

Secondary sources gave evidence of the splendour and scale of Garrick’s funeral; most remarking upon the size of the procession from Garrick’s house in Adelphi Terrace, near the Strand in London, to Westminster Abbey where he was buried; a funeral that was acknowledged as having been the grandest of any commoner prior to that of Lord Nelson in January 1806. But none of these sources gave information for comparison.

So I was glad to find the bill and details of Eleanor Hall’s funeral of 1780 in Georgian Gentleman. It showed among other things that, excepting the ‘bling’ that accompanied Garrick’s funeral, many of the items and practices were common to both and de rigueur for the time – it was only the scale that differed. The Hall residence had black mourning in the parlour and stairs; the Garrick home was likewise dressed, but the great actor lay-in-state for three days in a mourning room festooned with black ostrich feathers, silk hangings emblazoned with the family arms, a large black pall suspended above the fine red velvet-covered coffin, a room in which stood dozens of candlesticks and sconces (nearly one hundred pounds of candles were burned) with a separate area for the King and Queen to pay their respects; men in mourning dress guarded the property from the thousands of people who filed past the catafalque.

Both David Garrick and Eleanor Hall  were lain in three coffins (an elm coffin enclosed in a lead one, the whole being placed in a larger, outer coffin also made of elm. ‘Poor’ people had only one wooden coffin.) Over twenty times more invitation cards were distributed from the Garrick household than for Eleanor. But it is perhaps the procession to the burial place that showed the difference between the two funerals. Eleanor’s funeral cortege with four carriages of mourners to follow the route to Bunhill Fields (and having to pay a road toll en route) was a rather staid affair compared with Garrick’s thirty five coaches, drawn by caparisoned horses, the carriages carrying the great and good of London court, theatre, literary and social circles, with foot- and horse-men alongside them all with, at the procession’s head, the High Constable of Westminster, with soldiery ensuring the way was clear. Officials and mourners alike wore specially ordered gloves, cloaks and hatbands. And although Eleanor’s hearse must have been saluted by those pedestrians whom it passed, Garrick’s cavalcade was a subdued spectator sport with thousands, having waited for hours, lining the route. One thing is for sure: Eleanor’s cortege would have arrived at the burial ground on time: Garrick’s funeral service commenced at 3.30 p.m. – two and a half hours later than planned.

Detail from undertaker's invoice for Eleanor Hall

Detail from undertaker’s invoice for Eleanor Hall

One ‘rite’ was missing from Eleanor’s obsequies. During the period of Garrick’s funeral, three churches were fully dressed in mourning: St Martin in the Fields, Garrick’s parish church; Hendon church in north London where Garrick was lord of the manor; and in Hampton-on-Thames church, where the Garrick’s had their country house.

Marble statue  dedicated to David Garrick on the west wall of Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Shown courtesy of Westminster Abbey

Marble statue dedicated to David Garrick on the west wall of Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Shown courtesy of Westminster Abbey

Eleanor had had a ‘middling sort’ of funeral with the honour and respect paid to her as much as that of a wealthier family. When Mister Cooper, the Hall’s undertaker, presented his bill for a little over £50 it was probably received and paid without fuss. But the £1,391 charge for Garrick’s funeral was still outstanding several years later.”


The Westminster Abbey website  describes the statue and its inscription in some detail. It also records that when David’s widow died, some forty-three years after her husband, she was buried alongside him and the brass inscription reads:




Aug 202013

If caricaturists loved ridiculing the macaroni in the Eighteenth Century it is nothing compared to the way their successors – in particular the Cruickshanks – pilloried his 19th Century counterpart, the dandy.

It all seems such a long way from the simple and stylish elegance of  Beau Brummel – these ludicrous dandified costumes with high collars, tight waists, bulging (false) calf muscles and so on. The implication in many of the cartoons was that the poor slavish follower of these fashions was starving in order to look fashionable, and then succumbed to any passing breath of wind.

Here are a few I like, courtesy as usual of the Lewis Walpole Library site.

First up, one called “The Dandy sick, o Tim” which the site describes as follows:

“A bedroom scene suggesting genteel poverty, poorly furnished but with a carpeted floor. An emaciated dandy wearing a woman’s beribboned cap, and a dressing-gown, with high collar, frilled shirt, and breeches, droops in a chair, attended by two friends and a visitor.

The last (left) bows, holding hat and rolled umbrella, and asks “How do? What’s matt.” The invalid: “Not Well — Ca-a-nt tell.” One friend, wearing a woman’s cap, scarf, and a dangling pin-cushion, with dandy’s dress, proffers a glass containing ‘Dandy Water’ from an effervescing bottle; he says: “Do my dear fello take this nice cordial & this pretty Gilt Pill, it will raise your delicate drooping spirits, & keep off the Hysterics, which you know distresses your tender frame so unmercifully.”

The other (right), who wears an apron with dandy costume, and has a medicine-bottle in a pocket, proffers the pill, supporting the shoulders of the patient. He says: “Aye my sweet fellu I will torment my own frame to death, but I will discover some new Pectoral, Balsamic envigorating tonic nervous & exhilerating Cordial for your exquisite and effeminate Constitution.”

All four have stick-like limbs and debased features. On the bed beside the patient lie two books: ‘Ovids Art of Love’ and ‘Ovids Metamoposis’. On the wall hang the dandy’s coat, top-boots, riding-switch, and (on a shelf) Wig box, spurs, and bell-shaped top-hat. On a bare table (left) are a pin-cushion, bottles, one of ‘Ruspinos Styptic.’ Under it is an open trunk heaped with articles of dress. On the ground (right) are chamber-pots and a huswife.

It first appeared in February 1819 and deals with the same theme as this one by Isaac Cruikshank which appeared three months earlier:

A dandy lies back fainting in a chair, his limbs held rigid, supported by three others while a fourth figure (on the left) draws the curtain, cutting off a view of the  stage where a singer is performing. The three supporters say in turn:

“I am so frighten’d I can hardly stand!”;

“Mind you don’t soil the Dear’s linnen,” and,

“I dread the consequence! That last Air of Signeur Nonballenas has thrown him in such raptures, we must call a Doctor  immediately!”

A bottle of ‘Eau de Colonge’ [sic] is held  to the patient’s nostril. The fourth turns to say: “I must draw the curtain or his screams will alarm the House—you have no fello-feeling my dear fellos, pray unlace the dear loves Stays, and lay him on the Couch.”

Mind you, if the dandy wasn’t being an effeminate wimp, he was portrayed as a dishonest rogue, as in this one entitled Dandy Pickpockets Diving:

It shows a couple pre-occupied as they look in a shop window. The taller dandy rifles through the man’s pockets and passes the stolen goods across to his accomplice, who is about to run off smart-ish.

I previously used this one by Cruikshank showing dandies getting dressed – I just love the idea of calf-muscle falsies!


From left to right: The seated figure exclaims “D__n it! I really believe I must take off my cravat or I shall never get my trowsers on”

To his right “Pon honour Tom you are a charming figure! You’ll captivate the girls to a nicety!!

The half dressed dandy, one calf pad in place, replies “Do you think so Charles? I shall look more the thing when I get my other calf on.”

The figure standing on the chair trying to tie his cravat with both hands, is saying “Dear me this is hardly stiff enough. I wish I had another sheet of fools cap“  to which the dandy looking at himself in the glass replies, (no doubt without a hint of double entendre!) “You’ll find some to spare in my breeches.”

To end with: The Hen-Pecked Dandy. The caption reads: “The Demon of Fashion Sir Fopling bewitches— The reason his Lady betrays—  For as she is resolved upon wearing the Breeches,  In revenge he has taken the Stays!”

Frankly I am amazed the era of the dandy lasted five minutes with Cruikshank around taking the p*ss the whole time!  No wonder that once the Regency era was over there was a backlash and we ended up with sombre Victorian austerity in men’s fashions!

Aug 152013

Carved into the limestone near the town of Weymouth in Dorset, some 300 feet above sea level , is a picture of a man on horseback, 280 feet long. Not just any man, but reputedly King George III, and for over two centuries he has been there, commemorating the fact that the monarch used to visit the town regularly over a fifteen-year period.

A photograph of the Osmington White Horse taken 80 years after the hillside was cut. It is little-changed over the centuries.




Horse and rider seen from the air.


George III started his visits in 1789, encouraged by tales about how beneficial the sea air (and indeed sea water) would be to his fragile health. Year after year he came back, his final visit being in 1805. The figure was carved three years afterwards, so George never saw it. That hasn’t stopped all manner of stories about the King being offended because it shows him riding away from his beloved Weymouth, rather than entering it.

The carving has been spruced up this year to coincide with the fact that Weymouth plays host to the Olympic Games sailing competition. Let us hope that the face-lift lasts longer than the ill-conceived ‘Ask Anneka’ challenge a few years back, when inadequate preparations and over-hurried workmanship resulted in good television, but bad restoration…

I thought it would be fun to look out the records of just one of His Majesty’s visits, to see exactly what he got up to. Fortunately the records in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1794 are really very detailed and give a fascinating picture of the Royal court ‘on tour’

The record starts by announcing that on August 15th “at an early hour in the morning, after a slight refreshment of tea, coffee &c the King, Queen Prince Ernest and the six Princesses left Windsor in two post chaises with the most loyal effusions of good wishes from the inhabitants for their safe return.”

Weymouth turned out to welcome the Royal party later that day: broadsides were fired by the sloops of war off the coast, while a cannon was fired on the Esplanade by way of a Royal salute. “A melancholy accident happened to the two men firing the cannon, owing to their not sponging the gun properly, the cartridge took fire, by which one of the men had his hand blown off, and the other lost one of his eyes and was otherwise most hurt. The cloaths of the latter were set on fire, and were with much difficulty torn off time enough to save him from being burnt to death.” Not the most auspicious of starts…

The next day, a Saturday, saw the King “take an airing on the Dorchester Road”, while Her Majesty and the Princesses walked on the Esplanade and regaled Mr Wild and his family, of Lulworth Castle, with a great share of her conversation.

Sunday 17th August saw the King make an early start – by seven o’clock he was walking to the Look-out, getting back for his breakfast two hours later. The Royal party went to Melcombe Church to hear a sermon by the Revd Groves- they always attended church there, much to the dismay of the Princesses who found the atmosphere inside horribly warm and stuffy, on account of the great press of onlookers. By the evening rain had set in and the King went for a damp walk, leaving his wife and children behind in their rooms.

The fun started in earnest the next day at seven – His Majesty had a quick dip in the briny “in his old machine” before taking an airing on the road to Wareham. A replica of the bathing machine has just been restored and on 1st June was put back on the sea front. Rumour has it that when the King went for a swim a small orchestra was concealed in the next-door bathing machine so that they could strike up “God Save the King” as His Majesty emerged, like King Neptune, from the tumultuous waves!

19th August saw Princess Augusta brave the sea while her father walked along the Esplanade. He then decided to ride out along the road to Dorchester while the Queen and five of her daughters “took an airing in the carriage” before returning to “the Dukes Lodge” for dinner. The Dukes Lodge was owned at that stage by the King’s brother the Duke of Gloucester. A year or two later the King purchased Gloucester Lodge and used it for all subsequent visits, Many years later saw it converted into a hotel. A disastrous fire in the 1920’s caused the Lodge to be altered with the addition of an extra storey and a huge porch – and it remains as luxury apartments with splendid sea views.


Things settled down to a routine of bathing, walking, riding out and trips to the theatre (apparently often to see the same play…). In the evening of 21st August the whole party traipsed up to see the Army Camp “and saw the men go through their exercises. His Majesty paid the Marquis of Buckingham many compliments on their different manoeuvres” and in return was rewarded with a “21 gun salute and the men gave three huzzas”.

The next day – a quick swim and then they assembled at the pier at ten to be taken on board the frigate Southampton for a trip round the bay. That was just the Dress Rehearsal, since the next day they repeated the exercise in order to review the fleet from on board the Southampton. The Prince of Wales turned up at half past three, and at seven the entire family and its entourage headed for the theatre “which was full and brilliant.”

Sunday saw a return to Melcombe church and in the afternoon the Queen and the Princesses ”took an airing in the Sociable on the sands.” Apparently they brought at least two of these open carriages with them since they all paraded in the Sociables over the next couple of days. The full title was a sociable barouche, and consisted of two double seats facing each other, usually drawn by one but sometimes two horses.

Picture of a Sociable from Ackermann’s Depository, 1816


More visits to the theatre followed in the next few days, to see ‘The Chapter of Accidents’ and ‘The Romp’. If it wasn’t the theatre, they stayed in and played cards, but if ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ was on, they invariably went to see that; or “Animal Magnetism” starring Tony Lumpkin as ‘the Doctor’…

30th August saw Farmer George (as the King was irreverently called) go off “with Lord Walsingham and General Goldsworthy  to see the stock and grounds of Farmer Bridges of Elverton” while the others bathed, took the airs, and prepared for that night’s trip …. to the theatre.

The days dragged by into September with little alteration to the routine. On 8th September Princess Augusta bathed while her father walked the esplanade prior to an airing on horseback upon the Dorchester road. It was their Majesties’ Wedding Anniversary so the guns of the frigates and sloops in the bay thundered out their salute, answered by a salvo from the shore battery. There was a ball and supper that night ‘in honour of the day’.

On the 9th September His Majesty bathed (no longer in his old machine: the new one had been brought into commission).  “This afternoon his Majesty held a Privy Council at Gloucester Lodge.”  The meeting broke up at half past four leaving the King time for a an afternoon stroll. That evening the Queen had a concert and a card party, and the next day looked to be a repeat of all that had gone before – bathing, promenading, taking the air, and “the Royal Family intended to honour the theatre with their presence; but were prevented by the arrival of an express with news of the death of Her Majesty’s sister.”

The Prince of Wales, who loathed these family gatherings (and anyway far preferred the more fashionable company to be found in Brighton) was able to escape on 12th September, going on “a shooting party to Mr Churchill’s seat near Blandford.” Those remaining went to see the Sencible Cavalry, where Farmer Enfield had generously “donated an ox roasted whole. The spectators were numerous”. The Sencibles appear to have been a sort of Home Guard, intended to protect the country as opposed to being sent overseas. General Tarleton stated in Parliament that “he could not see the least public utility – he never saw a corps of sencibles that answered his idea of military excellence: they were well enough adapted for young gentlemen to display their equestrian graces and military prowess in country villages but the expense (half a million pounds in 1796 ) was enormous.” And so they strutted around, doing their stuff, and munching on roast ox…

Another day, more swimming, more games of cards, more airings in the Sociable. I was interested to see that at this stage the Queen had not actually gone in to mourning for her sister – official mourning started on 14th September, four days after the death, when it was reported that  “This day the Royal Family and the nobility here went into mourning for the Queens sister”. That didn’t preclude His Majesty and Prince Ernest going bathing, nor going on board the Southampton for a spot of dinner, nor indeed going to the theatre.

The 16th was a trifle unfortunate for some: the royal party went to watch the Buckinghamshire Militia be put through their paces – “ His Majesty paid the Marquis a very high compliment on the men being so well disciplined” before sitting down ”to a cold collation in the Lord Chancellor’s marquee. On leaving the camp a royal salute was fired; when a melancholy accident took place – one of the gunners belonging to the artillery had his arm shot off, and expired soon after.”

A trip to Maiden Castle to view the Sencible Cavalry took place the following day, and no doubt His Majesty, taking dinner at Gloucester Lodge, was able to observe the commotion as “Mr Farrow and his two daughters, in the company of two naval officers, were coming on shore at the pier when the boat ran foul of a post buried under the water and was overset.”

                                        John Constable’s view of Weymouth sea front in 1819.

On the 18th September “ Princesses Mary and Elizabeth bathed in the Floating Machine” – Prince Ernest and the Duke of Gloucester also had a quick dip before a huge thunderstorm occurred and a gale swept across Weymouth Bay. “About nine the Sunflower, being driven from her anchor, fired two guns of distress…the longboat from the Southampton with great difficulty saved then form going upon the rocks.” The Royals stayed indoors until the storm abated, and then went out in the evening to the theatre. It stayed rough and wet for the next few days but the twenty-second was the anniversary of the Kings coronation so “the troops fired a feu de joie, which was answered from the batteries. At one the ships fired a royal salute, and were all dressed on that occasion.” In the coming days there were hunting parties and much drinking of tea at Lady Powlet’s as well as more trips to the theatre. But all good things must come to an end, and I dare say that the Royal Princesses were well pleased when the sixteenth September came and they could all spend the entire day packing and preparing for departure; no swimming, no riding, no promenading, and no theatricals…

An early start on the day of departure (18th September) saw everyone set off at five in the morning. They paused for an hour at Salisbury, came through Hartford-bridge, and reached Windsor at half past six.  “A general illumination took place in the evening, bells ringing and guns firing, amid the acclamation of the whole town.”

So there you have it – five weeks by the seaside, very much en famille. It certainly helped put Weymouth on the map!


Aug 142013
Self portrait

Self portrait

Today’s post commemorates a fine artist, Irish by birth, who was a founder member of the Royal Academy and yet who was a pain in the neck to the self-righteous President of that august body, the cold fish known as Sir Joshua Reynolds.The man in question is Nathaniel Hone the Elder (so named because he had a distant nephew who also painted, 200 years later). Nathaniel the Elder was born on 24th April 1718 and was brought up in Dublin by his Dutch father.

He appears to have been self-taught as an artist, specializing in miniatures and small enamels, He married, and in the 1740’s travelled to London to get work as an itinerant artist. He was involved briefly with the Society of Artists, but left when he threw in his lot with those who wanted to form a Royal Academy. It was launched in 1768 under the leadership of Sir Joshua. So far so good. But Hone tired of the pontificating President, with his insistence on copying all things classical. Reynolds wanted all his students to study the Renaissance Italian masters, suggesting that only by copying them could anything of value be produced. Hone saw it for what it was – plagiarism, and he satirised the approach in a picture called The Conjurer, painted in 1775.

nathaniel hone the conjurer 1775

That didn’t go down well with Reynolds, or with the Hanging Committee of the R.A. who refused to exhibit it. Rather than have it out with Hone face to face, Reynolds wound up his protegée Angelica Kauffman and sent her into battle on his behalf.

Angelica by Angelica

Angelica by Angelica

Angelica was another founder member of the RA but she was devoted to Reynolds: allegedly Hone’s picture entitled The Conjurer also showed Kauffman, naked, in the top left hand corner. Kauffman objected – the implication was that she and Reynolds were having a physical relationship. Hone relented and painted over the nude figure but the Royal Academy were unmoved: they still refused to hang the painting.

Hone was thoroughly cheesed off and went away and held a one-man exhibition – the very first ever held in England – and achieved considerable success. Certainly he seems to have had more people through the doors to see his own exhibition that would ever have seen the painting in the Academy’s summer exhibition at Somerset House.

I rather like his portraits of men – rather more so than his female sitters, who to me all appear somewhat “samey”. Here are a few I like:-

Charles Lee Lewis

Charles Lee Lewis

This is his portrait of the blind magistrate Sir John Fielding, painted in 1762.

NPG 3834; Sir John Fielding by Nathaniel Hone

And a lovely portrait of his son John Camillus Hone, entitled The Spartan Boy

Nathaniel Hone The Spartan Boy. John Camillus Hone,  son of the artist

I also like his “Portrait of a Gentleman,”  followed by “The Piper boy”:

Nathaniel Hone portrait of a gentleman 1769

NathanielHone pb Nat Gallery

I think my favourite is his miniature portrait of a 93 year old  beggar called James Turner, painted in 1750:




Hone died on August 14th, 1784. And to end with here are another couple of self portraits:



Aug 102013

I believe that no decent blog can expect to be well-received unless it contains regular posts featuring pigs. Certainly that is why I have gone out of my way to include pigs whenever the opportunity arises…

I also enjoy puns, and I love the way that cartoonists brought out prints giving “literal”examples of well-known sayings – in this case “a pig in a poke”. Now we all know that in the late Middle Ages a “poke” was a sack or bag and that the expression referred to unscrupulous meat vendors selling a dog or  a cat in a sack with a knot tied around the neck of the sack so that the purchaser believed he was getting a small porker. The wise purchaser would insist on the knot being untied – and thereby “letting the cat out of the bag” while the foolish one would buy the “pig in a poke”.

But  by the eighteenth century “poke” was also the name for a bonnet with a long peak, and so we have this charming picture of Mother Pig and her offspring, parading around in their poke bonnets. It was published in 1799 by William Holland. Nice one!

Poke bonnets also feature in this 1810 cartoon entitled Les Invisibles


And to end with, an old favourite:




Aug 062013

In this print, shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, we see all the ingredients of Eighteenth Century caricatures: a bit of smut, a bit of obscenity, the happy hooker, the old crone – brought together by William Humphrey in 1778 under the title A Trip to Cocks Heath.


The Lewis Walpole site has this explanation:

“A crowd of visitors on the right are shown approaching the military camps at Coxheath indicated on the left with tents and cannon. The crowd, preceded by a barking dog, is chiefly comprised of women, led by a prostitute in pseudo-military garb who is carried on the shoulders of a soldier. Behind her a young woman leads a fat military officer wearing a large wig and carrying his sword in his hand. Following are two elderly women, one with a large muff, the other holding crutches and seated in a wheelbarrow pushed by an old man. Other women and soldiers make up the crowd. In the left foreground are three cannons, inscribed “9 P.”, “9 Pounder”, and “G.R. 12″, the latter being admired by several women”

Jokes about cocks, and phallic canons – what more can you ask for ?

Aug 022013

On the left, Nigella Lawson, she of the lip-smacking, finger-licking cookery programmes; and on the right, an Eighteenth Century kitchen heroine called Hannah who, it has to be said on the evidence of this picture, was never likely to get the male pulse racing….








I have always liked the name Hannah, I suppose because it is a palindrome, so today’s post on Hannah Glasse is an overdue pleasure. Hannah was born in 1708 and was christened on 28th March in that year. She was born in Holborn in London, the illegitimate child of a Northumberland landowner called Isaac Allgood. He had recently married another Hannah – a Hannah Clark, daughter of a London vintner. It appears that Isaac had a soft spot for ladies by the name of Hannah because the person who brought young Hannah into the world was yet another by that name – Hannah Reynolds, a widow woman. The young child was taken by her father to be brought up with his legitimate children, Lancelot and Isaac, in Simonburn near Hexham (Northumberland).

It cannot have been easy for her, especially when her father and step-mother both died while she was in her teens. Perhaps it is not surprising that she fell for the charms of an Irish soldier by the name of John Glasse – they got married on 5 August 1724 when she was just sixteen.

Johnny-boy may have been no great catch financially – they appear both to have got jobs working as servants in the household of the 4th Earl of Donegall at Broomfield, Essex. In 1732 they moved to London, and Hannah appears to have embarked on baby-farming in a big way (eight children in as many years, in the period up to 1743). I am pleased to report that one of the children was named Hannah, so that makes four so far in this post….

So far, so little to distinguish her from the many thousands of women who walked along the same path, and who ended up with nothing to remember them by. But Hannah is remembered – because she wrote a book. Not just any old book, but a book which was to be reprinted over and over again throughout the Eighteenth Century, both in Britain and in the American colonies.


The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy was first published in 1747 and went on to appear in 20 editions before the century was out. It remained in print until 1843 – and indeed facsimile copies are still available on Amazon. You can even get it as a free e-book via Google here

What made The Art of Cookery so popular was its down to earth simplicity. Sure, she “borrowed” many of the recipes from works which had already appeared in print, (it has been suggested that 342 out of the 972 recipes are straight “lifts”) but let’s face it, some modern TV chefs seem to spend their time re-cycling each other’s recipes. Nothing new there, then…

HG6The book broke the tradition of ape-ing everything French – Hannah generally avoided using French terminology, or French names for recipes. Indeed she went further by making it clear that the French style of cooking was not to be tolerated. This was a very deliberate and refreshing attempt to distance herself from earlier books. In the Preface she says “I have heard of a cook that used six pounds of butter to fry twelve eggs – when everybody knows (that understands cooking) that half a pound is full enough or more than need be used: but then it would not be French, So much is the blind folly of this age that they would rather be imposed on by a French booby than give encouragement to a good English cook!”


So she gives us recipes for those English classics such as Yorkshire pudding and, curiously, curry! But her other quality which set her apart from earlier food writers was that she directed her writing at what she termed ‘the lower sort’  i.e. domestic servants who could read, rather than to Ladies of the Household. She made it easy for them to understand what was required – no fancy jargon, no steps omitted.

"The Business of Cooking" 1813

“The Business of Cooking” 1813

Despite the success of the publication the financial rewards eluded Hannah. After her husband died in 1747 she opened a business in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden as a ‘habitmaker’ or dressmaker, jointly with her eldest daughter Margaret. It was not a success and in 1754 she was declared bankrupt and sent to a debtors’ prison. In October that year she was left with no option but to auction her most prized asset, the copyright for The Art of Cookery, and the bankruptcy was discharged. Keeping her head above water without the book royalties proved impossible: on the 22nd June 1757 she was consigned to the Marshalsea debtor’s prison and from there, in July 1757, to Fleet Prison.

Eventually she was released and tried her hand at publishing another couple of books, but commercial success eluded her. She died in 1770. But her legacy was a book which dominated the world of cooking for a hundred years – she was the Mrs Beeton of her day, a Nigella without the cleavage. I like the way she made cookery instructions accessible – her style of writing is lively and clear. And if you are minded to try her recipes I recommend the Celtnet Recipe site here