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  • Eleanor of Castile by Sara Cockerill - feature

    Eleanor of Castile, the remarkable woman behind England’s greatest medieval king, Edward I, has been effectively airbrushed from history; yet she had one of the most fascinating lives of any of England’s queens. Her childhood was spent in the centre of the Spanish reconquest and was dominated by her military hero of a father (St Ferdinand) and her prodigiously clever brother (King Alfonso X the Learned). Married at the age of twelve and a mother at thirteen, she gave birth to at least sixteen children, most of whom died young. She was a prisoner for a year amid a civil war in which her husband’s life was in acute danger. Devoted to Edward, she accompanied him everywhere, including on Crusade to the Holy Land. All in all, she was to live for extended periods in five different countries. Eleanor was a highly dynamic, forceful personality who acted as part of Edward’s innermost circle of advisers, and successfully accumulated a vast property empire for the English Crown. In cultural terms her influence in architecture and design – and even gardening – can be discerned to this day, while her idealised image still speaks to us from Edward’s beautiful memorials to her, the Eleanor crosses. This book reveals her untold story.

    Read an Excerpt from Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen:

    If you know anything at all about Eleanor of Castile, you may count yourself in the elite minority. By far the most common question I have been asked during the course of writing this book has been (with a puzzled frown) ‘Who was she, exactly?’ Perhaps one in ten of those asking has made the connection that Eleanor was the wife of England’s greatest medieval monarch, Edward I. And they are hardly alone. In a recent bestselling popular history a full-time historian and his editors managed to assign Philippa of Hainault to the first Edward, rather than the third; numerous other historians have also ‘lost’ Eleanor of Castile.

    The second most common question has been why I decided to write this book at all. The real answer is that I was labouring under a misapprehension. I thought that the record on Eleanor needed to be put straight and the perception that everyone had of her corrected. But it seems in fact that ‘everyone’ did not have a perception of her at all. Few knew that for centuries Eleanor has been wrongly lauded as the epitome of quiet retiring queens, with Botfield and Turner, upon whose work that of Agnes Strickland was substantially based, describing her thus: ‘No equivocal reputation is associated with Eleanor of Castile. She never swerved from the position which fortune assigned to her, or failed to perform the gentle and peaceful duties which belonged to it. The memory of her unobtrusive virtues and worth passed away with those who witnessed, or were the objects of her care and solicitude.’

    So why does Eleanor of Castile deserve to be rescued from the scrapheap of history? One very good reason is because she was far from unobtrusive; she was a remarkable woman for any era. Eleanor was a highly dynamic, forceful personality whose interest in the arts, politics and religion were highly influential in her day – and whose temper had even bishops quaking in their shoes. Highly intelligent and studious, she was incomparably better educated, and almost certainly brighter, than her husband. She was a scholar and an avid bookworm, running her own scriptorium (almost unique in European royal courts) and promoting the production of illustrated manuscripts, as well as works of romance and history. Equally unusually she could herself write and she considered it a sufficiently important accomplishment that her own children were made to acquire the skill.

    She also introduced numerous domestic refinements to English court life: forks, for example, first make their appearance in England in her household and carpets became sought after in noble circles in imitation of her interior design style. She was a pioneer of domestic luxury: she introduced the first purpose-built tiled bathroom and England’s first ‘fairy tale’ castle – both at her own castle of Leeds, in Kent. She revolutionised garden design in England, introducing innovations – including fountains and water features – familiar to her from Castile.

    Perhaps most interestingly she was also in many ways the obverse of the traditional mid-late medieval queen, who was expected to be humble and intercessory. She emphatically rejected the paradigm of submissive queenship, insisted on having a real job to do and was devoted to that work. As well as acting as part of Edward’s innermost circle of advisers, she also took on her own shoulders a whole department charged with accumulating properties for the Crown and acquired, through her own efforts, a major landed estate. In modern terms one might well see in Eleanor a parallel with Hillary Clinton – a real dynamic power behind the throne. feature on 30th October 2015


    Sara Cockerill's Eleanor of Castile is available for purchase now.

  • The Georgians: things you may not know - Britain Magazine feature

    Think you know the Georgians? Check out these weird and wonderful facts about the people who lived during an age of great social and political change, from Mike Rendell’s new book, The Georgians in 100 Facts.

    Jane_Austen_coloured_version Jane Austen, from a drawing by her sister Cassandra

    The Georgian era is known for its lavish fashions and sumptuous food, as well as being a time of great social and political change. It saw the birth of the Industrial Revolution, the abolition of the slave trade and the expansion of the British Empire.

    It was also the age of some of the most colourful and creative characters in British history, from Shelley and Wordsworth to the mad King George III and Capability Brown.

    Mike Rendell’s new book The Georgians in 100 Facts covers some weird and wonderful facts about the era, as well as debunking myths. Here’s a taste of what’s on offer.

    George III may not have been mad to start with, but he was by the end

    It has been fashionable to explain the various bouts of illness that affected George III throughout his reign as being caused by porphyria. Certainly, one of the symptoms of porphyria can be blue urine, apparently noted by the king’s doctors, but others argue that the discoloration was caused by his medicinal use of gentian root. Nowadays, he would probably be diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder.

    Whatever the cause, the fact remains that the behaviour of the king was at times extremely erratic. Contemporaries speak of his excessive loquacity, which would lead to him literally frothing at the mouth. He would scribble long sentences, only occasionally bothering to use a verb, and spend hours designing enormous palaces, filled with dramatic staircases by largely devoid of windows.

    ‘Capability’ Brown destroyed more gardens than anyone else before or since

    Capability Brown died on 6 February 1783, in London, leaving behind a legacy unparalleled in the history of English gardening. Indeed, one of the criticisms made against Brown was that he had destroyed so much of what had gone before. The architect Sir William Chambers complained that Brown’s grounds ‘differ very little from common fields, so closely is nature copied in most of them’.

    His works destroyed the three greatest Baroque gardens in England: Longleat House in 1757 and Chatsworth and Blenheim in 1760. In its place he brought a parkland style which became so popular that there can hardly be a stately home in the country which doesn’t show Brown’s influence to some degree.

    Jane Austen remained anonymous throughout her lifetime

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that although Jane Austen published four novels during her lifetime they were all published anonymously. Each book was described as having been written ‘by a lady’. While she was alive she received a certain amount of critical acclaim, from writers such as Sir Walter Scott, but derived very little financial return from her writings, and certainly not enough to lift her from a life of considerable straightened circumstances. Jane, like most of her heroines, was faced with the unenviable choice of remaining single and poor, or marrying and losing all independence. Unlike her heroines, who generally waited until love prevailed and all parties got their dues, Jane turned her back on the one proposal of marriage she did receive and paid the price by never getting to live happily ever after.

    Written by Sally Hales for The Official Magazine Britain feature on 4th September 2015


    Mike Rendell's The Georgians in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

  • An Illustrated Introduction to the Regency by Mike Rendell

    When I was asked to write An Illustrated Introduction to the Georgians I jumped at the chance. I had never written a book which was part of a series, and which had to fit in to an existing format in terms of length, number and use of images, and so on. Getting upwards of seventy images, all free of copyright, was a challenge. In effect you choose the illustrations and then write the book around them. It was fun doing the project, and when I was asked to do a follow-up, An Illustrated Introduction to the Regency”, I was delighted.

    On the other hand, I realized that I knew someone who was far more knowledgeable about certain aspects of the Regency than I could ever be – Philippa Sutcliffe. She happens to be my wife. She has always been a Regency ‘nut’ and knows a vast amount about etiquette, fashion, style and so on. I blame it on her having read far too many Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen novels when she was younger. Apparently she was so keen on the period that when she got confirmed, at the age of thirteen, she persuaded the Bishop to add “Philippa” to her name on an official form, enabling her to get a new passport. The first her parents knew about it was when the passport, bearing the name “Philippa” landed on the mat. They never once used that name for her, and I think they were happy that she didn’t choose “Arabella” or something else more fanciful.

    Anyway, I knew that doing a book on the Regency would be far easier if I had Philippa as co-author, rather than have her reading the proofs of my attempts to describe Regency life and exclaiming “No, it wasn’t like that” so I asked if she would help me co-write it.

    I must admit: I have never co-authored a book before, and it is not without its challenges! Who decides who should write which sections? Who decides how many words are allocated for each chapter? Who gets to decide if the chapter on Fashion should get an extra five hundred words, or three extra illustrations? And if a picture really does tell a thousand words does that mean that if I agree to Philippa having a picture of a natty waistcoat I could take back a thousand of her words to use to describe the Battle of Trafalgar?

    The only way to resolve such matters is to shut yourself up in a small room together, so that neither party can stomp off in high dudgeon. As it happened, we had the perfect place – a cabin on board the Braemar, where I was delivering a series of lectures on Georgian history. There in the cabin we could bicker and argue, and eventually agree, on the way the book was to be written. At times it was highly entertaining and, as there was no escape, we had no choice but to buckle down and agree. Within a few weeks the problems had been ironed out, and the book was written.

    Actually, looking back on it we both feel it was great fun, and we are delighted with the outcome. Together the two books, introducing readers to the Georgian period in general and the Regency in particular, make good companions. I hope they both “do as they say on the tin” – they are an introduction. It’s just that if I ever ask my wife to co-write anything else in the future I think I will have to do more than offer her a cruise to Spain by way of compensation. I rather think something further afield will be called for…


    Mike Rendell and Philippa Sutcliffe's An Illustrated Introduction to the Regency is available for purchase now.

  • The Romans in 100 Facts by Jem Duducu

    In the classic comedy The Life of Brian in it the Monty Python team have the classic sketch ‘So what have the Romans ever done for us?’ In it innovations such as roads, aqueducts and schooling are raised (and then dismissed). It's the perfect summary of Rome's greatest achievement which is PR. I say this because in reality, the Romans did not invent anything on the list of ‘Roman’ achievements in the sketch.

    The single greatest thing the Romans ever did for us is make us believe they were a ‘civilising’ force for good. They had had an advantage in Western Europe as the Celtic civilisations had no real writing. The Romans then could preserve for history their side of the story, but the fact the Gauls, Picts etc couldn't write does not make them uncivilised barbarians who ‘needed’ Roman overlordship.

    The further east you go, the more obvious it is that the Romans were the young upstart civilisation. For example in terms of time we are all closer to Julius Caesar and Cleopatra then they are to the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Romans could bring nothing to the table in terms of history or culture in Egypt. Similarly the Romans owed a huge debt to the Hellenic Greek culture, but that didn't stop them conquering that area either.

    The simple fact is that the arrival of the legions in a new area did not herald a peaceful takeover, but war and enslavement. Civilisations were crushed, ruling families killed; this was in no way a meeting of minds and a merging of two equal partners. Going back to The Life of Brian and indeed the real time of Jesus, the Romans had actually only recently arrived on the scene and we're still coming to grips with ruling such an ancient culture. That's one of the reasons the Romans were resented so much in Judea - and the rest as they say is history.

    With my new book "The Romans in 100 Facts" I do my best to summarise over a thousand years of Roman history in short stories about certain key people, places and battles to open up this complex and hugely important world for the casual reader. I point out their achievements but I also show the flaws and brutality of this civilisation. This is the civilisation after all that watched men fight to the death for fun and yet perfected stoic philosophy. They had a massive slave trade but also built public baths and toilets for its poor citizens. The Romans then are a fascinating series of contradictions.


    Jem Duducu's The Romans in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

  • Erotic Postcards of the Early Twentieth Century by Nigel Sadler

    Sometimes research takes you onto a peculiar and unexpected path. Back in 2013 I started to work on the book Ottery St Mary Through Time. During this research some of the postcards led me into looking more deeply into the First World War, resulting in the publication The First World War: The Postcard Collection. One of the postcards used in this book showed a woman dressed provocatively and had been sent to a woman from a soldier reporting he was being treated in hospital for shrapnel wounds. This seemed a rather odd image to have been sent so I looked more into it.

    Erotic Postcards - Mademosielle Magva Mademosielle Magva, c.1910 (Amberley Publishing)

    What I had found was the ‘French Postcard’ genre. This card was probably from a sequence of images in which the lady got undressed and ended with partial or full nudity. Reading several books on the First World War there was occasional, but limited reference to men collecting postcards showing naked women, and in the film ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ she claims she wanted to show soldiers real naked women during the performances at the Windmill Theatre rather than just on the postcards like she had found in her sons possessions after he had been killed in the First World War. I had of course seen some of these postcards throughout the years but didn’t really think about their context - my curiosity had been spiked.

    I must say at this stage what I was looking into was generally not what I would term pornography. These cards don’t show obscene scenes or acts of sexual intercourse. In many cases they were produced to titillate and to push the boundaries of decency, but in my opinion they were just an extension of the old art schools using female nudes in paintings, drawings, sculptures now using the new and developing medium of photography.

    Erotic Postcards - PC Studio Paris PC Studio Paris, Series 1706 (Amberley Publishing)

    The French studios dominated this genre of postcards from the late 1800s and early 19th century. Unfortunately, as the trade in these cards was illegal, or at best frowned upon, many of the studios, photographers and models remained anonymous, or have been forgotten. There has been little research carried out on the subject and the few publications that covered the subject were mostly just collections of the postcards with little more than a brief description of the scene depicted.

    The cards are also good indicators of changing social views and of influences in the wider artistic world. The New Sculpture Movement of the 1870s introduced more realistic and artful poses than classical sculptures and opened the way for the wider range of poses taken on by the photographers in their works in the early twentieth century. Also, by 1880 studio photography had also fallen into a routine and a new movement, ‘art photography’ developed. Photographers wanted their work to be accepted as an art form. They posed models following the same rules of painting, experimenting with light and shade both in settings with objects in and where the only thing in the image was the person. One of the later champions of this approach was Julien Mandel.

    Erotic Postcards - Lucien Walery Miss Lucienne d'Armoy photographed by Lucien Waléry (1863-1935) (Amberley Publishing)

    These types of postcards can be categorised into four types: glamour, risqué, pornographic and scientific study. Glamour showed women posing completely dressed in regular clothing or undergarments. Risqué ranged from where the model had some naked skin showing to full nudity and is also often referred to as erotic. Pornographic images showed the model engaging or pretending to engage in sexual congress or explicit nude shots. Scientific images tried to change the moral compass of the image by claiming it had some scientific purpose and included ethnographic studies, art and naturism.

    It was the scientific category that caused much confusion. Colonial expansion by European countries led to a developing interest in ethnography and the colonies soon supplied a ready stream of women, mostly unwittingly, whose naked poses started to adorn the postcards. Initially they tried to make some scientific claim but it wasn’t long before photographers were posing naked ‘studies’ in studio sets with the only hint to their culture being them adorned in local clothing or jewellery.

    Naturism as a popular medium started in the 1920s and grew in Germany. Postcards showed people enjoying the outdoors naked. Technological advances along with the naturism movement led many photographers to attempt taking photographs outdoors to benefit from natural light and shade, however, many images were not true naturism but naked people outdoors.

    This book does not claim to be a definitive guide on the subject but is hoped that it will inspire others to carry on the research on this often hidden postcard genre.


    Nigel Sadler's Erotic Postcards of the Early Twentieth Century is available for purchase now.

  • The history of the Sunderland Cottages by Michael Johnson

    Sunderland’s unique Victorian homes are examined in a new book. Architectural historian Michael Johnson has published a major study of the distinctive ‘Sunderland cottages’ that opened the door to homeownership for the town’s hardworking families. Britain’s towns and cities experienced a dramatic rise in population during the 19th century, as people came seeking work in emerging industries. In many parts of the country this created a demand for housing that exceeded the existing supply.

    Faced with the problem of housing its working people, Sunderland developed a unique form of single-storey terraced houses that came to be known as Sunderland cottages. Resembling a terraced bungalow, the Sunderland cottage became the town’s dominant housing type during the 19th century. Row upon row of distinctive single-storey dwellings were laid out in tight grid patterns to accommodate workers and their families.

    The form was favoured by the skilled workers of Sunderland's shipyards and represented an affordable housing type that provided a high degree of privacy and social status. Each had its own entrance and backyard, and many of the best examples had private gardens, enabling residents to emulate the living standards of the middle classes.

    The earliest cottages were built close to industrial sites such as Wearmouth Colliery, the shipyards, and James Hartley's glassworks in Millfield. Later examples can be found in the suburban areas of High Barnes, Seaburn, Roker and Fulwell, as transport improvements made it possible to live further from the workplace. The new housing proved extremely popular in Sunderland, providing many workers with an opportunity to escape from the slum conditions of their previous dwellings by renting or buying their home.

    Sunderland’s foremost architects were the brothers William and Thomas Ridley Milburn, who were responsible for the design of the Empire Theatre. The Milburns designed cottages in the ‘ABC streets’ in High Barnes, as well as Kitchener Street, Nora Street, Hawarden Crescent, Queen’s Crescent, Tanfield Street and Hampden Road. Joseph Potts and Son were also prolific cottage designers, providing plans for the ‘Scottish streets’ in Fulwell – Forfar, Inverness, Moray and Roxburgh Streets.

    The Sunderland cottage is now recognised as an important and distinctive approach to housing Britain's expanding urban population. Well loved by residents, the best of these houses exemplified the pride of Sunderland's elite workforce. They remain a popular housing type to this day and comprise a substantial portion of the city's housing stock.

    Michael’s book examines the development of the Sunderland cottage and its place within the town’s social and architectural history. The text is illustrated with photographs taken especially for the volume, along with building plans and archival images. The book also includes a detailed appendix that documents the building of individual streets. The Sunderland Cottage: A History of Wearside’s ‘Little Palaces’ will serve as a valuable guide for Sunderland residents eager to know more about their own homes, and anyone with an interest in Britain’s 19th and early 20th century housing.


    Michael Johnson's The Sunderland Cottage A History of Wearside's 'Little Palaces' is available for purchase now.

  • The secret history of Chislehurst by Joanna Friel

    Secret Chislehurst - 003 Perdicaris Grave of Ion Perdicaris (Secret Chislehurst Amberley Publishing)

    What has Chislehurst and the island of St Helena got in common? Not a question often posed but one curious fact that gave rise to my writing Secret Chislehurst. Both places have empty Napoleonic tombs! The body of Napoleon Bonaparte was exhumed and reinterred at Les Invalides in Paris in 1840, nearly 20 years after the former Emperors’ death. In 1889 the body of his nephew, the last Emperor of France, Louis Napoleon III, was removed from its resting place in St Mary’s Church, Chislehurst and taken to a mausoleum at St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire where it lies to this day.

    It’s a bizarre thought that the last monarch of France, his wife and his son lie on English soil and their sojourn as exiles in England created a lasting legacy on our little Kent Village.   When Amberley approached me to write Secret Chislehurst I had already enjoyed the task of producing Chislehurst Through Time for them, a book of old and new pictures, but this new ‘Secret’ series required a greater search for stories and images which accounted for my photographer getting lost on more than one occasion!

    Secret Chislehurst - 049 Nap arch Napoleonic architectural features at St Mary's Church (Secret Chislehurst Amberley Publishing)

    I thought we were on safer ground when we set out to spend the morning with Father Charles at the little Catholic Church of St Mary’s where Louis Napoleon and the Prince Imperial had originally been laid to rest amidst great pomp and ceremony, attended by the Prince of Wales, deputising for Queen Victoria. We captured our images of the tiled floor and the eagle emblazoned eaves and prepared to depart when the softly spoken priest asked if I wanted to see his toilet in the presbytery! How could I refuse, he wasn’t enquiring if I needed to use the facilities, rather he wanted me to admire the pretty secret floor; there it was, in all its glory, adorned with the left over Napoleonic tiles, complete with Imperial eagles. A secret that had to be revealed in the book.

    Secret Chislehurst - 050 Nap floor Napoleonic architectural features at St Mary's Church (Secret Chislehurst Amberley Publishing)

    The churchyard too holds secrets, the grave of the illegitimate daughter of Charles Stewart Parnell and Katherine ‘Kitty’ O’Shea, a baby that sparked a scandal and lead to the downfall of the Irish political leader. I’m often to be found in graveyards and grateful for the secrets they have revealed. I love telling the story of how President Theodore Roosevelt sent 7 warships to rescue a kidnapped Greek playboy thinking he was an American citizen. The headstone of Ion Perdicaris proudly reveals his former addresses; Trenton, New Jersey, Tangiers, Morocco and the Manor House, Chislehurst. Quite an adventure and a story worthy of the book.

    I was bemused by the fact that Amberley first listed the book as detailing the clandestine past of Chislehurst life, I changed that to covert for fear of confusing or even upsetting some of my local readers, we really don’t have spies amongst our midst, though that’s not exactly true, back in 1871 the Lord of the Manor had spies placed in a local windmill to spy on the exiled French Emperor, though they were apparently also being spied on by French courtiers placed there by the Emperor!

    All in all it’s been fascinating uncovering and telling the lesser known stories of Chislehurst’s past.


    Joanna Friel and Adam Swaine's Secret Chislehurst is available for purchase now.

  • Dining with the Victorians Daily Express feature by Emma Kay

    Making a meal of it: How the Victorians influenced your eating habits

    From a cooked breakfast to our love of curries, many of Britain's familiar culinary habits were invented by the Victorians as a new book reveals.

    1. Victorians-eating-617709 Dining With The Victorians explores the impact they had on our eating habits today


    Many Victorians had an inexplicable obsession with the occult. In relation to food and cooking their superstitions were plentiful. Butter was thought to have healing properties, particularly for scalds and burns.

    In some counties such as Lincolnshire they used to throw salt on the fire as a portent for producing a good batch prior to the churning. In Lancashire it was considered important to insert a hot iron into the cream as a means of expel ling the witch believed to reside within.

    They also avoided bringing eggs into or taking eggs out of the house after dark to prevent bad luck and were the first to throw spilled salt over their shoulder.


    During Georgian times 15 plus courses would be prepared. It was Queen Victoria who made famous the two or three course meal with courses served in sequence one at a time. This was in contrast to the old French style of eating made popular by the Georgians of bringing out all the food at once.


    The Victorian era was also when the Sunday lunch came into its own. For many of the labouring classes, Sunday was the one day they would eat meat, usually a small joint of beef, pork or mutton accompanied by two types of green vegetable and potatoes. Invariably this would be followed by some form of fruit pie or jam roly poly pudding. If they were lucky enough to afford meat on any other day the poorer classes would indulge in offal, anything from liver to heart. Only the very poor or destitute would choose to eat soup, broth or boiled meat with any regularity as the labouring classes felt it had too many associations with poverty, often labelling it "slops".


    The food in workhouses did vary but in Charles Shaw's well known diary of his early life in Victorian Staffordshire he sheds an unappetising light on the fare on offer. He describes the bread as made of sawdust "blotched with lumps of plaster of Paris" which was served with a substance he called "greasy water" and a couple of lumps of something that "would have made a tiger's teeth ache". The supper consisted of something known as "skilly", which he described as "culinary making nausea". In prisons too the conditions were tough. Edward Du Cane, the surveyor general of prisons, believed in "scientific starvation" early in an inmate's stay. He thought abstinence from food was healthy and worried that if they were too well fed it might encourage others to offend. Most of the time prisoners were given stale hard bread, inedible suet pudding and gruel. There was little meat and no vegetables.

    By 1842 the government had decided that slops and gruel were detrimental to the health of prisoners and that "diet ought not to be made an instrument of punishment".


    The Victorian times were when people started eating a breakfast that we would recognise today. In the 18th century it had been dominated by cold meats, cheese and beer. The Victorians started having porridge, fish, bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade.

    They also changed the hour of dinner from 5pm to 7pm, which made the late meal of supper - taken around 9pm - less relevant.

    GOURMET CHEFSMany cooks of the Victorian era were women but the most fashion able families still employed highly skilled French male cooks at extortionate rates. The next best alternative was an English cook who had trained in France.

    While a top male cook could earn in excess of £80,000 a year in today's money, a good female cook would earn only half this.

    However, just because a family was wealthy does not mean they would have had a healthy diet. While they could afford more choice they were often ignorant in their food combinations, potentially leaving them as unhealthy as their poorer neighbours.


    One of the first kitchens to install a modern gas cooker was the elite Reform Club. So inspirational and innovative were the kitchens that they used to conduct tours around them and sectional views of the kitchen plans were mocked up, copied and sold to the public at a guinea for a coloured print and half a guinea for a black and white version. A total of 1,400 copies were sold. With the growth of the railways came the invention of food vending machines at stations. They quickly became regular features in railway stations and post offices, at first selling stationery and later food, particularly sweets.

    Nestle was one of the biggest manufacturers of these types of machine. Because they were so easy to scam - any old piece of metal would yield the machine's contents - it is surprising that it persevered with them.


    The Victorians were able to enjoy some foods that were imported from overseas. These included raisins from Malaga, grapes from France, dried tongues from Russia and Germany, and coconut oil from Manila and Ceylon. One of the big gest imports was sugar with more than 180,000 tons entering London in 1850. Not everything imported was exotic. Huge quantities of apples were brought in from the US, Belgium and France as well as a large amount of bacon and ham.

    A FRUITFUL BUSINESSPineapples became synonymous with wealth during the 19th century. Favoured by the upper classes they were served and displayed at dinner to indicate prosperity. In order to cultivate this fruit in cold, northern European temperatures Victorian gardeners invented "pineapple pits" which were essentially three trenches covered in glass. The walls of the trenches were bolstered with horse manure to generate heat and which had to be regularly topped up.

    CURRYING ROYAL FAVOURQueen Victoria loved curry. Her taste was influenced by her relationship with Abdul Karim, her controversial young servant, that began in 1887. It was at Osborne House where he first cooked for her using a spice box he had carried with him from India. He made her a chicken curry with a fragrant pilau and from that meal onwards the Queen requested Karim's dishes with greater regularity. In fact during the last decade of her life curry was ordered to be cooked on a daily basis.She only ever had curry for lunch, as was also customary for the British living out in India.

    Daily Express feature by Emma Kay on 7th November 2015

    Emma Kay's Dining with the Victorians is available for purchase now.


  • The Georgian Kitchen by Emma Kay

    Microsoft Word - Document1I wrote the Georgian Kitchen to tell the story of my conviction in Britain’s cooking culture forming during this period. This was a time of extraordinary change in Britain, when the country became a vastly powerful world entity; a wealthy, extravagant and culinary rich nation. Conflict, poverty and sea power led many migrants to British shores. As well as importing from all over the world and exploiting other countries of their own resources, Britain’s migrant population was already influencing the way we still eat today. The population doubled during the Georgian period and in particular large numbers of French citizens began to quickly dominate Britain’s kitchens. It became imperative for every wealthy household to employ a high ranking French cook, while the middling and labouring classes dined in the abundant inns, taverns, cook shops and street markets. The workhouses and prisons were overflowing with the poor and destitute who might look forward to a dollop of ‘hasty pudding’, mouldy bread or a potato every day – if they were lucky. Most poorer families shared a single cooking pot which would have sat in the middle of their one room accommodation, to be used for cooking, washing and as a urinal. In addition to the workhouses early philanthropy included the understanding that owners of large estates and tenured country residences would provide the poor of their parishes with a basic meal, usually of soup and benevolent soup kitchens began to flourish in some of the bigger cities by the early nineteenth century.

    There was a stark contrast between poor rural and urban living, the former reliant on self-sufficiency and few luxuries such as tea, coffee and sugar that would often require a long trip to a local market. Even the middle classes, like Jane Austen herself kept livestock. All farmer’s wives were skilled in cheese-making, brewing, preserving and curing which was a necessary seasonal routine in order to survive all year round. The Georgian era was also the one that marks the beginning of the end of large rural communities, as new technology and innovation began to broaden the scope for work and travel, with aspiring people migrating to the large towns and cities to live. By the end of the 1700s the urban cook shops, coffee houses and club culture for those men of high rank and business were already beginning to morph into early forms of restaurants and hotels. As greater emphasis was attached to the importance of food and slow developing advancements in kitchen design and contents evolved, kitchen equipment became a valuable commodity and the records of the Old Bailey during this period are full of incidents of thefts of anything from tea caddies, to silver spoons and sugar nippers. These items could be sold on at the dodgy street markets or pawned for food and clothing. The media was also awash with specialist crafted items for the kitchen and new inventions. In 1800 the average kitchen may have contained one or two pans. By 1899 they would have housed a whole set.

    As previously mentioned French cuisine, in addition to Italian confection and iced deserts dominated British culture during the Georgian age. However it is also important to reiterate that British cooking and British recipes were always included on the menu - or as the eighteenth century termed it ‘A Bill of Fare’, interspersed with European dishes. Celebrity chefs such as the great Marie-Antoine Carême, Louis Eustache Ude, Charles Francatelli, Alexis Soyer and William Jarrin are just some of the names who lived and worked in London divulging their European culinary secrets and whipping up gastronomic delights that were worthy of any of the big name celebrity chefs of today. They also all wrote prolifically about it, contributing to the new mass eighteenth and nineteenth century consumerism for recipe writing, including Mrs. James Simpson’s first Vegetarian cookery book of 1812.

    Microsoft Word - Document1Diarists and housekeepers also left their legacy of recipe writing and accounts of domestic kitchen and dining routines that were so integral to the Georgian lifestyle. The journals of James Woodforde, a simple country parson provide us with an indication of how even the humblest of middle class Georgians ate. We learn how he attends regular country dances, often into the early hours of the morning, feasting on roasted shoulder of mutton and plum pudding, followed by veal cutlets, frill’d potatoes, cold tongue, ham, cold roast beef and eggs in their shells. This was all washed down with punch, wine, beer and cider. Food is a regular theme throughout Woodforde’s diary and is a stark reflection of the importance placed upon culinary satisfaction and excess at this time. His description of one dinner he hosts for three acquaintances is quite hard to swallow (literally). The first course alone consisted of a couple of boiled chickens, a tongue, a boiled leg of mutton with capers and a batter pudding. The second course provided roasted ducks, green peas, artichokes, tarts and blancmange. And it continues - with almonds and raisins, oranges and strawberries, naturally ending with port wine. Such extravagance on a regular basis makes it so understandable that we associate poor health and obesity significantly with this period. Interesting how our own society mirrors some of this today alongside the Georgian throw away, disposable culture.

    Celebrity chefs, endless recipe books promoting the latest fad or baking craze, elitist French cuisine, a new gadget for the kitchen marketed every month, Immigration, class divide and cheap imports. We are not so different after all.


    Emma Kay's The Georgian Kitchen is available for purchase now.

  • Dining with the Victorians by Emma Kay

    Microsoft Word - Document1Dining with the Victorians explores the narrative of the history of cooking, eating, wining and dining in this fact packed follow-up to Dining with the Georgians, my first book that defined Britain’s contemporary culinary history as being largely established in the eighteenth century. Whereas the Georgians gave us celebrity chef culture, a recipe writing mass media and a culinary consumerist society, the Victorians evolved the way Britain’s ate, largely as a consequence of increased leisure and holiday time, invention and experimentation.

    Alongside a confusing back-drop of austerity; aspiration, inherent belief in old superstitions, piety, morals, principles, social awareness, innovation and tradition, Victorian society is the closest to our own recognisable heritage, as well as representing one of the most visibly transcended periods in history. Despite philanthropy and great social change, the nineteenth century divide between rich and poor was hugely conspicuous. This is the era that saw the shift in the great French cooks of the century before moving from the estate kitchens of the wealthy, into the new Hotel and early public dining venues opening across cities and towns across the country. Tea rooms, lunching spots and dining halls catered to the rising and diligent middle classes who now often commuted long distances for work. The role for women in society was also shifting and for those middle class wives and daughters not engaged in the modern industrious workforce, they spent their new found freedom from the constraints of the home out shopping, visiting galleries and museums, parks and gardens stopping for tea and light refreshment in the abundance of new establishments catering for them. The labouring and poor capitalised on street and market trades or sought food from the sewers, mud flats and animal swill bins of the neighbouring prosperity.

    Microsoft Word - Document1 ©Museum of Kitchenalia

    Dining with the Victorians investigates the altruistic nature of nineteenth century culture, something that was evident in Georgian society, but became a burgeoning force by the late eighteen hundreds. A recognition of the cyclical nature of poverty and the need to implement real change in order to create stronger, more prosperous communities led to revolutionary widespread changes in the teaching and training of cooking and domestic health and hygiene for all. Newly established schools, colleges and centres of learning adopted the art of cookery as an essential tool for life which was rolled out for the benefit of all, particularly targeting the poor. Charitable pioneers like William Booth who invested in the soup kitchen philosophy of the century before, by providing farthing breakfasts for children on their way to school and Alexis Soyer; who spans both Georgian and Victorian eras researching and conversing with the poor, developing recipes and manufacturing affordable practical kitchen equipment, are just two names associated with this break from the past. This was also the age of advancements in science, germ theory and an awareness of wider health implications leading to new legislation concerning the adulteration of food. By the mid nineteenth century it was not uncommon to find alum in your bread, lead to colour cheese and arrowroot to thicken cream amongst many other deadly component ingredients to keep the cost of production down and the appearance of food attractive to the consumer.

    The one theme in the book that I was very keen to impart and have to a much larger extent done so when writing about the Georgians, is to emphasise Britain’s many different cultural culinary influences. As a nation with a legacy of exploration, migration, immigration, trade and Empire, this inevitably impacted on the type of food the British were eating during the Victorian age. The dominant French and Italian influences of the century before yielded German bakeries, Jewish fried fish sellers, Indian and Chinese food emporiums, American imports and a wealth of new cuisines available to a wide demographic by the late nineteenth century; not just to the wealthy classes, but for the aspiring middle and some sectors of working class society. Perhaps the greatest Victorian enthusiast of all for Indian cuisine was Queen Victoria herself, who towards the end of her life insisted on eating curry every day and had a controversial relationship with her personal Indian chef Abdul Karim, far less documented than that of the one she had with John Brown.

    Microsoft Word - Document1Given the fact that we live in a somewhat food obsessed culture where programmes like the Great British Bake Off and come Dine With Me dominate the television ratings while the likes of Mary Berry, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (to name a few) are often hotter news than the news itself - food and the British food cultural legacy, including the extraordinary story of the evolution of the British kitchen, is a somewhat neglected and unconventional category of academic historical research. It remains a vast area of largely unchartered discovery, with just a handful of writers dedicated to its research and interpretation. My first book Dining with the Georgians and the now paperback Georgian Kitchen, explores the even less chronicled area of kitchen utensils and the early revolution in kitchen technology, labour-saving devices and methods of food preparation and production. Dining with the Victorians takes this narrative forward by charting the correlation between a changing and modernising society, alongside the astounding growth in consumer demand for the accessibility of food in public. By the eighteen eighties Britain’s Aerated Bread Company (ABC’s) were mass producing baked products off site to sell in bakeries that had chain shop stores on most high streets, food could also be bought from vending machines at train stations and consumers could sample the tastes of various different cultures; not only on the streets of port cities but by travelling on package excursions courtesy of Thomas Cook tour operators, who made copious notes on all the early group package tours regarding the nature of food served from country to country.

    I hope my continued research in this area will go some way to contributing towards the largely untold history of what has shaped Britain’s rich culinary inheritance.


    Emma Kay's Dining with the Victorians is available for purchase now.

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