A Georgian beauty secret, shared

A cold cream is a cooling ointment that is applied to the skin as a moisturising cosmetic and cleanser. In the 1920s and 1930s, celebrity endorsements of brands such as Pond’s and Elizabeth Arden led to a huge uptake in commercially-produced emollients, with the verb ‘to cold-cream’ entering common parlance around this time. Cosmetic manufacturers began to market their creams with a liberal sprinkling of glamour: as a Hollywood actress’s beauty secret, or as the preferred cosmetic of European royalty.

Adverts for cold creams were so prevalent in the first half of the 20th century, one would be forgiven for thinking that they were a relatively recent invention. Far from it! Cold creams had already been a staple of women’s cosmetic drawers for centuries, long before mass-production came on the scene.

The ladies who wrote our Georgian Cookbook recorded this recipe for home-made cold cream, which they attribute to an ‘Aunt Preston’. With ingredients including trotter oil and spermaceti, a wax derived from the head cavity of the sperm whale, it’s a far cry from the glamorous image projected by early 20th century cold cream brands. On the other hand, its high fat content should have made it an effective moisturiser, and an effective defence against the harsh winter weather:

"My Aunt Prestons Cold Cream", a Georgian recipe from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“My Aunt Prestons Cold Cream”, a Georgian recipe from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

My Aunt Prestons Cold Cream

Half a pint of trotter oyl, 3 ounces of white wax, 3 quarters of an ounce of spermaceti, all put in to a silver vessel till melted. Yn put into an earthen pan & beat up wth water till it grows white & doos not stick to ye pan.

London’s market gardens: the Neat Houses

Today, Pimlico is a bustling , diverse and densely-populated part of London. It occupies the north bank of the Thames between Vauxhall Bridge and Chelsea Bridge and is perhaps best known for its handsome white stucco buildings, part of Thomas Cubitt’s distinctive development of the area in early 19th century.

Cubitt’s building plan for Pimlico was implemented in 1820s, and radically changed the nature of this area of London. Before his famous residential terraces were built, much of the land had been dedicated to the growing industry and Pimlico was famous as the home of the Neat House Gardens.

This extract from a map of 1812 shows the site of Neat House Gardens

This extract from a map of 1812 shows the site of Neat House Gardens

In the 17th and 18th centuries, market gardens surrounded London and provided the fruit and vegetables on which the city’s inhabitants thrived. The Neat House Gardens were named after the Manor of Neyte and occupied approximately 100 acres, with cauliflowers, asparagus, artichokes, spinach, radishes and melons featuring among its produce. The land was ideal for gardening as it was low-lying with a high water table. Pasture was not far away, so there was also easy access to large quantities of manure.

Horwood's map of late 18th century London shows the ornamental layout of Pimlico's market gardens

Horwood’s map of late 18th century London shows the ornamental layout of Pimlico’s market gardens

Alehouses cropped up all around the gardens, and Neat Houses became known as a place of recreation and revelry. Many people travelled from the city to the many tea gardens in the area, and among them was one Samuel Pepys:

After the play, we into the house, and spoke with Knipp, who went abroad with us by coach to the Neat Houses in the way to Chelsy; and there, in a box in a tree, we sat and sang, and talked and eat; my wife out of humour, as she always is, when this woman is by.

Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1August 1667

The Monster Tavern was one of the many tea gardens and ale houses nearby Neat House Gardens. This watercolour shows the tavern circa 1820.

The Monster Tavern was one of the many tea gardens and ale houses nearby Neat House Gardens. This watercolour shows the tavern circa 1820.

Henry Wise, Royal Gardener to Queen Anne and designer of Kensington Gardens had gardens at Neat Houses, but many of the gardeners were tenants who farmed just a small patch of land.

This section from an estate map of 1725 shows Mr Wise's Estate next to the Bailiwick of Neat. Much of the rest of the land was divided into small tenancies.

This section from an estate map of 1725 shows Mr Wise’s Estate next to the Bailiwick of Neat. Much of the land was divided into small tenancies.

At the turn of the 19th Century the population of London was expanding rapidly and there was increasing pressure on the gardeners to give up their land to prospective builders. John Johnson bought the lease for much of the land in Pimlico in 1817 but found his proposals constantly thwarted by the gardeners. In 1825 Johnson gave up his battle against the gardeners, but threat to Neat Houses remained as real as ever as he sold his interest in the land to Thomas Cubitt.

By 1827 the urban sprawl surrounded Neat House Gardens. It wouldn’t be long until these too would fall victim to the city’s expansion.

By 1827 the urban sprawl surrounded Neat House Gardens. It wouldn’t be long until these too would fall victim to the city’s expansion.

The writing was on the wall for the Gardens and it was now only a matter of time before roads and large-scale building works would change the character of Pimlico entirely. Today nothing remains of The Neat House Gardens, but if you come along to Westminster Archives Centre you can relive their glory days through our collections of books, maps and prints.


Shopping on the move: the street traders of Georgian London

Pictures of London’s street traders provide a colourful and characterful insight into how Georgian Londoners shopped, and the range of goods that were made available to them from the city’s streets. In today’s blog post, Archivist Jo Buddle explores a selection of images from the collections City of Westminster, capturing the energy and vigour of Georgian street traders at work.

Traders, hawkers and pedlars were an important part of London street life in the Georgian era. They could be found on street corners, at major landmarks, and perhaps even under your window, selling a wide variety of goods including food. Men, women and children were involved in the various trades, and many different nationalities were represented.

From fat geese to hat boxes, almost anything could be bought from pedlars on London's streets

From fat geese to hat boxes, almost anything could be bought from pedlars on London’s streets

The street traders brought colour, variety and vibrancy to the streets of London, and many became famous characters, instantly recognisable by their distinctive cries. “Fair Lemons and Oranges!”, “Twelve Pence a Peck, Oysters!”, “Four for Sixpence, Mackerel!”, “”Sixpence a Pound, Fair Cherries!” echoed throughout the city.

"Fair lemons and oranges" was a familiar street cry in Georgian London

“Fair lemons and oranges” was a familiar street cry in Georgian London

This street trader sold rabbits round and about Portland Place

Rabbits sold at Portland Place

One trader near Portland Place sold rabbits for eighteen or nineteen pence each, a much cheaper rate than was available in the shops. A man known simply as ‘The Turk’ sold rhubarb in and around Russell Square for many years. The criers also acted as early equivalents of fast food: baked apples could be prepared and sold to busy pedestrians using a lighted pan of charcoal and a tin plate.One man operating near the Pantheon on Oxford Street sold gingerbread cakes for one halfpenny each as a winter-warmer treat. During the summer, he sold Banbury and other cakes.

This man cried "Hot Spiced Gingerbread" as he sold sweet treats to passersby in Oxford Street

This man cried “Hot Spiced Gingerbread” as he sold seasonal treats to passersby in Oxford Street

Though resented by some shopkeepers as unfair competition, the traders and their street cries were a source of much fascination to the local population. Illustrated books depicting the criers were extremely popular. Although in the later 19th century street traders would become – unfairly – associated with the criminal poor in London, well into the Regency period they were appreciated and celebrated as an integral part of city life and the capital’s flourishing economy.

To fatten chickens in 4 days

Today’s extract adds to the growing body of evidence the our unknown ladies of the Cookbook kept some of their own animals, perhaps on a small farm. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily had a purely rural existence: they well have lived within a short walk of the bustling markets of London. The 18th century city petered out into fields just a few blocks north of Oxford Street, and you didn’t need to go far west of where Westminster Archives stands today to find yourself in acre upon acre of common land and market gardens. Bowles’ map of 1775 shows St Ann’s Street right on the edge of London’s urban development.

Today’s recipe is the strongest indication yet that our unknown ladies kept chickens. And there’s nothing sentimental about our ladies’ attitude: these are no fluffy farmyard pets, but livestock being raised for their eggs and meat. Here we learn an 18th century method for fattening up chickens, presumably for the pot:

The first part of the recipe doesn't sound too bad...

The first part of the recipe doesn’t sound too bad…

...but the idea of 'cramming' the paste rolls down chickens' throats - or 'sticking them behind' - is less appealing

…but it soon becomes less appealing when we’re instructed to ‘cram’ the paste rolls down the chickens’ throats – or ‘stick them behind’.

To Fatten Chickens in 4 Days

Take a pint of wheat, a pint of flower and a qr of a pd of brown sugar. Wet it with warm new milk into a paste. Make them into small rolls & cram down thier throats. Ye last two days, Stick ym behind.

It doesn’t sound like much fun for the chickens. So if you’re thinking of keeping chickens, best refer to modern government guidelines rather than the hints and tips of our unknown ladies!

The lavender of London

Last weekend, the Carshalton Lavender fields opened up to the public for their annual harvest fair. Visitors were free to explore three acres of fragrant purple flowers – an unlikely floral haven in the middle of a London borough.

Carshalton's community lavender field in July 2013

Carshalton’s community lavender field in July 2013

The lavender field is at the centre of a community-led project with an impressive vision: to revive the lavender industry in the south-west reaches of Greater London.

Up until the First World War, Mitcham, Sutton and Waddon were host to acre upon acre of blue lavender: a flourishing industry that had grown up from the beginning of the 18th century. The flowers were destined for a variety of uses. Some were cut, dried and sold on the streets of London, while others were sent to the distilleries for the fragrant oil to be extracted.

A lavender seller from William Marshall Craig's prints of 'Itinerant Traders'

A lavender seller at Temple Bar in the early 19th century

In the Victorian era, the Mitcham area became important supplier for cosmetic companies such as Yardley’s. But the flower was also historically prized for its medicinal properties.

Today’s recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is for ‘compound spirit lavender’, a powerful infusion of fresh lavender flowers, brandy and spices. Our unknown ladies don’t indicate what the concoction was to be used for, but lavender was commonly thought to aid recovery from fainting and dizziness. Some even believed that it could help to cure infertility.

18th century method for making compound spirit lavender

18th century method for making compound spirit lavender

To Make Compound Spirit Lavender

Take a quart of lavender flowers, pickd from the stalks, & put them into a q[uar]t of brandy. Cork them close. Put half a pint of brandy into another bottle with the size of two large nutmegs of ginger, a quarter of an ounce of mace bruised, a drachm of cochineal, half a quarter of an ounce of saffron & a quarter of an ounce of cloves, all beaten togather. Let them stand a month or more, then filter them off. Mix them & you may put a little fresh brandy into the bottles to extract the virtue.

As with all the medicinal recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies we’d advise you not to try this at home! But if you’d like to experience a bit of London’s lavender heritage, do take a trip over to Sutton.  Carshalton Lavender will be closed until next year’s harvest, but commercial field Mayfield Lavender will be welcoming visitors until late September…

There’s also a great article on the history of local lavender production on the Sutton Council website. Enjoy!

Unpalatable ‘Pumeatom’

This scented ointment or pomatum is designed for use on the hair and scalp. Would you be brave enough to try it?.

Recipe for a pomade from   The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Eighteenth-century recipe for a pomade from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Pomatum (modernised spelling)

Take one pound of rendered hog’s lard, 3 ounces of mutton suet, 3 ounces of beef marrow, one ounce of virgins wax. These must be melted in an earthen pot with some alkanet root. Strain through some gauze. Put one drachm of oil of thyme, half an ounce of bergamot, one drahm oil of cloves.

Pomades like this one were used widely used for the eighteenth-century’s extravagant coiffures.

In the 1770s, the Duchess of Devonshire pioneered a craze for ‘hair towers’ among aristocratic women.

Heavily pomaded hair for a masquerade, 1773

Heavily pomaded hair for a masquerade, 1773

A thick pomatum was used to ‘set’ hair around cork and horse hair padding, creating wigs up to three feet in height. The waxy ointment also formed a good surface for applying hair powder. Once dressed in this way, the wig could be ornamented with feathers, stuffed birds, or even model ships!

The animal products in pomades – in this case hog’s lard, mutton suet and beef marrow – could attract vermin and insects, and it was not uncommon for pomaded wigs to become infested with mice or fleas.

By the 1790s the fashion had fallen out of favour, and these extravagant hairpieces were rarely seen outside of court presentations. The French Revolution was, in part, responsible for this. The hairstyle had its origins in the fashions of the French court, and in 1789 no one wanted to be associated with the perceived decadence of the French nobility.

The death knell for ladies pomaded and powdered wigs was finally sounded in 1795, with the introduction of a hair powder tax.

Mrs Bracken’s recipe for orange jelly

Fine Sevil oranges, fine lemon, fine;
Round, sound and tender, inside and rine

(An old street cry of London)

Seville oranges have been a familiar taste in English cookery since the late Medieval period. But it wasn’t until the mid 17th century that sweet oranges, commonly known as ‘China oranges’, became part of the English culinary landscape. Their sweet flesh contrasted pleasingly with the better-known bitter oranges of Spain, and they quickly became popular.

Nell Gwyn (c1651-1687). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Nell Gwyn (c1651-1687). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Bitter and sweet oranges were widely available in London from the late 17th century onwards. Nell Gwyn famously sold oranges at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane before taking to the stage, and orangeries sprang up at aristocratic houses across the country. By the time our ladies were compiling the Cookbook, oranges were being grown in glasshouses on many landed estates.

Despite their popularity, oranges remained expensive and were regarded as a delicacy. The authors of our cookbook’s recipes are careful to avoid any unnecessary waste. In this one for orange jelly, both the flesh and the zest are used:

An eighteenth-century orange jelly recipe from the 'Cookbook of Unknown Ladies'

An eighteenth-century orange jelly recipe from the ‘Cookbook of Unknown Ladies’

Making Mrs Bracken’s orange jelly (modernised text)

Grate the rind of 2 China oranges, 2 Seville oranges, 2 lemons. Put it in to steep in the juice of 9 Seville oranges. Put half a pound of fine sugar, a quarter of a pint of water. Boil it to candy. When almost cold, mix the juice with 2 ounces of isinglass well boiled in a quart of water. Leave it till it is mixed. Then, mix it all together and strain it. Stir it till almost cold, then fill your moulds. You may add the juice of lemon or China orange if you like it.

Mrs Bracken uses Isinglass as the jelly’s setting agent. Derived from fish bladders, it has fallen out of common usage today, but is still sometimes used in viticulture to clarify wines. If you fancy making your own version of Mrs Bracken’s jelly, you might want to substitute it for gelatin.

The writer also asks you to boil the syrup to candy. 18th century cookbook writer Susanna MacIver  says you can recognise this stages “by the sugar boiling thick like pottage” (Cookery and Pastry, 1789 p.205)

The recipe gives us our first clue as to the social circle in which our unknown cookbook writers were living in. We don’t know whether Mrs Bracken was a fellow domestic servant, or a well-known local cook, but she is our first named reference in our search for the identity of our mystery recipe writers…

Fancy giving this orange jelly a go? If you do, make sure you let us know how you get on!