18th century cookery writer in jail


The Fleet Prison where Hannah Glasse was taken in July 1757. Image from Robert Chambers’ Book of Days / Wikimedia Commons.

Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) was responsible for producing one of the most popular 18th century cook books, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.   It remained in print for nearly a century and it is back in print today thanks to Prospect Books, which publishes a facsimile of the 1747 edition.The Art of Cookery covered everything an 18thcentury cook ought to know, from roasting and boiling to pies, puddings and preserves.  The book also contains some surprising recipes such as how to “Make curry the Indian Way” and ketchup that will last 20 years!

This is one of her recipe for parsnips,

“They should be boiled in a great deal of water, and when you find that they are soft (which you will know by running a fork into them) take them up, and carefully scrape all the dirt off them, and then with a knife scrape them all fine, throwing away the sticky parts; then put them into a saucepan with some milk, and stir them over the fire till they are thick.  Take great care they don’t burn, and add a good piece of butter and a little salt, and when the butter is melted sent them to table.”

When Hannah was born in London her mother and father were not married, at least not to each other.  Nevertheless Hannah was given her father’s name, Allgood, and was absorbed into his Northumberland family.   At the age of 16 she moved to London and promptly married an Irishman called John Glasse.

If her husband had been a better provider it is possible that Hannah would never have written The Art of Cookery.  She had some money from her father but this was not enough to avoid financial worries, especially as her family grew.  She gave birth to ten (or possibly eleven) children, although only five survived into adulthood.  Selling subscriptions for the cook book was just one of Hannah’s money making ventures.

For a while it was looking good.  Hannah and one of her daughters were running a shop in a smart part of London but Hannah had borrowed heavily and, in 1754, she went bankrupt with a debt of over £10,000 pounds.  To help sort things out she sold the copyright of The Art of Cookery.  A few years later Hannah was in financial trouble again and this time she ended up in debtors’ prison.  First the Marshalsea Prison and later the Fleet Prison.  There is some uncertainty over what exactly happened to Hannah after that.  We know that she went on to produce two more books, The Servants Directory and The Compleat Confectioner, but it isn’t clear whether she wrote these while in prison or having got out of jail.

Agricultural Researchers


John Bennet Lawes. Image from Rothamsted Research.

There is currently bit of a hoo-ha going on at Rothamsted Research over genetically engineered wheat.  Regardless what you think of the rights and wrongs of genetic engineering we should recognize the two men who established this institution, Joseph Henry Gilbert (1817-1901) and John Bennet Lawes (1814-1900).

Almost exactly 169 years ago, on 1st June 1843 Joseph, who was trained as an analytic chemist, started working on John’s agricultural estate at Rothamsted, Hertfordshire.  Together they set up a series of experiments to investigate plant and animal nutrition.  Their scientific partnership lasted for years.

Joseph Henry Gilbert. Image from Wikisource but originally published in 1894.

Their devotion to scientific research meant that rather than accepting standard practices on trust they designed experiments to provide evidence for what actually worked.  For instance they demonstrated that plants needed certain chemicals in the soil to grow well.  In the early days this was poorly understood and they had a long running argument with Justus Liebig (a prominent scientist of the day and inventor of the OXO cube) who thought that nitrogen-fixing legumes drew what they needed from the atmosphere.  After 20 years Justus agreed that Joseph and John were right.

John and Joseph probably would have approved of growing genetically modified wheat in fields to see what happened.  They were both advocates of artificial fertilizers, not because organic fertilizers didn’t work, but because they believed that in order to feed the growing population new methods were necessary.  Their turn of mind meant that they tended to opt for chemical solutions.  Looking back we know that artificial fertilizers didn’t instantly solve malnutrition in 19th century Britain.  Part of their legacy should be to encourage us to take a longer and wider view of the issues.

A Scottish Entrepreneur


Thomas Lipton (1848-1931) established a very successful chain of grocery shops and the Lipton tea brand.  He was also rather keen on sailing yachts.

He left school at the age of 13 and as a young man spent several years working in the USA.  In 1870 he returnd to Scotland in 1870 and, at first, he helped his parents run their small shop in the Gorbals but he soon opened a shop of his own – Lipton’s Market at 101 Stobcross Street, Glasgow.  Reflecting back on this first shop Thomas Lipton wrote,

“I worked tremendously hard to have the shop spick and span … but it was to the stock I paid most attention. Most of it came direct from Ireland, and it was purchased at such keen rates that on my opening day I was announcing prices which quickly caused a sensation among my competitors all over the district. … My first day’s drawings were two pounds, six shillings — considerably more than we had ever drawn in a single day at the wee shop in Crown Street.”  [1]

Within 20 years of opening his first shop Thomas Lipton had a chain of 300 stores across Britain.  Central to his success was his determination to cut out the middleman.  By going directly to suppliers he managed to buy products more cheaply than his competitors.  Sometimes this included setting up his own factories, for example in 1883 he set up a meat packing plant in Chicago.  When he entered the tea trade he used similar methods, bypassing the traditional wholesalers and going directly to tea growers in Sri Lanka.

His entrepreneurial zeal made Thomas Lipton a rich man and earned him a place in high society.  Despite a keen interest in the ladies he never married and on his death a large proportion of his wealth went to good causes in Glasgow.  He also left his yachting yachting trophies, to the city’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

[1] Leaves from the Lipton Logs by Thomas Lipton, London, Hutchinson & Co. 1931

A woman who invented a dishwasher


Josephine Cochrane. Image courtesy of Shelby County Historical Society.

Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913) was an American socialite who invented a dishwasher in 1886.  Her name is sometimes written Cochran but she added the “e” to make it sound better!

It wasn’t because she was fed-up of doing the washing-up, as a wealthy woman in the 19th century she had servants to do the work.  She was concerned that her fine china was getting bashed about and she wanted a machine that would clean the dishes carefully.   Josephine apparently said, “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.”

In fact dishwashers had already been invented, a number appear in patent books before the 1880s, but these early models didn’t perform very well.   In Josephine’s dishwasher the crockery was held in wire compartments set onto a wheel inside a copper boiler.  A motor turned the contraption while hot soapy water was sprayed onto the dishes.  You can see some blueprints of her design on the MIT inventor of the week website.

To start with she sold it as a domestic appliance but there were few takers.   She didn’t give up and, in 1893, her dishwasher won a prize at the Chicago World Fair.   A few years later Josephine opened her own factory with the mechanic who had helped make the prototype (George Butters).  Her company was bought by the Hobart Manufacturing Company and later became part of the Kitchen Aid Company.

It took a long time for dishwashers to catch on in British kitchens.  Early models were expensive and most people, especially those with servants, considered it better to wash by hand.   Today 40% of British households have a dishwasher, which according to a recent Business Week article , is a lot less than other countries including Spain (49%), France (52%), Germany (77%) and the USA ( 78%).

Charles “Turnip” Townshend


Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend as a young man. Painting from the studio of Godfrey Kneller. National Portrait Gallery.

The nickname “Turnip” was given to Charles Townshend (1674-1738) because of his enthusiasm for the root vegetable and, when I did my history “O” level, he was definitely presented as a hero of the Agricultural Revolution.   According to Charles the virtues of the turnip lay in their ability to help increase the amount of food produced, rather than how they improved a stew.

Born at Raynham Hall, Norfolk, he had an impressive political career before turning his attention to new farming techniques, in particular the four field crop rotation.  This system of growing was an important factor in increasing food production during the British Agricultural Revolution. However, four field crop rotation was a development of existing practice and not one of Charles Townshend’s making.   Farmers had long moved crops about from year-to-year in a system which normally involved  leaving some land out of production.  Nor did Charles Townshend introduce the turnip to Britain.   His contribution was as an advocate rather than as an originator.

It could be argued that the real heroes were the Flemish farmers who developed the idea of rotating crops of wheat, barley, clover and turnips on their land during the 16th century.  This system kept the soil in good condition and avoided leaving land fallow.  The turnips were fed to cattle during the winter helping to increase the amount of meat, milk and manure.

The adoption of the four field crop rotation increased food production in Britain and Charles “Turnip” Townshend deserves credit for using his land and social position to promote it.