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Advice Books, Manuals and Journals for Women

Part 5: Sources from the Bodleian Library, Oxford

Part 6: Sources from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

Part 7: Sources from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

Editorial Introduction by C. Anne Wilson

The books reproduced here come from two major collections of historic cookery and household books in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. Both contain books in English dating from the sixteenth century onwards; and the Blanche Leigh collection includes a very large and representative group of books published between 1837-1918, while the John Preston collection covers that period only to 1861, its cut-off date. The varied nature of the books selected here gives some idea of the breadth of the information to be found within the two collections.

A few earlier books set the context. C I Johnstone is ‘Meg Dods’, famous for her connection with Sir Walter Scott, and she offers a view of Scottish cuisine in her Cook and housewife’s manual, 1826, with many later editions up to the 1870s. E Copley, The housekeeper’s guide, 1834, is for ‘young housekeepers of the middle rank’ in England.

L Child, The frugal housewife, 1832 edition, addresses ‘persons of moderate fortune’ living in the countryside. E Copley, Cottage cookery is of the same era, in its eleventh edition by 1858. During the 1840s and thereafter the number of urban housewives increased dramatically, and books for the country housewife were proportionately fewer. T Cosnett, The footman’s directory, 1825, explains the tasks carried out by male servants. By contrast, C Redding, Every man his own butler, 1839, is for the gentleman wishing to base his cellar on imported foreign wines.

Queen Victoria’s reign saw enormous advances in transport, technology and the production of material goods. These had an impact upon domestic life, and upon the books produced to assist the women involved. Early in her reign, authors were already targeting different readerships with their books. Thus C Francatelli, The modern cook, 1846, is for the upper middle-class housewife, and he explains how to serve dinner, now a socially important meal, in the English, French, and recently arrived à la Russe styles; whereas in his Cook’s guide, 1861, for more ordinary households, he advocates traditional two-course dinners. A Soyer in The gastronomic regenerator, 1847, includes French recipes for the nobility and gentry, as well as simpler English ones for the upper middle class; while his Modern housewife, 1849, instructs the woman starting married life on a lower income.

Numerous pamphlets were published to inform low-paid workers, such as the Labourers Friend Society’s … useful hints for labourers, 1840, for agricultural workers, and A catechism for servants, 1843, intended to help them learn their duties.

Many Victorian and Edwardian household books describe housekeeping practices, and it is tempting to view them as records of how life was actually lived. But, as Dena Attar reminds us, these books were ‘promoting the ideal pattern of middle-class life’, books that ‘prescribed rather than portrayed styles of living’. Nevertheless, they do allow us to appreciate the lifestyle that so many Victorians valued and aspired to.

Some books include revealing introductions by their authors. Anne Cobbett, who wrote The English housekeeper in the early 1840s ‘for the person of moderate income’ is well worth reading (introduction and chapter 1) for contemporary values and ideals, and her belief that the daughters of ‘the poor’ should be taught domestic skills rather than to read and write.

Isabella Beeton’s Book of household management had several predecessors, including R Huish, The female’s friend, an alphabetical dictionary; The family handbook, 1845, its wide range of material accessed through its good index; and, above all, T Webster’s Encyclopaedia of domestic economy, 1844, source of much material in Beeton’s famous book. Its fame arose partly from Samuel Beeton’s transfer of the publication rights to Ward, Lock & Tyler in the early 1870s. Ward, Lock brought out frequent, ever larger editions until 1914, and the editions of the 1930s were still substantial. Ward, Lock have continued to publish other compilations under Mrs Beeton’s name ever since the 1870s.

The book of household management, 1861, was very well organised, and presented a ‘systematic elaboration of the rules and routines which governed the daily lives of middle-class women’ (Attar). This and other related books were invaluable for young women setting up house, for others wishing to keep up with current fashions, and especially for those seeking to climb the social ladder. The same readers bought books on furnishing the house (eg Beeton’s housewife’s treasury, J E Panton, From kitchen to garret, and Cassell’s book of the household); and on etiquette (eg E Cheadle, Manners of modern society; and Manners and rules of good society).

Ideally the middle-class household should run like clockwork, and the mistress of the house relied on the support of her servants. The servant’s guide, 1835 (with several later editions, and eventually retitled The family manual and servant’s guide), The servant’s practical guide, 1880, Duties of servants, 1890 and E A Barnett’s Cookery instructor, advised employers so they could instruct their servants; but were also useful handbooks for the servants themselves. Books of another type, eg S M T Millington, The servant’s companion, and M S Loftie, Comfort in the home were addressed to servants directly, and include moral as well as practical advice.

The education of daughters in the early Victorian period showed very marked contrasts. Those of the middle class did not learn domestic skills, but acquired a little French and natural science, and practised music, embroidery and other handcrafts. The young lady’s book of botany, The young lady’s book: a manual of elegant recreations, and similar publications, supplied instructions.

Young girls from humbler backgrounds who went into service received training on the job from more experienced servants. But the belief grew that it would help the daughters of ‘the poor’ to be taught housecraft, partly to make them more employable as servants, but also to equip them to look after their own homes after marriage. The Finchley manuals of the mid-nineteenth century were compiled to encourage such teaching in schools.

Literacy became much more widespread, with many elementary schools set up through the 1850s and 60s, even before the Education Act of 1870 introduced compulsory education for all. Thereafter domestic science was on the curriculum for girls, supported by books such as C M Buckton Food and home cooking, J Stoker Home comforts, and Helping hands. For middle-class daughters, now expected to learn more about domestic activities, there was C F Benton’s Little girls cookery book and P Browne’s Girls own cookery book, sponsored by The Girls Own Paper. Some even went on to teach domestic science. M M Mitchell Polytechnic cookery book was for trainee teachers.

From the 1850s onwards, cookery books proliferated as part of the huge expansion in book publishing that followed the removal of the tax on paper, and improvements in production technology. Books became cheaper, opening up a new market among people who hitherto had read only newspapers and pamphlets. Eighteenth-century cookery and household books were issued in short print-runs of, probably, between 1,000 and 2,500 copies. Such books in the later nineteenth century sold in tens of thousands, and a few, eg R K Philp, Enquire within, in hundreds of thousands.

The expanding readership encouraged publishers to diversify to meet the needs of different readers. Dinner parties had become the centrepiece of social entertainment for the urban middle classes; Dinners and dinner parties, 1862, met a perceived need. Later, breakfast and luncheon received attention from P Browne and M Ronald respectively, and from other authors. Many books appeared on individual foods or types of prepared dishes. Examples are E Acton, The English bread book; J Massey, Biscuit, ice and compote book; A B Marshall, The book of ices; the books on vegetables, entrees, savouries & sweets, and supper dishes, by H A De Salis, a professional cookery writer; O Green, How to cook fish; and M Byron, Cake book. For visitors to London at the time of the Great Exhibition and later, London at table, 1851, and The American stranger’s guide, 1859 describe the menus available at the City’s principal hotels and clubs.

Invalid cookery already formed a section in many general cookery books. Now it received separate treatment. A B Cust’s Invalid’s own book, and A manual of homeopathic cookery are early examples. The art of feeding the invalid and M Earle, Sickroom cookery reflect developments more than fifty years later. E Stuart’s self-published What I must do to get well promotes the healthy-eating regime of Dr Sainsbury.

The many young women who went to the Indian sub-continent as colonial wives created a market for books on English cookery adapted to conditions there. Indian domestic economy, The Indian cookery book and W H Dawe’s Wife’s help to Indian cookery are examples. H Duckitt offered recipes from South Africa, India and Malaysia; and G Johnson from India and the Orient.

French cuisine already influenced the upper ranks of English society, but publications such as those by F Crawford and E Lebour-Fawsett promoted it more widely. J Ross, writing in 1899, and Mrs W G Waters, in 1901, catered for an emerging interest in Italian food. Developments in the United States are represented here by Fannie Farmer’s famous Boston Cooking-School cookbook, 1899 edition; New York Cooking School’s Royal baker and pastry cook (a promotional publication for Royal baking powder); M J Lincoln’s Boston school kitchen text-book for schoolgirls; O Powell’s Successful canning, and E E Kellogg’s, Healthful cookery, 1894, with vegetarian recipes.

In England, the Vegetarian Society, founded in 1847, had its own periodical, but books of recipes were rare before 1890. Mrs E W Bowditch (1893), T R Allinson (1910), and F George (1912) provide examples. The 1914-18 war brought a surge of interest in vegetarianism, apparent from B Powell’s Food reform and meatless cookery. Wartime meat shortages increased the importance of vegetable dishes, available in the 101 recipes, 1917, of M Blatch, and Mrs C S Peel’s Eat-less-meat book.

An earlier garden book, The flower, fruit & kitchen garden, 1851, provides a calendar for fruit-and-vegetable-growing at that period. But the two later books by S Hole are more general, and respond to women’s interest in flower gardens.

New cookery technologies were developed in later Victorian times. The books by M J Sugg and Mrs H M Young introduce cooking by gas; and in 1913, the subject still required a separate treatment by H A De Salis. A Cross published How to cook by electricity in 1910. The haybox enjoyed a vogue, demonstrated here by C Cooke, The cooking box and M J Mitchell, Fireless cookery book.

While middle-class readers would have been the purchasers of most books on our list, a few were addressed to poorer families, eg Good things made, said & done, a promotional publication by Goodhouse, Backall, whose products feature as ingredients in the recipes.

The considerable changes in domestic life over 85 years can be assessed by comparing some of the entries in Webster’s Encyclopaedia, 1844, Cassell’s domestic dictionary, c.1884, and Selfridge’s household compendium, 1929. Through the Victorian period the life of the urban middle-class housewife was centred increasingly upon the home. One in four married women, with husbands alive, was employed outside the home in 1851; only one in ten by 1911 (Attar).

But change was on the way, especially for single women and widows. How to do business, c.1870, written for men, mentions ‘a revolution … in the public mind’ that will one day allow women careers in business. Woman’s world, 1900, includes (part 10) ‘Woman as a wage earner’, and lists types of employment open to her. The twentieth century would see an enormous expansion of those opportunities.


D Attar, A bibliography of household books published in Britain, 1800-1914, London, Prospect, 1987. Includes a very informative introduction.

I M Beeton, ed; The book of household management, 1861, reprinted London, Cape 1968, and later by other publishers.

J Burnett, Plenty and want, London, Nelson, 1966.

E Driver, A bibliography of cookery books published in Britain, 1875-1914, London, Prospect, 1989.

P Horn, The rise and fall of the Victorian servant, Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, 1975.

C A Wilson, ed, Luncheon, nuncheon, and other meals: eating with the Victorians, Stroud, Sutton, 1994.




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