A bowl of cherries

cherries 2To continue the theme of the last post, I thought I’d share some culinary recipes using cherries (and get some inspiration, since we’ve still got a lot on the trees!). These are from the early seventeenth-century recipe book of Diana Astry.[1]

The first is for dried cherries, which sounds rather time consuming:

Take 6 lb. cherrys; take 1 lb. sugar; stone the cherrys & strew the sugar among them on the fire & let them boyle apace, then take them of[f] & scum them clean & put them into an earthen pott & let them stand 10 dayes. Then take them out & lay them on dishes & set them in a oven after bread, turn them into dry dishes every day.

This recipe for cherry ‘bear’ or beer is alongside other recipes for wines and meads, and shows a certain familiarity with brewing:

Brue [brew] 16 gns. alle [ale] pretty strong, about 6 bushalls to the barell, & hop it well fitt to keep; & take 1 peck ripe cherrys & put them in a earthen pan in a kettle of water over the fire & lett them boyle very well till thay have lost thayre coler [colour] & the juice all out of them. Then strain them from thayr licker [liquor] & put 2 lb. sugar into it, & when your alle have down working put the cherry liquor in it & lett it work a little while; & then put a good handful of wheat in & stop it up close 2 mths.

In this recipe for ‘jam of cherrys’, currant juice is added to boost the pectin content, which in cherries is quite low:

Take 12 lb. cherrys, stone them into a bason, & let them stew in thayr owne liquor till dry,  & till thay are so tender that you may mash them. Then put to them 3 lb. loafe sugar & 1 pt. curan juice & let it boyle tell it do jelly, stur it ofthen. Then put it in potts.

Finally, this is how to preserve your very best cherries (although it’s quite tricky to stone them while leaving on the stalks):

Take & pick out your fairest morellea [morello] cherryes to preserve with the stemps [stems] & stone them. Take your smallest & redest cherryes & straine as much of the juice through a cloath, out of them. Then take 1 lb. beaten or sceared [scarced = sifted] sugar & put into the preservein pan, & put as much of the liquor of the cherryes as will melt & desolve the sugar, & set it to boyle; & when the sugar is in a parfect syrup put 1 lb. cherryes into it & let them boyle very fast; & the juice of your cherryes will turn the syrup very thinn, let them boyle very fast till the syrop is boyled, then set them to cole [cool]. Boyle your syrop after the cherryes are taken out.

Presumably you put the syrup back into the jar where you’re keeping the cherries, but, as so often in early modern recipes, that knowledge is tacit.


[1] Bedfordshire and Luton Archives, X178/1. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen the series of menus from her companion notebook, with the hashtag #dianaastry.


Cherry ripe

CherriesWe have five cherry trees in the garden here, and at the moment we’re positively deluged with plump, sweet fruit. Cherries are touted today as something of a wonder food, full of antioxidants, Vitamins A and C and melatonin. Nowadays it’s the tart version that seems to be preferred for its medicinal properties, but in the eighteenth century it was black cherries that were used, often as black cherry water.

Hester Combe’s fairly straightforward recipe for cherry water runs:

Take 2 quarts of whit[e] wine or sack, steep in 4 ounces of sinemon [cinnamon], and 6 pound of black cherries stoned, for 3 or 4 days then [di]still them in a cold still: you may sweten it with a little fine sugar, this water may be drunk in burning fevers when other cordials ar[e] to[o] hot.[1]

Another, anonymous recipe for black cherry wine to be used for convulsions is less simple:

Take what quantity of black cherrys you please[,] put them into a bason stalked[,] break them with your hand, & put them into a cotton bag and hang them up over a bason … squeezing them often untill all the juce be drained: then let it stand a while and settle. but scum of[f] the froth, then let it stand 12 hours at the least then strain it of[f] gently from the bottom and to every part of juice put in 3 quarters of a pound of fine lofe sugher be[a]ten fine[,] keepeing it stiring till it tis all dissolved so that it may not settle then let it stand uncovered an hour and then bottle it up for your use. Leave some roome for it will worke[,] when it hath done working [fermenting] tye it doune close[,] set it in a coole seller [cellar] in glase bottles. When you take of this cherey wine for fitts put to it a little whit[e] wine or ordinary cherry water.[2]

Black cherry water was also said to be good for melancholy and ‘for the passion or tremblinge of the heart’,[3] for ‘a surfeit or any stopping in the stomach’[4] and for the gout (consumption of cherries is recommended for gout sufferers today, to reduce the level of uric acid in the blood and lessen inflammation).

Or if you have a cold, you might want to try this rather pleasant sounding remedy:

Half an oun[ce] of Spanish liquorish, half an oun[ce] of black sugar candy, half a pint of pennyroyal water, half a pint of black cherry water: stir all together over the fire till it’s disolved. Take a spoonfull any time when your cough is troublesome.[5]

[1] MS 45198, British Library.

[2] Add MS 49373, British Library.

[3] MS 3712, Wellcome Library.

[4] MS 4054, Wellcome Library.

[5] MS 2767, Wellcome Library.


Going for the burn – or the bounce

We’re used to doctors extolling the benefits of exercise today, but that recognition is not a modern phenomenon. Among the six ‘non-naturals’ of humoural thinking – diet, air, exercise, sleep, evacuations and the passions – exercise was often viewed as the most important form of health preservation. In the eighteenth century, William Buchan, author of the popular handbook Domestic Medicine, claimed that ‘of all the causes which conspire to render the life of man short and miserable, none have greater influence than the want of proper exercise’ [1]. George Cheyne, physician to the fashionable, promoted walking as the most natural kind of exercise, and it seems to have been a female favourite, particularly in the countryside. Writer Elizabeth Montagu waxed positively lyrical on the subject, saying in a letter to Hester Pitt:

The summer season is the festival of a saunterer, there is something sublime in the reverie of a rural walk that one is apt to fancy oneself more nobly occupied than those engaged in the actual business and useful employments of human life [2].

Country house gardens were designed with circuits such as those at Stourhead and Stowe, the circular route with its temples and follies being seen as something of a ‘paradisal pilgrimage’, which provided multiple views of the gardens with no need to double back on oneself [3]. The poem ‘Stowe’ by Gilbert West, whose uncle Lord Cobham owned that house, described the tour in detail and lauds its obelisk, ‘chrystal lake’ and ‘sylvan Theatre’. West also talked about the other opportunities for exercise there:

Some mid the Nine-pins marshall’d Orders roll,

With Aim unerring the impetuous Bowl.

Others, whose Souls to loftier Objects move,

Delight the Swing’s advent’rous Joys to prove [4].

The swing was adventurous not only because you were pushed up in the air, but for the potential for revealing more than you intended: an article in the Spectator advised gentlemen that ‘The lover who swings his lady is to tie her clothes very close together with his hat-band before she admits him to throw up her heels’ [5]. I think this is the danger West was referring to when he wrote in his poem about ‘those mysterious Charms expos’d to view’, followed by what appears to be a game of kiss chase leading to the ‘Private Grotto’.

Ranelagh Gardens

The Rotunda at Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea by Thomas Bowles, 1754. commons.wikimedia.org

Similar opportunities for amorous encounters were presented by urban pleasure gardens such as Vauxhall and the more exclusive Ranelagh in Chelsea. There one could see and be seen while promenading, as well as drinking tea, attending concerts and watching fireworks – 12,000 people watched Handel rehearse his Music for the Royal Fireworks at Vauxhall in 1769, and novelist Tobias Smollett said that the magic lanterns at Ranelagh ‘made me almost think I was in some enchanted castle or fairy palace’ [6]. I suppose a stroll round the growing number of shops for some conspicuous consumption might also have counted as exercise. Dancing at balls during the season in London or in the spa towns certainly would have; as anyone who watched the recent re-creation of the Netherfield Ball will know, it was a strenuous pursuit. Together with fencing and tennis, it was an activity that ‘exercises every part’ and so is ‘generally most advantageous’, according to a treatise from ‘A Medical Gentleman’ called An Easy Way to Prolong Life, by a Little Attention to our Manner of Living.

Another generally advantageous pursuit was riding. From the spa at Cheltenham, Judith Milbanke wrote to her sister Mary: ‘I rise a little after seven, drink a Glass or two of the Waters & walk two hours before breakfast’, followed by ‘famous riding parties’ [7]. A letter from Lady Anne Hastings to her mother, the Countess of Huntingdon, begs her not to ‘omit the exercise’ and says that ‘you may have a pair [of horses] to go on an airing as often as you please’ [8]. This would have been in a carriage, but women did also ride on horseback, and a letter to a Mrs Gore in the Somerset Archives recommended doing so every day, ‘but not to continue it so long at a time as being fatigued would destroy its good effects’ [9]. Women had to ride sidesaddle, though, their left foot in the stirrup, their right leg supported by an extended saddle and their body facing forwards, which can’t have been too comfortable. Men, of course, faced no such limitations, and as well as riding across their land were able to participate in hunting and even horse racing.

Cheyne’s list of healthful exercises also includes ‘Digging, Working at a Pump, Ringing a dumb Bell, &c’ [10]. Not the activities of your average Georgian gentlemen, one would have thought, although they were particularly recommended for those with bad backs. In fact, essayist Joseph Addison was a devotee, writing in the Spectator:

I exercise myself an hour every morning upon a dumb-bell that is placed in the corner of my room, and pleases me the more because it does everything I require of it in the most profound silence [11].

Chamber Horse

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Another indoor exercise was the ‘chamber horse’ that Cheyne recommended in a letter to novelist Samuel Richardson, which ‘has all the good beneficial effects of a hard trotting horse except the fresh air’. The description makes it sound like an instrument of torture – ‘the chair you sit on with a cushion on the board as a bottom to it with a two armed hoop and with a foot stool that with a sliding board may be raised higher or lower’ [12]. The seat, made out of stacked horsehair cushions, functioned as a kind of concertina when you sat down, then you pulled yourself up by the handles. The air went in and out of the cushions through slits in the side. The chamber horse could also be used in a parallel way to today’s standing desk, with Cheyne telling Richardson: ‘You may dictate, direct, or read in it’.

However, Jane Austen records in her unfinished novel Sanditon that ‘poor Mr. Hollis’s chamber-horse’ was available for sale ‘as good as new’, and they made frequent appearances in auction catalogues, so it appears that many of these devices met the same fate as modern exercise machines. As so often, plus ça change.


[1] Quoted in Jack W. Berryman (2010) ‘Exercise is medicine: A historical perspective’, Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9(4): 1–7.

[2] August 5th, 1772. Vere Birdwood (1994) So Dearly Loved, So Much Admired: Letters to Hester Pitt, Lady Chatham from Her Relations and Friends 1744-1801, London: HMSO.

[3] Max F. Schultz (1981) ‘The circuit walk of the eighteenth-century landscape garden and the pilgrim’s circuitous progress’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 15(1): 1–25.

[4] ‘Stowe, the Gardens of the Right Honourable Viscount Cobham’, 1732. http://faculty.bsc.edu/jtatter/west.html.

[5] Quoted in Kirstin Olsen (1999) Daily Life in 18th-Century England, Portsmouth, NH: Greenwood Publishing, p. 147.

[6] http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/georgians/entertainment/entertainments.html.

[7] 19 June 1787. Malcolm Elwin (1967) The Noels and the Milbankes: Their Letters for Twenty-Five Years 1767–1792.

[8] 17 July 1723. George Hastings Wheler (ed.) (1935) Hastings Wheler Family Letters 1704–1739, Castleford: West Yorkshire Printing Co.

[9] DD\GB/148/127, Gibbs MSS, Somerset Archives, February 4th, 1774.

[10] George Cheyne (1724) An Essay of Health and Long Life, London: George Strahan, p. 94.

[11] Robert Batchelor (2012) ‘Thinking about the gym: Greek ideals, Newtonian bodies and exercise in early eighteenth-century Britain’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 35(2): 185–97, p. 186, 189.

[12] Letter from Bath dated January 12, 1740, quoted at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/longview/longview_20031007_readings.shtml.

A tale of successful detection

Lady Elizabeth Hastings (1682–1739), known as Lady Betty,  daughter of the seventh Earl of Huntingdon,  lived at Ledston Hall in Castleford, Yorkshire. She never married (although her letters reveal many persistent suitors) and was a significant donor to various charities and institutions, including Queen’s College, Oxford; indeed, the trust she established continues in operation today (Lady Elizabeth Hastings Charities). She suffered from breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, dying just over a year later.

Ledston Hall

The following account of an attempt at coercion and the apprehension of those responsible was found among her papers:

Last Friday night whilst the servants were at supper a letter was stuck on one of the spikes of the little iron gate which is by the side of one of the porter’s lodges. The contents were summed up on the outside which was, “This is to let you now that your hal shal be bornet doun on Sonda nex if you do not li the mony ther whear this leter tels you.” The inside was much to the same purpose only that £100 which was the sum demanded was to be laid at the heel of the north gate on Saturday night or else the Hall should be blown up and the town set on fire. All possible care was taken to prevent the incendiary putting their wicked threat into execution and to detect the writer of the letter. In order to which the next day warrants were procured directed to the constables of seven neighbouring villages round about with orders to them to keep watch and ward and take up all vagrants that were then within their several constabularies or that might afterward pass through them. And watch was set about the barns it being thought they would be likelier to revenge the disappointment that they would meet with upon the hay and corn, than the house and watch was likewise set by the north gate where the money was ordered to be laid to see if any suspicious people passed that way on Sunday. But there was nobody passed but a young man about two or three and twenty that was the least so. He said he was a tailor and worked near Leeds and was going to a place near Byram where he had before worked and had left some linen which he was going to fetch but coming by again about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and varying in his story (though the first was true) they began to suspect him and pursuing him to Kippax the constable secured him who had a few hours before taken up an old man that sold ballads. The boy and him seemed strangers to each other and but that it was ordered that no person taken into custody should be discharged again without being carried before a magistrate they had both been let go without further examination they seemed so innocent especially the old man. On Monday they were both carried before Justice Ibettson at Leeds where they positively denied writing or knowing anything of the threatening letter being written but the Justice making the old man write part of the letter which he read to him and thinking the hands agreed ordered him to be secured and then tried to make the young confess which at last he did upon oath in substance as follows namely, that on Friday the 18th instant as he was standing at his master’s door at Whitchurch near Leeds the old man came to him with whom he had been before acquainted and told him he designed to leave a letter at Lady Betty Hastings gate to tell her that if she did not lay £100 at the place before named on Saturday he would burn her house and that if he, the said boy would go on Sunday and take up the money (for the old man seemed sure of its being laid) he should half of it for his pains and the boy having so good an excuse as the fetching some linen which would lead him by the place he undertook to do it.

Ledston, 23 December 1730

The first achievement was deciphering the bomb threat itself!

Source: George Hastings Wheler (ed.) (1935) Hastings Wheler Family Letters, West Yorkshire Printing Co.

A begging letter


Portrait of Nicholas Lechmere Pateshall, http://www.royprecious.co.uk

William Pateshall (1779-1832) was the second son of Ann and Edmund Lechmere Pateshall, whose fourth son Nicholas is pictured above. This wealthy family lived at Allensmore Court, 4 miles from Hereford. At the age of 17, William was on his travels and had to write the following letter to his mother:

I have the pleasure to inform you that I arrived here safe yesterday from Birmingham where I slept. I called upon Mr Conquest in the morning who wanted me to stop a day or two with him, but as Mr Rob was going to town, I thought it better not, he desires I will go there, any time I can make it convenient for a day or two. My expences were much more than I or you thought they would be, as you will see by this account

Breakfast at Ledbury                        1/6

Dinner at Worcester                          2/6

Coach from Hereford                        6/-

Coachman &c                                        2/-

Coach to Birmingham                     12/-

Coachman                                             1/-

Supper &c                                             4/-

Breakfast Bd &c                               3/6

Porter                                                     6d

From Birmingham                        11/0

£2 4/0

And after paying out of that which I have remaining 1/16 for my horse & about 15d for washing I shall not have any money in my pocket, leave alone money to pay for a pair of small cloths & waistcoat which I had made & shoemaker for shoes which you may remember I wanted very bad. Therefore I hope you will send me some as soon as you conveniently can (as I am in want of it as you may suppose) & stop it out of that which you promised to give me. I will send those stokins home as soon as I have an opportunity. I hope you will send me some in the place of them. You will excuse the shortness as I have something waiting for me to do in a hurry.

Mr & Mrs Conquest desire to be remembered to you & my brother. I remain your dutiful son

Wm Pateshall

I hope I shall heare from you soon.

Note the typical teenage strategies here – first of all I got here safely and I’ve being paying my respects as you would expect; then a list of expenses, which are noted to be ‘more than you or I thought they would be’; then the other things I’ve ordered that ‘I wanted very bad’, and of course I really need them, don’t I? He remembers his mother has asked him to send some stockings home, so he assures her he’ll do that  as soon as he can, but he doesn’t have time right now as ‘I have something waiting for me’ – something far more important than writing to his parents, no doubt! Finally, the pièce de résistance, ‘I hope I shall heare from you soon’, with the ‘you’ firmly underlined.

But this ‘dutiful son’ was to be disappointed. A small folded piece of paper wrapped inside the letter provides what is presumably a draft of the reply, which you’ll note comes from his father:

The 5 guineas I have here enclosed is cutting into a half yrs allowance Reconing the <illeg> you had before you left home the expences you have been at to <illeg> since the 1st of last June are no less than £100 according to a moderate calculation which she & myself made last night exclusive of Mr Robins’s fee & the fee to government. Mama will allow you what you pay for the horse at some future time.

William evidently survived, and was later to become a solicitor, town clerk and coroner, as well as being Lord Mayor of Hereford in 1820. His role as coroner gave him plenty of opportunity to reclaim expenses, as this extract from a set of contemporary accounts shows:


A few little wagers


Gambling was a popular activity in the eighteenth century, and some of the sums involved are staggering. I recently came across an example of someone using it almost as a means of making money, since the outcome was much more in his own hands than on the card tables or at the races.

David Howell of Lanlawren, Cornwall (1751-1804), was the son of the Revd. Joshua Howell, Rector of Lanreath, who had become wealthy through marriage to an heiress, Dunnett Haweis. A commission was purchased for David in the 16th Light Dragoons and he attained the rank of captain.

A tiny account book in the Howell family papers records the following:

At Sir John Morehead’s at Trenant Park in the month of August 1784 I laid a wager with Francis Glanvill of fifty guineas that he Francis Glanvill was married before me. D Howell

<Inserted between lines ‘Rec. the above 50 guineas’>

Likewise at the same time & place I laid another wager of fifty guineas with Francis Glanvill that William Symons of Hat. was married before me D. Howell

I laid a wager of fifty guineas with Lieut. Smollett of the 16th Light Dragoons that he Lieut. Smollett was married before me D. Howell Chichester 1784

I laid a wager with Humphrey Bellamy Esq of fifty guineas that he Humphrey Bellamy Esq was married before me D. Howell Chichester 1784

<crossed through with note ‘Bellamy is married but has not paid’>

I laid a wager of fifty guineas with Cornet Lee of the 16th Light Dragoons was married before me D. Howell. Cornet Pennyman goes ten guineas of Lee’s wager. Norwich 1786

I laid a wager of twenty guineas with Lieut Archer of the 16th Light Dragoons that he Lieut Archer was married before me D. Howell Norwich 1786

<note added ‘Archer is married but has not paid & has paid the above’>

I laid a wager with Harry Harcourt of the Grenr Guards of fifty guineas that he Harry Harcourt was married before me D. Howell

Fifty guineas in the 1780s would be worth over £3000 today, the equivalent of over 300 days of a craftsman’s wages – or four horses, more to the taste of a cavalryman. These particular wagers must have ended soon after the last one, though, because he curtailed his winnings by marrying one Elizabeth Parsons of Cornwall, some time before 1787 when his daughter Elizabeth was born, followed by a son, David, in 1796; the elder Elizabeth died in 1798.

David Howell’s death notice in the Universal Magazine of 1805 says that he was

for some years actively employed in that situation [as captain], in America, during the war upon that continent. He was afterwards returned M.P. for the borough of St. Michael, in this county [Cornwall]; but finding his attendance in the house incompatible with his regimental duty, he retired from the army. He was a sensible man, a cheerful companion, and a benevolent patron of the poor and necessitous.

Although obviously not such a benevolent patron of his hapless friends!

Extract on wagers from HL/213/2, Cornwall Record Office. Image of George III guinea from Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.comCurrency and buying power conversions from http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/