Books to ease your Downton Abbey withdrawals (Part 2 – Fiction & Academic)

For part 1 – see here


Siegfried Sassoon – Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man

sassoon 1

The first in a trilogy, like The Shooting Party this is England before the Great War, but instead of the landed classes Sassoon writes an autobiographical portrait of English country life as it was for the minor gentry. Mellow, nostalgic and in the words of a contemporary review, bathed in a golden atmosphere of orchards, horse tack, linseed oil and leather bound, unopened books. Nostalgia at its finest.


Siegfried Sassoon – Memoirs of an Infantry Officer

sassoon 2

The second part of the trilogy and a fictionalised story of Sassoon’s experiences on the Western Front that drove him to express his opposition to the war. Like Brittain, deeply personal and moving (but a great deal shorter).


L.P. Hartley – The Go-Between


A apparent pastoral idyll hiding betrayal, love, deceit and desire and a young boy’s awakening to the realisation of how adults can use each other and even children to get what they want if they want it badly enough. Like so many of our choices, set just before World War One in the hot summer of 1900 and portraying a way of life that was within a decade to disappear for ever.


Isabel Colegate – The Shooting Party

shooting party

A short but flawless novel that is a snapshot of the Edwardian upper classes at play on the brink of war – confident, certain of their place in the world and the superiority of their class and country but with the first hairline cracks of uncertainty starting to appear.


C.S. Forester – The General

the general

Writing these comments it’s very noticeable that for our choices war or the imminence of war is a theme, and of course that’s inevitable if you are exploring the era when Downton is set – Julian Fellowes must be the only writer I’ve come across who writes about this period and apart from one series manages to pretty much ignore the very large historical fact of World War One and its effects on people decades after it ended. This is a superb novel about a decent, brave and wholly unimaginative man who is far from evil or wicked yet sends men to appalling slaughter. CS Forester has long been one of my favourite writers and he had a fascination for flawed, awkward people: and while the author recognises his hero’s flaws and failings are inevitable because of his lack of imagination, he also does him justice as a human being. One of the must reads on this list.


J.L Carr – A Month in the Country


A damaged survivor of the Great War recalls the summer of 1920 he spent in Yorkshire: how the village and its people were a place of refuge, healing, love and friendship, and a precious memory he has carried with him for years. Lyrical and beautifully written.


Winifred Holtby – South Riding

south riding

Set slightly later than Downton Abbey, this is a novel about the lives, loves and politics of  a town in 1930s Yorkshire – blighted by the war and coming to terms with significant social change.


Vita Sackville-West – The Edwardians

edwardians 2

A thinly disguised account of Knole and members of the Sackville-West family, this novel published in 1930 explores dual themes such as tradition and change, duty and pleasure. While this can be seen as a critique of the emptiness and vacuity of the aristocracy and their way of life it also represents a labour of love for Vita in her description of Knole, its history and the symbiotic relationship of the house with everyone who depends on it for a living.


P.G. Wodehouse – Blandings novels

No mention of the post WW1 era would be complete without a mention of PG Wodehouse’s Blandings novels. Set at an indeterminate period between 1918 and 1939, they evoke a golden age of the middle and upper classes wholly unthreatened by punitive increases in taxation, social unrest, Bolshevism, socialism or any of the concerns of real life in the 20s and 30s. Like Downton Abbey they exist in an idealised bubble where the aristocracy are supreme  and everyone except his family defers to the earl while having their own (not necessarily flattering) opinions about him. Unlike Downton Abbey however they evoke the period with tiny but deft touches, are superbly written and very funny.





David Cannadine – The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy


Before the 1870s, the British aristocracy was at the height of its power but in less than a decade later their long descent into impotence and irrelevance had begun. Cannadine’s magisterial study charts their decline and fall aided and abetted by a combination of new challenges from other socio-economic groups for long marginalised and were now challenging and battling the aristocracy for power and control, punitive taxation, and from industry and cheap imports from abroad. The First World War and its aftermath led to a huge blow from which the aristocracy has never recovered since. Highly recommended.


Diane Urquhart – The Ladies of Londonderry: Women and Political Patronage

Aristocratic women like their middle and working class counterparts might not have legal and political rights but they could make a difference through their charity work; patronage of the arts, sciences, religion and education and  entertaining. Using the Marchionesses of Londonderry as a case study, Urquhart examines how their work and efforts particularly in the field of charity, the war effort and political entertaining have had mixed results but all the time wholly consistent with the aristocratic notion of public service and duty.


Maureen E. Montgomery -‘Gilded Prostitution’: Status, Money and transatlantic marriages, 1870-1914

It wasn’t only in Britain where transatlantic marriages between the aristocracy and American heiresses were unpopular but also in America where following a backlash, they were increasingly being seen as unpatriotic, a betrayal of the American Dream and the ideals of the Founding Fathers. At the risk of sounding like Samuel Huntington here, this was a “clash of civilisations” where the values of the New World in which egalitarianism and merit reigned supreme were being challenged by the desire for status and social acceptance.


Jose Harris – Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914


Charting changes in British society in the forty odd years before WW1 around themes such as demography, family and household, property, work, religion, society and state; Harris presents a succinct and well-argued view that the notion of public virtue is what kept Britain relatively stable despite its own social and economic problems and how social policy was increasingly becoming the concern of the state thereby laying the foundations of the welfare state that came into being following the Second World War.


Dominic Lieven – The Aristocracy in Europe 1815-1914

A comparative study of the British, German and Russian aristocracies, Lieven charts how they met the challenges facing their class and their countries and deduces some common threads that were the factors for the decline and fall of the British, German and Russian aristocracies namely the rise of the middle class, industrialisation and professionalism in the military, civil service and the government.


Andrew Adonis – Making Aristocracy Work: The Peerage and the Political System in Britain, 1884-1914

While Cannadine’s study looks at a broader picture of the decline and fall of the aristocracy, Adonis’ work focus more on the aristocracy from a purely political aspect and argues that not only was their power steadily eroded by the growing number of middle and working class MPs but crucially the clash over the budgets in 1909 and 1910 paved the way for the Parliament Act on 1911 which signalled the end of the House of Lords’ power of veto and a blow from which they have never recovered.


Eugenio F. Biagini and Alastair J. Reid (eds) Currents of Radicalism: Popular radicalism, organised labour and party politics in Britain, 1850-1914

These collection of essays charts the rise of radicalism and the labour movement becoming a political force in Britain challenging both the aristocracy and the middle classes but at the same time working with these groups to ensure that grievances against pay, working conditions and being denied the vote were taken seriously and acted upon.


Bloggers’ Recommendations:

A.L. Carr                         A Month in the Country

Isobel Colegate            The Shooting Party

Vera Brittain                Testament of Youth

David Cannadine        The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy

C.S. Forester                 The General

Catherine Bailey         Black Diamonds


Books to ease your Downton Abbey withdrawals (Part 1 – Non fiction)

Downton Abbey has come to an end both in the UK and the US but if you are interested in the era the programme is set (as we are) then these books hopefully will give you a greater insight into this period and what life was like in Britain in the late 19th to the early 20th century. Ignore all other lists; this is the one you need.


Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan – The Glitter and the Gold

the glttier and the gold

Published in 1953 when Consuelo was already in her seventies this autobiography dwells on her childhood, her unhappy marriage to and divorce from the 9th Duke of Marlborough to her work with the poor and support for women’s suffrage and finally her second marriage to French aviator Jacques Balsan. Of particular interest here is Consuelo’s account of life as a duchess and chatelaine of Blenheim Palace which depicts a way of life in its Indian summer before its eventual demise during the First World War.


Anne de Courcy – Society’s Queen: The Life of Edith Marchioness of Londonderry, The Viceroy’s Daughters, 1939: The Last Season, Margot at War: Love and Betrayal at Downing Street 1912-1916

The-Viceroy-s-Daughters     margot at war

This quartet of books from Anne de Courcy explores the lives of Edith Londonderry, the daughters of Lord Curzon and Margot Asquith where she weaves their lives amidst the social and political realities of the times they live in where their privileged lives were simply a façade for the growing impotence of the class they belong to and which all would come to an end with Armageddon in 1939.


Catherine Bailey – Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, The Secret Rooms

black diamonds     the secret rooms

Catherine Bailey’s well researched books on the Fitzwilliam family and the 9th Duke of Rutland has all the ingredients that make Downton Abbey pale in comparison. From missing documents to forbidden love to betrayal to subterfuge to mysterious births and deaths; the stories of the Fitzwilliams and the 9th Duke do lend credence to the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction


Mary Lovell – The Mitford Girls

mitford girls

The death of Deborah Dowager Duchess of Devonshire in 2014 marked the end of an era and Mary Lovell’s biography of the famous and infamous six Mitford sisters provides a snapshot of what it was like for an aristocratic family to be a casualty of the prolonged agricultural slump that has decimated the fortunes of many in the aristocracy. The sisters’ close relationship with one another make good reading – how it was tested time and again and in some cases unable to withstand the changing political and economic conditions that engulfed their class.


Loelia Duchess of Westminster – Grace and Favour

Mabell Countess of Airlie – Thatched with Gold: The Memoirs of Mabell Countess of Airlie

Lady Cynthia Asquith – Remember and Be Glad, Haply I May Remember

What was it like to be an upper class woman where you had to be strictly chaperoned until you were married? Where your education was haphazard and anything that was deemed to be unladylike was actively discouraged? Where discussion of awkward and difficult subjects was avoided? Let Loelia Westminster, Mabell Airlie and Cynthia Asquith be your guides through a vanished world where strict morality, a sense of propriety prevailed and the shenanigans of a Lady Mary, Lady Edith or Lady Rose would have been commented upon and not tolerated.


Mollie Moran – Aprons and Silver Spoons

Flo Wadlow – Over a Hot Stove

Rosina Harrison – The Lady’s Maid

moran memoirsReaders might wonder why we do not have Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs but we believe that her account is only one side of the story and it’s easy to forget that she did not work for the aristocracy or even the untitled gentry. For those of you who are wondering how a real life Mrs Patmore or Miss O’Brien might have coped and what life could have been like in an aristocratic household then the reminiscences of Mollie Moran, Flo Wadlow and Rosina Harrison will present another side of the story overlooked by Margaret Powell.


Frances Osborne – The Bolter


This could be subtitled The Marriages of Idina Sackville, a woman who could “whistle a chap off a branch” and frequently did. From scandalising Edwardian London to organising wife swapping parties in Kenya, this is a highly entertaining account of an earl’s daughter who pushed the boundaries of behaviour to extremes. Fascinating and repelling at the same time.


Vera Brittain – Testament of Youth

testament of youth

One of the best memoirs of World War One – poignant, at times agonising and at all times deeply personal, although for me it sags after the end of the war when Brittain talks at great lengths about her political and social justice ambitions and interests. One comment that was made when this came out is that it’s written as if Brittain was the only woman to lose a fiancé during the war, and she’s certainly self-absorbed throughout, but a worthwhile read as a contemporary account of Britain from peace to war and back again.


Phyllida Barstow – The English Country House Party

A description of the golden age of the English country house party from the death of Prince Albert in 1861 to the outbreak of war in 1914. An intimate and entertaining account of a vanished world and a vanished class that uses diaries, fiction and personal memoirs to convey a world that was not just about enjoyment but served serious social and political purposes.


Gail McColl and Carol Wallace – To Marry an English Lord

marry an english lord

One of the inspirations for Downton Abbey was the career of the Buccaneers – young American heiresses who came to Britain with the intention of marrying into the peerage. 1895 was the peak year for this social phenomenon, and eventually more than 100 heiresses exchanged their fortunes for British titles. Why they came, what they found, how they were supposed to behave, what it was like to be a peeress and what happened when – as often was the case – these marriages foundered are all entertainingly catalogued, with plenty of contemporary drawings and photographs.


Jerry White – Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War

zeppelin nights

London in 1914 was the chief city of the British Empire and with the declaration of war became, in the words of one review, one of the greatest killing machines in human history…the war changes London for ever…yet despite daily casualty lists, food shortages and enemy bombings, Londoners are determined to get on with their lives… patriots and pacifists, clergymen and thieves, bluestockings and prostitutes…a struggling yet flourishing city. It’s four years in the city’s long history told by focusing on the daily lives of Londoners, whether they were rich or poor, high or low.


Juliet Nicholson – The Great Silence: 1918-1920, Life in the Shadow of the Great War

great silence

A book about the two years from the end of the Great War to the burial of the Unknown Soldier in 1920, and a solid and often moving account of the devastation effects of war and grief on the British of all classes and as the title implies, stoically endured in a silence that had come to an awareness that after four years of war reality was too much for words to describe. Like water moving under ice, Nicholson shows that despite everything people survived and coped and tentatively at last began to hope for happiness again.


Virginia Nicholson – Singled Out

singled out

This is an exploration of the lives of a generation of women who were deprived of marriage and motherhood by the carnage of war and the lives they made for themselves as they challenged convention, coped with adversity and in the process proved to themselves and others that men, marriage and babies were not the only future for women.


Elisabeth Kehoe – Fortune’s Daughters: The Extravagant Lives of the Jerome Sisters

fortunes daughters

The most famous of the Buccaneers could arguably be Jennie Jerome but her two sisters Leonie and Clara also married into the British aristocracy and gentry. Elisabeth Kehoe’s fascinating biography chronicles the social ambitions of their mother and how through her sheer force of will and the sisters’ beauty and charm they married into the aristocracy in the process establishing themselves into society and becoming confidantes to politicians, royals and other prominent people of their day.


Amanda Mackenzie Stuart – Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Mother and Daughter in the Gilded Age

A dual biography of Consuelo Vanderbilt and her mother Alva, Stuart charts the events that shaped Alva’s social climbing ambitions and how Consuelo was instrumental to that plan. What is fascinating is how both women turned to good causes as society lost it allure and their marriages floundered under stress and strain – with their work for the poor, sick and women’s rights. And it is through public service and their respective second marriages that both mother and daughter find fulfilment and happiness.


Pamela Horn – Country House Society, Life in a Victorian Household, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant, Life in the Victorian Country House, Ladies of the Manor, Life Below Stairs: the real lives of servants the Edwardian era to 1939, Women in the 1920s, High Society: The English Social Elite 1880-1914

Pamela Horn was a lecturer on social history at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) and is an acknowledged expert on British society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her books all draw from various primary sources such as letters, diary entries, newspaper and magazine articles and census reports to flesh out how men and women both high and low really lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Robert Wainwright – Sheila: The Australian Ingénue who Bewitched British Society


Once the novelty of marrying American heiresses wore off, British aristocrats began to look more into the daughters of home grown industrialists and those from the Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) for potential brides seeing them as preferable to Americans. Among these women from the Dominions who took British society by storm was Sheila Chisholm an Australian who married the heir to the earldom of Rosslyn and attracted a string of admirers among them the future George VI who fell passionately in love with her. Wainwright deftly places Sheila at the heart of a society outwardly moving on from the First World War but still reeling from its effects under the surface only to meet its demise during the Second World War.


Martin Pugh – We Danced All Night: A Social History of Britain Between the Wars

Martin Pugh suggests in the title that it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Britain during the years following the First World War. While the interwar years was a period of strikes, economic decline and growing impotence on the global stage it was also an era of the rise of consumer society, greater choice, improvements in science and technology and greater democratisation of society.


The Duchess of Devonshire – Chatsworth: The House

Like her sisters Nancy, Diana and Jessica; Deborah also developed a career in writing on the side and this excellent coffee table book charts the history of Chatsworth House and the previous dukes and duchesses who have made it their home. It also serves as a guided tour of one of Britain’s leading visitor attractions and bringing to life how the house has adapted to the changing times and changing needs of those who live and work under its roof.


Lucy Lethbridge – Servants: A Downstairs View of 20th century Britain

Jeremy Musson – Up and Down Stairs

servants  up and downstairs

Tracing the rise, apogee and eventual decline of domestic service, both Lethbridge and Musson makes an excellent stab at portraying domestic service in all its diversity and complexity and that it wasn’t all black and white when it came to servants and employers but it was in varying shades of grey.


Mark Girouard – Life in the English Country House

An architectural historian, Giorouard traces the development of the country house over the last 500 years in respond to changing times, fashions, needs and attitudes.


Anita Leslie – Edwardians in Love

Contrary to what has been claimed by the Downton PR machine, the people of the past are not empathically like us. As LP Hartley wrote in The Go-Between, “the past is a different country, they do things differently there.” Leslie, a cousin of Winston Churchill describes in great detail the loves and passions of the Edwardian upper classes, the rules they had to strictly adhere to and their views on love, relationships, marriage and adultery which by the standards of today can be seen as hypocritical and even unpalatable.


Tessa Boase – The Housekeeper’s Tale

housekeepers tale

Charting the history of the housekeeper from the 19th century to the present by using case studies, Tessa Boase depicts that there is more to the housekeeper than Mrs Hughes. While the position comes with power and responsibility, it is also fraught with hidden danger where one false move and the housekeeper finds herself with no job, no place to stay and no reference. Oftentimes a footnote in history, Boase places the housekeeper central stage and traces the changes in domestic service through their eyes.


Roy Hattersley – The Edwardians

Andrew Marr – The Making of Modern Britain

edwardians  modern britain

The Edwardian era is oftentimes seen as a period of the Belle Epoque of balls, dances and dinners where men in white tie and tails mingled with women in sumptuous evening gowns and jewels. But underneath the glitter and glamour was a society on a cusp of change where royalty and aristocracy were being supplanted by the middle class while march of science and technology was rendering the old ways of doing things obsolete and a whole group of people both men and women were no longer content to be simply seen as subjects but were flexing their muscles and demanding to be heard and to be taken seriously by the powers that be. Both are a must read as an overview of British history from 1901 to 1939.


Jeremy Paxman – Great Britain’s Great War

Kate Adie – Fighting the Home Front

Terry Charman – The First World War on the Home Front

great war

One of the wasted potentials of Downton Abbey was to explore the First World War in any meaningful way and as befitting the first mechanised and total war in history how it even pervaded the home front. Paxman, Adie and Charman explore the effects of the war in Britain, how everyone rich and poor, high and low were affected and a hundred years later still resonate in the British psyche.


For part 2 – see here

Two Victorian Cookery Writers – C.E Francatelli and A.G Payne

The general idea that many people have of cookery and cookbooks in the Victorian Age is that it was Mrs Beeton and no-one else. However Charles Elme Francatelli (1805-1876) was one of the culinary celebrities of his time. An Englishman of Italian extraction who travelled to France to study under the legendary Antonin Carême the founder of French haute cuisine and revered for his blending of the best of Italian and French cuisine, Francatelli was regarded as a leading chef in Victorian London and spent most of his career in Britain directing the kitchens of royalty and noblemen, including Queen Victoria, the Earls of Chesterfield and Dudley and managing both Crockfords, a private club and gaming house and the Reform Club.

Charles Elme Francatelli from The Cooks Guide 1867

However, his greatest love was the simple act of cooking and despite working for some of the most distinguished of British aristocracy and gentry to produce costly and elaborate banquets, Francatelli was known as a culinary economist.

Often quoted, he once remarked that “he could feed every day a thousand families on the food that was wasted in London”. To this end in 1852 he issued A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes which contained information of practical value. This included economical delights such as cow-heel broth, bubble and squeak , sheep’s pluck and a pudding made of small birds.

Here are no recipes for pheasant or partridge or lobster sandwiches for ball suppers, nor instructions to the cook on when to send up a dish. Francatelli starts with what utensils to buy and how much they should cost, that your families may be well fed and your homes made comfortable – comfort and being well fed were clearly very important to him, whether for the rich or the poor. Throughout the work he addresses the reader as “you,” implying that the reader is also the cook: recipes are short and to the point (although for a modern reader irritatingly short on definite measurements), and are aimed at the good plain cook who has no time or food to waste. You have the sense of someone coming home, throwing her coat over a chair and flattening the book out on the table while she prepares food for a hungry family.

His book seems to have been meant for people who had no servants at all. What Francatelli called the working class was divided into two categories. In the upper category were skilled labourers who worked with their hands, like carpenters and blacksmiths. The lower category held the masses of working men and women who provided unskilled paid labour to factories, farms and shops, or who did the dirtier jobs like fishing and butchery. This was the highest class in which women were allowed to work without social repercussions. (Servants were lumped into this category, but at different levels; servants to aristocratic houses or higher-level servants were accorded more respect).

Francatelli’s style is authoritative – as you’d expect from someone who was writing to instruct – but also chatty and there are times when you can almost hear him talking to himself as he wrote the recipes down.  There  must have times when someone using this book felt Francatelli at her shoulder as she worked (“pay great attention to how you handle the pudding while removing the cloth, so as not to spill or waste the gravy it contains, as that would go very far towards spoiling the pudding you have had all the trouble to prepare”). He recognised that there were going to be days when the family could push the boat out and eat well (should they receive the present of a hare or a rabbit from the “local considerate gentlefolks,” or have a garden where they might raise a goose), and days when money was tight and cheap filling food was needed (“one ox cheek, properly managed, will, by attending to the foregoing instructions, furnish and ample quantity of substantial and nutritious food, equal to the wants of a large family, for three days”) – and also that some of his readers didn’t have an oven at home (“bake it in your oven or else send it to the bakers”) and who lacked either the money or the means (such as a kitchen or a range) to cook the food he wrote about.

Francatelli also comes over as fond of children: acknowledging that they can be very hungry (“Norfolk dumplings are also most excellent things to eke out an insufficient supply of meat for the dinner of a large family of children”): knew that they love sweet things (a recipe for preserve of mixed fruit that can be spread on bread for them during the winter months) and cared for their well-being (“baked apples or pears, with bread, form a cheap, wholesome and proper kind of supper for children.”)

He assumed no great knowledge on the part of his readers and his “How To” recipes must have been a boon for a wife and mother cooking for her family: with no-one to turn to when she wasn’t sure it was turning out right but who didn’t have the luxury of being able to throw out a culinary failure. His cooking directions are simple and clear, none of his recipes are elaborate and some sound pretty tasty – a rice pudding with allspice and brown sugar, bouillabaisse, treacle pudding. I’d like try some of his recipes but of course a great many of his ingredients are now unobtainable (isinglass, pickled pork) or difficult to source (sheeps’ heads) but also he was writing for people who did not have modern cookers – a kitchen range could be as variable and temperamental as the weather, or indeed the cook. So there are no instructions to cook at whatever temperature for how long – this was cooking over an open fire with no temperature regulation and Francatelli left it to the cook who knew her own range to decide when the food was done.

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Notable by their absence is much mention of fruit or vegetables except in passing as part of a dish– there are three recipes for salad (lettuce, onions, vinegar, pepper and salt), one vegetable pottage but eleven recipes or descriptions of how to cook potatoes and nine for rice. This was not the excess of the tables of aristocracy and royalty where many courses were served, but carbohydrate heavy food to nourish and fill the stomach after a hard day of manual labour, and prevent the need for dishing up expensive meat.

It was not however a book for the desperately poor or the underclass. Francatelli devoted over three pages to How to Brew Your Own Beer, and at the end of the booklet there are three items about making good,  economical and substantial soup for the poor: so he recognised that while he was writing for the working classes there  were people underneath them in terms of social status who were a lot worse off. Note the juxtaposition of practical charity, economy but also the recognition that just because the poor were poor that didn’t mean they should be fed slops but instead good soup.

There are also nine pages of recipes for remedies and cooking for invalids – this is a time before the National Health Service when calling out a doctor cost money and for many families was a last resort. A soothing drink for coughs, linseed tea for gout and balm and burrage tea for persons whose system has become heated from any cause (the mind boggles) are a few of the offerings.

A different audience was intended for Cassell’s Shilling Cookery, written in 1888 under the name AG Payne by Arthur Gay Payne, who combined the unlikely interests of cook and sports editor to such publications as The Billiard News. The edition I’m reviewing is dated 1910 and is firmly aimed at the lower middle class and middle class family who could afford a cook, probably a parlour maid as well, who entertained and who could afford to be extravagant when it was called for –  recipes with wine and sherry, recipes for turtle soup with dried turtle flesh, haunch of venison, roast game and fillet of turbot are among the offerings. (Not a live turtle, of course – that would be far too expensive and probably the cook in a modest household wouldn’t know what to do with it – but turtle soup with dried meat would impress the guests and look more lavish that it really was). Payne  starts straight away with instructions for five types of stock, as well as “Lessons in Plain Cooking” with detailed and like Mrs Beeton somewhat didactic and militaristic explanations of how to boil, steam, roast, stew, bake and broil. This is for the woman who was not expected to do her own cooking but had to know what her cook was up to and what the cook was talking about when they decided  on the menu.


Payne never explicitly said who his book was aimed at but it was clearly not Francatelli’s working class with their plain cookery. It’s very obvious from the language and the recipes the two writers were addressing different classes of society. The Shilling Cookery book has its share of economical recipes but it was food for the aspirational middle class audience, and food that was a great deal more expensive and out of the reach of Francatelli’s audience: even if they’d imagined eating such things as pickled salmon or baked turbot or Viennoise pudding stuffed full of eggs and cream and dried fruit.

Sandwiches, he says, can be made so that they are real delicacies. Very high class sandwiches, suitable for ball suppers, may be made as follows – with fillings of white meat from a cold fowl, lobster, salmon (although the salmon can be tinned), anchovy or cold pheasant. If roast partridge was being served – young birds cooked in a brisk oven do not require more than twenty minutes….the cook should be ordered not to commence to cook partridges until she sees the dirty soup plates: supposing the dinner to consist of soup, joint and partridge. Where Francatelli described how to cook for the poor, Payne spent a number of pages fussing over the presentation of food – garnishes for soup, fish, entrees and joints: while he didn’t forget to remind the lady of the house of her duties to her lord and master.

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Suppose your husband comes home tired and fagged from a hard day’s work, mentally and bodily, in the City, hot sale rooms or dusty Exchange: he is weary, empty but not hungry. I fear some women do not grasp the awful weariness produced by brain work. A small help at starting, and a second help as hot as the first, thanks to the second edition of gravy, put temptingly on a clean hot plate, and a fresh knife and fork. Why not? The cost is perhaps two minutes extra to an idle kitchen maid. Your husband’s health and comfort ought to be worth more than this. (I looked in vain for any recognition that the “idle kitchen maid” had been up since six o’clock raking out the old coals from the range, setting it going again, scrubbing floors, washing and peeling vegetables in cold water, cooked breakfast for her employers and the cook, prepared meat and fowl for the table while being bossed around by the cook, and in a small household most likely doing the washing up once each meal was over: but found none. I think any kitchen maid worth the name might retort to Mr Payne that she had just as much right as her employer to feel awful weariness).


Only once the proper way to ornament food is out of the way does Payne turn his attention to sick room food, and then only after two pages of discussing Miss Nightingale’s “Notes on Nursing” – a concise writer he was not. Like Francatelli he has recipes for gruel and arrowroot, but the invalids who were fed from Payne’s work could also look forward to egg wine, caudle (gruel with the addition of brandy) and sponge cake pudding (as it sounds, but with sherry or brandy).

AG Payne also wrote Cassell’s Vegetarian Cookery: A Manual of Cheap and Wholesome Diet, first published in 1891 at a time when vegetarianism was associated with cranks, faddism and socialism. Despite such handicaps, by the end of the 19th century, vegetarianism was thriving and in 1889 there were 52 vegetarian restaurants in Britain with 34 in London.


In his introduction Payne made it clear that he is writing a cookery book, not a treatise, but in his introduction he made clear his reasons for advocating such a diet – health, economy and the need of many families to live decently on a restricted income. He recognised the upheaval that a change to a vegetarian diet might make in a household and was understanding about it but dealt briskly with any objections that a vegetarian diet is a limited one:

We believe and hope that the present work will benefit those who are undergoing slow but gradual change in their mode of living. This is easiest in small households,  where no servants are kept at all, where the mistress is both cook and mother. It is in such houses that the change is possible and most desirable. In many cases change will be made gradually…there are many housekeepers who would feel that their bill of fare would instantly become extremely limited were they to adopt vegetarian ideas…. then goes onto point out that there is no better dinner than soup with plenty of bread and that his book contained no less than sixty four soup recipes as an inducement to the reader. No contemporary reader of this book need have feared instant starvation by taking his or her first steps as a vegetarian – the recipes ranged from sauces, rice, pasta (macaroni and what he charmingly called sparghetti – a peculiar form of macaroni that is  very cheap, very satisfying, and very nourishing; and it is to be regretted that this popular dish is not more often used by those who are not vegetarians, who would benefit both in pocket and in health were they to lessen their butcher’s bill by at any rate commencing dinner, like the Italians, with a dish of sparghetti) –  to eggs, salads, savoury dishes, vegetables and fruit, and a few recipes for that eternal vegetarian standby, lentils – vegetarians generally regard them as one of the more nourishing forms of food served at table – which makes it odd that he did not have more than a few recipes for them. All in all for its’ time this is an astonishingly knowledgeable, authoritative and in many ways consoling recipe book for the fledgling vegetarian: not just that someone had written a book  to launch them on their journey but one that provided them with help, understanding and the means to cook a nourishing and nutritious meat free diet for the family. Payne was properly respectful of vegetarian principles, declaring in his chapter on Jellies (Vegetarian) and Jam –

By vegetarian jelly we mean jelly made on vegetarian principles. To be consistent, if we cannot use anchovy sauce because it is made from fish, on the same principle we cannot use either gelatine or isinglass which of course as everybody knows, is made from fishes. For all this, there is no reasons why vegetarians should not enjoy jellies quite equal, as far as flavour is concerned, to ordinary jelly.

The books by both Payne and Francatelli are full of the love of good food and show not only the desire of the authors to impart that love and their interest in how that food is cooked, but also how the working and middle classes were expanding and demanded food that would fit their lives and budgets as well as providing something for that special occasion. I’ve no doubt that if they were alive today both Charles Francatelli would be blogging like mad as well as utilising social media and perhaps even having their own television programmes and columns in major newspapers such as The Times or the Daily Mail that would allow them to engage with as many people as possible.

Further reading:

A.G Payne. Cassells’ Shilling Cookery  (London, 1910)

A.G Payne. Cassell’s Vegetarian Cookery   (Echo Library reprint)

C. E Francatelli. A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (Pryor Publications reprint, 1993)