The Centenary Dinner of the Sheffield Book Society

By Sue Roe

In today’s Heritage Open Days blog, Sue Roe tells us about the centenary dinner of one of Sheffield’s earliest literary groups.

The Centenary Dinner for the Sheffield Book Society was held on 29 December 1906 at the Royal Victoria Hotel. The Book Society had been formed in 1806 at the King’s Head Hotel, Change Alley, by six men for the circulation of books. There was a strong Unitarian presence: three were Unitarian ministers and the others were members. The group did expand quickly to twenty-five and then to thirty. It continued throughout the nineteenth century and during the First World War – in fact it was only dissolved in 1944 because of a book shortage. Titles were chosen by the committee with suggestions from members; the books were then sold at the Annual Dinner and the profits used to buy more. The books were circulated amongst members and a record was kept via a ‘check book’. Members were expected to bring this to the Annual Dinner or be fined. Later in the nineteenth century a collector was appointed to deliver and collect the books.

Michael Ellison’s check book (Sheffield City Archives)
Michael Ellison’s check book (Sheffield City Archives)

Planning for the Centenary Dinner started early. At a Committee Meeting in September 1905:

It was resolved to hold the Centenary Dinner of the Society on Dec. 29 .1906 & to select Mr. Wightman, as the Senior Member of the Society, President for that occasion.

(Arthur Wightman was the longest serving member.)

In September 1906,

…it was decided that no public officials (as such) should be invited. It was suggested that a Card of invitation be prepared and each Member be furnished with three wherewith he may invite that number of guests.

Invitation Card (Sheffield City Archives)

Furthermore:

The Honry. Secty. was instructed to have a full list of all the members of the Society printed, giving the year of their election from 1806 to the present time & that such list be presented to every one at the Centenary Dinner together with a short history of the Society from its commencement.

Members of Sheffield Book Society (Sheffield City Archives)

… the Society … is managed by a Committee of twelve … who are appointed each year at the Annual Meeting in December. This Committee meets at the house of each member in turn, about every three months, for the purpose of voting in new books from a list furnished by the Honorary Secretary. Periodicals Magazines and Art Publications are only voted in at the Annual Meetings.

The contrast was drawn with Sheffield in 1806 when ‘The age of cheap literature had not yet dawned. Books were costly.’ Novels were often published in three volumes. The Magazines and other periodicals were usually bought by members and given to charitable institutions.

Short history of the Sheffield Book Society Image 1 (Sheffield City Archives)
Short history of the Sheffield Book Society Image 2 (Sheffield City Archives)

At the Committee Meeting in December 1906:

The Menu for the Centenary Dinner on Dec 29 was submitted, discussed & decided upon.

Menu for the Centenary Dinner (Sheffield City Archives)

The menu seems a bit daunting these days – ten courses and then coffee. Four meat courses and fish too! Intriguing that they would have foie gras rissoles as the penultimate course.

Oysters are thought of as a luxury these days but in the nineteenth century they were a common dish. In The Pickwick Papers (1837) Sam Weller observed ‘the poorer a place is the greater call there seems for oysters’. Soup followed the oysters: a choice between a Petite Marmite and Cream of Artichoke. The former was a soup consisting of a variety of meats – the cheaper cuts of veal, beef and pork with vegetables simmered in stock, then served all together in individual bowls. A petite marmite is a small bowl in France, so the dish is named after the vessel.

The Joinville sauce accompanying the sole is a béchamel sauce with crayfish and shrimps, garnished with mushrooms and often black truffle. Whitebait need no explanation, I would imagine. Neither does the chicken soufflé.

Tournedos Béarnaise is fillet of beef with a sauce made from butter, shallots, tarragon and white wine. The guests were obviously accomplished diners.

Mutton was long regarded as superior in taste to lamb and was a staple in many households: Dickens’ favourite dish was mutton stuffed with oysters. Game such as pheasant was also a common course: shooting was a popular sport.  

For dessert guests could choose from ice cream or cake: Peach Melba was created by the French chef Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel in the early 1890s for the famous Australian opera singer Nellie Melba. It is a dish of peaches with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream. Friandises are small pastries or sweets – what we would call petit fours.

Savoury courses were often served towards the end of an Edwardian meal – rabbit, cheese mushrooms, herring roes, chicken livers, ‘devilled’ in a spicy sauce. It is hard to imagine any of them choosing foie gras rissole (deep fried pastry turnovers with foie gras and truffles) after such a gargantuan meal. And yet there was a dessert course to follow!

The Hon. Secty. offered a prize to the School of Art pupils for the design for Menu Card at the Centenary Dinner – thirteen designs were submitted and the one by Mr. C. S. Jagger was selected.

I wonder if Mr C S Jagger was a relation!

The menu, the list of members and the short history were collected into a booklet with a front page presumably designed by C S Jagger.

Front page of the Centenary Booklet (Sheffield City Archives)

Despite the Committee’s decision that no public officials be invited, guests included W F Osborn, Master Cutler; Sydney J Robinson, an ex Master Cutler; the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr. Smith; and Professor Arthur Herbert Leahy, Professor of Mathematics at Sheffield University.

The event was widely reported in the local newspapers: an article in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (December 1906) pointed out the number of Sheffield worthies who were, and had been, members. Two Sheffield families had shown long membership. John Favell had joined in 1817 and from that date to the date of the dinner there was always at least one member of the Favell family in the Book Society. A later article spoke of:

the exceptionally large attendance of members … The company was representative of the medical and legal professions, as well as the manufacturing and commercial interests of the city, the former predominating.

In an article in the Sheffield Telegraph in January 1907, Robert Leader complimented those members who had proved loyal to the Society over the years. This was particularly significant bearing in mind the strain, before a messenger was employed for delivery and collection, of punctually passing on the books from house to house.

Where distances were short this was no great tax but the obligation was serious when, for instance, a member living at Broomhill had to deliver at the office of another in town; who, in turn, had to convey the books to his own residence in Burngreave and in due course to send them forward to Pitsmoor.

Reported in an article of 31 December 1906, at the Dinner Arthur Wightman was in reminiscent mode. He recalled his first meeting with Thomas Asline Ward, the long serving Secretary and Treasurer of the Society. Wightman was a member of the Sheffield Football Club which played in a field belonging to Ward. The Bishop of Sheffield proposed a toast to the President which was ‘received with musical honours’. Wightman kept his reply brief so that the sale of books and periodicals would not be delayed.

This was the feature of the evening and was entered upon with great zest and enjoyment. The works were distributed to the guests around the table and each in turn offered the book for sale, descanting on its merits, and striving to get the most he could for it. The Centenary Dinner was indeed a ‘very pleasant gathering’.

Dickens and More Wittles

By Sue Roe

For today’s Heritage Open Days blog, it’s back to Dickens.

Dickens was a bit of a foodie himself. His favourite dish was lamb stuffed with oysters and to drink, he relished a glass of Smoking Bishop or Gin Punch. He loved entertaining and held regular dinner parties. A convivial host, he had an ample wine cellar: his 1865 cellar lists a 50 gallon cask of ale, 18 gallon of gin, 18 dozen bottles of port, four dozen bottles of champagne and sundry others. He clearly was no fan of the Temperance Movement – he thought the working class deserved some enjoyment. After the forced separation from his wife, his sister-in-law Georgina acted as housekeeper. Here is one of her menu cards.

Menu card for dinner, probably at Gad’s Hill in the 1860s, with Charles Dickens’ cest (Charles Dickens Museum)

His wife Catherine was a foodie too: she published a cookery book of her recipes, What Shall We Have for Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Fare for from Two to Eighteen Persons (1852), under the pseudonym Maria Clutterbuck. It included many of Dickens’ favourite recipes but was not just a cook book. Catherine focussed on menu planning, and included some recipes which the author claimed were commonly ‘misunderstood’. Books on household management and etiquette were becoming increasingly popular as the rising middle class looked for guidance in order to avoid social faux pas.

Bill of Fare for Two to Three Persons, from Catherine Dickens’ cookery book, What Shall We Have for Dinner?

Despite his wife’s skills as a cook, the depiction of women in the kitchen reveal something of Dickens’ attitude to women. Dora, David Copperfield’s child-like first wife, and Bella Wilfer (Mrs John Rokesmith) in Our Mutual Friend (1865) share an ignorance of even the simplest culinary skills. They are an interesting contrast to Peggotty, the kind hearted cook in David Copperfield (1850), or Mrs Joe, Pip’s sister, in Great Expectations (1861), who runs a very tight ship in her kitchen!

In David Copperfield our eponymous hero and his wife, Dora, seem to be at the mercy of butchers and other tradesmen:

I could not help wondering in my own mind, as I contemplated the boiled leg of mutton before me, previous to carving it, how it came to pass that our joints of meat were of such extraordinary shapes – and whether our butcher contracted for all the deformed sheep that came into the world; but I kept my reflections to myself.

David Copperfield, chapter 44.

Our Housekeeping by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Image scan and text by Philip V Allingham.

On the same occasion Dora had ordered in a barrel of oysters (one of Dickens’ favourites):

… we had no oyster-knives – and couldn’t have used them if we had; so we looked at the oysters and ate the mutton.

Bella Wilfer has a similar lack of skills, though she does try to improve them. On one occasion she informs her family ‘I mean to be Cook today’ (Our Mutual Friend, chapter 4), much to the shock and surprise of her mother who does instruct her. However she is not very successful. Of the fowls she has cooked she comments:

‘But what makes them pink inside … is it the breed ?’ ‘No, I don’t think it’s the breed, my dear,’ returned Pa. ‘I rather think it is because they are not done.’ ‘They ought to be,’ said Bella. ‘Yes, I am aware they ought to be, my dear,’ rejoined her father, ‘but they – ain’t.’

Later, as the newly married Mrs John Rokesmith, she was:

fast developing a perfect genius for home… Such weighing and mixing and chopping and grating … and above all such severe study! For Mrs J R, who had never been wont to do too much at home as Miss B W, was under the constant necessity of referring for advice and support to a sage volume entitled The Complete British Family Housewife.

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 5.

This book seems to bear comparison to Yottam Ottolenghi, with both recommending hard to source ingredients – in the former case a salamander!

Behaviour at mealtimes is not forgotten. When Pip goes up to London on coming into his Great Expectations, he lodges with Herbert Pocket who tutors him on table manners:

… in London it is not the custom to put the knife in the mouth, – for fear of accidents … Also, the spoon is not generally used over-hand …

Great Expectations, chapter 22.

Mealtimes are also worthy of note in Our Mutual Friend: the Veneerings are a nouveau riche couple:

“… bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new … they were as newly married as was lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby.”

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 2.

They give excellent dinners .. or new people wouldn’t go!

Dickens doesn’t spend much time describing what is eaten at these dinners – he is more interested in the table decorations, a display of conspicuous consumption:


The great looking-glass above the sideboard, reflects the table and the company. Reflects the new Veneering crest in gold and eke in silver, frosted and also thawed, a camel of all work. … and a caravan of camels take charge of the fruits and flowers and candles, and kneel down to be loaded with salt.

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 2.

The Veneering Dinner, by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Lady Tippins is on the left behind one of the camels; the man in the background with the champagne bottle is probably the Analytical Chemist (the butler)!

Champagne was served with most courses after a sherry. The culinary similes continue: Lady Tippins, a regular visitor to these dinners, has ‘an immense obtuse drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon’ (Our Mutual Friend, chapter2).

In Our Mutual Friend we are even given an idea of what might appear in a small Victorian kitchen. The solicitor Eugene Wrayburn and his friend Mortimer Lightwood have taken new offices together and the former takes Mortimer on a tour of ‘This very complete little kitchen of ours’ (chapter 6).

‘See!’ said Eugene, ’miniature flour-barrel, rolling-pin, spice-box, shelf of brown jars, chopping-board, coffee-mill, dresser elegantly furnished with crockery, saucepans and pans, roasting jack, a charming kettle, an armoury of dish-covers. …

In his exploration of food and drink, mealtimes, household management, there is often unwitting testimony to the changing habits of the different classes. He and Catherine initially would have served meals at their dinner parties à la française where all the main courses are displayed on the dining table. He would surely have relished playing mine host, carving the joint, serving his guests.

However in 1843, Catherine wrote to a friend that the dinner is in ‘the new fashion’. This was service à la russe where food was served to guests in courses – often ensuring much hotter meals but necessitating more servants and tableware.

Dickens even saw training in domestic skills as a way out for homeless women; he worked with Angela Burdett-Coutts to set up a home, Urania Cottage, for ‘fallen women’ where they were taught household skills including needlework and cookery. He took an active interest in the running of the project, personally interviewing all the applicants.

Dickens despite his fame and wealth clearly had not forgotten those ‘in misery and despair’ (letter to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1846). The experience of childhood poverty and the ignominy of working in the blacking factory seem never to have left him.

Here, from Dinner with Dickens, by Pen Vogler, is a recipe Dickens would surely have enjoyed.

Mutton Stuffed with Oysters

SERVES 6-8

2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves

1 dessertspoon freshly chopped savoury

2 hard-boiled egg yolks

6 oysters, cleaned, shucked, and chopped, reserving the liquor, or 6 finely chopped anchovies

3 garlic cloves, minced (I think garlic is better than onion in this dish, but if you prefer to follow Catherine, use one very finely chopped shallot)

leg of mutton (or lamb if you cannot find mutton), approx. 5½-6¾ lb/2.5-3kg

2 teaspoons all-purpose/plain flour

1¼ cups/300ml lamb or chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C/Gas 7. Chop the herbs as finely as possible – a meat cleaver is useful for this. Bind them together with the egg yolks, oysters (or anchovies), and garlic (or shallot). Using a sharp knife, make about 6 indentations in the fleshy part of the leg of mutton (or lamb) and push in the mixture. If you make the indentations at a slight angle, you can pull the fat back over the cut. Place the meat in a roasting pan and roast in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325°F/160°C/Gas 3. Baste the joint with the fat and juices in the pan and continue roasting for 15-20 minutes per 1 lb/450g. When the meat is done, remove it from the oven, cover with foil, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. Make the gravy by mixing the flour with the fat in the roasting dish over a low heat, and slowly adding the stock and the oyster liquor. Skim the fat off the gravy (putting it in the freezer helps it coagulate on the top) and serve as it is, or add to the Piquant Sauce ingredients.

Piquant Sauce

1 shallot, finely chopped

a little oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped gherkins

1 tablespoon finely chopped capers

4 tablespoons good red wine vinegar

1 anchovy fillet, pounded

Sweat the shallot in the oil until it softens, then add the gherkins, capers, and vinegar. Simmer for 4 minutes. Make gravy from the joint, add the oyster liquor (to make about 1¼ cups/300ml), the shallot mixture, and the pounded anchovy. Simmer for a few minutes before serving in a gravy boat.

Bibliography

Charles Dickens: Our Mutual Friend, David Copperfield, Great Expectations.

What Shall We have for Dinner? by Lady Maria Clutterbuck [Catherine Dickens] (Bradbury & Evans, 1852).

Dinner with Dickens: Recipes inspired by the life and work of Charles Dickens, by Pen Vogler (CICO, 2017).

‘Dinner Is the Great Trial: Sociability and Service à la Russe in the Long Nineteenth Century,’ by Graham Harding, European Journal of Food Drink and Society: Vol 1: Iss 1, Article 4 (2021).

Dickens and Wittles

By Sue Roe

Here is the first of our blogs about literary food. We’ll post one daily throughout Heritage Open Days 2021, and maybe a few afterwards, as there is plenty to say about the subject.

Dickens was one of the most common authors mentioned by Reading Sheffield interviewees. Sometimes their parents had subscribed to a newspaper like the Daily Herald to get a complete set, like Frank and Eva. Some loved the length and detail of the books though some found them too wordy. Florence found that they ‘bored her to death’. However the majority found them inspiring, especially his depiction of the suffering of the poor.

Food plays an important part in many of the novels of Dickens – this is not surprising given his childhood experience of poverty and insecurity. Despite his subsequent rise to fame and fortune, he doesn’t seem to have forgotten his time in the blacking factory or his family’s time in the debtors’ prison. In his books there are feasts, snacks, impromptu dinners. References to food help to highlight social ills and reveal internal turmoil.

The treatment of the poor and the unwanted was a subject dear to his heart. Oliver’s desperate plea is well known:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.

Oliver Twist (1838), chapter 2.

Oliver asking for more, by George Cruikshank, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Similarly the dosing of the boys of Dotheboys Hall with brimstone and treacle gives Nicholas Nickleby an early indication of how Mr and Mrs Squeers run the school.

The Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall, by Hablot Browne, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Food or the lack of it can highlight even the plight of the convict on the run from the hulks.

When Pip meets Magwitch in the opening chapter of Great Expectations on Christmas Eve, the convict quizzes him on the two necessities:

‘Do you know what a file is?’ … ‘And you know what wittles is?’

The terrible stranger in the churchyard, by F W Pailthorpe. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

There is a cannibalistic flavour to this cross questioning – Magwich threatens to have Pip’s heart and liver if he doesn’t deliver – they will be ‘tore out, roasted and ate’! When he gets home he resorts to hiding his slice of bread and butter for the convict down the leg of his trousers in case he can’t find anything else. That gets him into more trouble with Mrs Joe: she doses him with tar water for ‘bolting’ his food. Getting up early he proceeds to rob the pantry:

Some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat … some brandy from a stone bottle … a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round compact pork pie.

Great Expectations (1861), chapter 2.

All this he duly delivers to the convict. On Christmas Day there was a splendid dinner planned:

… a leg of pickled pork and greens and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome mince pie had been made … and the pudding was already on the boil.

Great Expectations, chapter 4.

Pip’s larceny is about to be revealed when he is rescued by the timely arrival of the militia who need Joe’s skills as a blacksmith. Fortunately for Pip when Magwich is re-captured he confesses to the theft of the food and drink.

Dickens was clearly fond of pies. In Our Mutual Friend (1865) Mr Boffin has invited the unscrupulous Silas Wegg home to read a series of history books to him. Alas Boffin can’t read. Wegg spots a pie on the shelf:

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that object up there a – a pie? It can’t be a pie.’ … ‘It’s a veal and ham pie,’ said Mr. Boffin. … ‘And it would be hard, sir, to name the pie that is a better pie than a weal and hammer,’ said Mr Wegg …

‘It would be hard to name a pie that is better than weal and ham … and meaty jelly … is very mellering to the organ. Mr Wegg did not say what organ…”

Our Mutual Friend, chapter 5.

Sam Weller makes a similar observation in The Pickwick Papers (1837):

‘Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain’t kittens…’

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 19.

Food often serves as a sombre metaphor – who can forget the tragedy of Miss Havisham with her wedding feast being devoured by mice and shrouded by cobwebs, a reflection of her broken heart and diseased mind. She asks Pip:

‘What do you think that is?…that, where those cobwebs are? …  It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!’

Great Expectations, chapter 11.

She continues:

‘On this day … long before you were born, this heap of decay … was brought here … The mice have gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than the teeth of mice have gnawed at me.’

Pip and Miss Havisham, by Charles Green. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Dickens had certain professions in his sights: lawyers, politicians, the clergy and medical men. In The Pickwick Papers he satirises two hard drinking medical students: Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen. They have taken an apothecary’s shop in Bristol which is sinking into bankruptcy. They can still entertain Mr Winkle however:

… Bob Sawyer’s return was the immediate precursor of the arrival of a meat-pie [again!] from the baker’s, of which that gentleman insisted on his [Mr Winkle’s] staying to partake.

After dinner, Mr Bob Sawyer ordered in the largest mortar in the shop, and proceeded to brew a reeking jorum of rum-punch therein, stirring up and amalgamating the materials with a pestle in a very creditable and apothecary-like manner. Mr Sawyer, being a bachelor, had only one tumbler in the house, which was assigned to Mr Winkle as a compliment to the visitor, Mr Ben Allen being accommodated with a funnel with a cork in the narrow end, and Bob Sawyer contented himself with one of those wide-lipped crystal vessels inscribed with a variety of cabalistic characters, in which chemists are wont to measure out their liquid drugs in compounding prescriptions. These preliminaries adjusted, the punch was tasted, and pronounced excellent; and it having been arranged that Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen should be considered at liberty to fill twice to Mr. Winkle’s once, they started fair, with great satisfaction and good-fellowship.

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 38.
Conviviality at Bob Sawyer’s by Phiz (Hablot Browne). Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Yet food can also be a source of joy and celebration, as it is in A Christmas Carol (1843) despite the misanthropic start. When Scrooge first meets Marley’s Ghost he dismisses him with a food -inspired joke:

‘… A slight disorder of the stomach … You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you …’

A Christmas Carol, Stave 1.

However with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Present his room is transformed and food plays a key part: a veritable cornucopia:

Heaped on the floor … were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch …

Scrooge’s Third Visitor, by John Leech. Public domain, via WikiArt.

The Spirit takes him to the home of Bob Cratchit, his clerk, where he sees all the Cratchits involved in preparing the Christmas Eve Dinner:

Mrs Cratchit made the gravy … Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple sauce …

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3.

Their oven was too small for their goose so it was cooked at the baker’s as was the custom at the time. When it was collected:

There was never such a goose. … Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration.

This was followed by the pudding which had been steaming in the copper in the backyard.

… Mrs Cratchit entered … with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball … blazing in half of half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly …

The Wonderful Pudding, by Sol Eytinge. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

The end of A Christmas Carol is well known. Scrooge is reformed; he sends the Cratchit  family the biggest turkey in the poulterer’s, and he raises Bob’s wages:

… I’ll raise you salary … and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop …

A Christmas Carol, Stave 5.

The Reformed Scrooge with Bob Cratchit, by Charles Green. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

In fact some credit Dickens and A Christmas Carol with inventing Christmas as we know it: plum pudding was common at that time of year but Eliza Acton was the first to name it Christmas Pudding, two years after the publication of the book.

In The Pickwick Papers food appears regularly: dinners, parties, picnics: all occasions of great conviviality and good humour.

Pickwick meets the Wardles when he is chasing his hat blown off by the wind.

Mr Pickwick in chase of his hat, by Robert Seymour. Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

The members of the Pickwick club are invited to join their picnic which is unpacked from a large hamper by Joe the fat boy:

Now, Joe, knives and forks.’ The knives and forks were handed in, and the ladies and gentlemen inside, and Mr Winkle on the box, were each furnished with those useful instruments.

‘Plates, Joe, plates.’ A similar process employed in the distribution of the crockery.

‘Now, Joe, the fowls. Damn that boy; he’s gone to sleep again. Joe! Joe!’ (Sundry taps on the head with a stick, and the fat boy, with some difficulty, roused from his lethargy.) ‘Come, hand in the eatables.’

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 4.

On another occasion the Pickwick Club travel down for a wedding and to spend Christmas at Dingley Dell with the Wardles. Pickwick has purchased a huge cod-fish and half a dozen barrels of real native oysters for the festivities. There are wedding breakfasts, dinners, music, dancing, story-telling and games of Blind Man’s Bluff and Snapdragon.[1]

… and when fingers enough were burned with that and all the raisins were gone, they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a might bowl of wassail …

The Pickwick Papers, chapter 28.

Christmas at Mr Wardle’s, by Phiz (Hablot Browne). Scanned image and text by Philip V Allingham.

Here, by way of a conclusion, are two recipes for Smoking Bishop, a favourite of Dickens.  

Make several incisions in the rind of a lemon, stick cloves in the incisions, and roast the lemon by a slow fire. Put small but equal quantities of cinnamon, cloves, mace, and all-spice, and a race of ginger, into a saucepan, with half a pint of water; let it boil until it is reduced one half. Boil one bottle of port wine; burn a portion of the spirit out of it, by applying a lighted paper to the saucepan. Put the roasted lemons and spice into the wine; stir it up well, and let it stand near the fire ten minutes. Rub a few knobs of sugar on the rind of a lemon, put the sugar into a bowl or jug, with the juice of half a lemon, (not roasted,) pour the wine upon it, grate some nutmeg into it, sweeten it to your taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it.

Oranges, although not used in Bishop at Oxford, are, as will appear by the following lines, written by Swift, sometimes introduced into that beverage. ‘Fine oranges Well roasted, with sugar and wine in a cup, They’ll make a sweet Bishop when gentlefolks sup’.

From Oxford Night Caps: A Collection of Recipes for Making Various Beverages in the University (1827), by Richard Cook.

And a modern version from Punchdrink:

Ingredients: 750 ml ruby port; 750 ml red wine; 1 cup water; ½ cup brown sugar; ¼ teaspoon ginger, freshly grated; ¼ teaspoon allspice, ground; ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated; 4 oranges; 20 cloves, whole. Garnish: clove-studded orange slice.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash and dry oranges. Pierce and stud each orange with five cloves.

3. Place oranges in a baking dish and roast until lightly browned all over, 60-90 minutes.

4. Add port, wine, water, sugar and spices to a saucepan, and simmer over low heat.

5. Slice oranges in half and squeeze juice into the wine and port mixture.

6. Serve in a punch bowl, and ladle into individual glasses.

Bibliography

Charles Dickens: Pickwick Papers; Nicholas Nickelby; Our Mutual Friend; Oliver Twist; Great Expectations; A Christmas Carol.

Dinner with Dickens: Recipes inspired by the life and work of Charles Dickens, by Pen Vogler (CICO, 2017).


[1] Snapdragon was a popular parlour game often played on Christmas Eve. Raisins were dropped into a bowl of heated brandy which was then set alight. The point of the game was to pick out the raisins, and the winner was whoever amassed the most.

Eva G’s Reading Journey

By Sue Roe

Eva was born on 24 December 1925 and lived first in the Pitsmoor area of Sheffield, moving about ten miles to Bramley in 1962. Her father was an engineer before and during the First World War when he lost a leg. On his return he worked in the offices of Edgar Allen steelworks at Tinsley. Her mother worked in the warehouse of a cutlery firm until she was married and gave it up. Eva passed the 11+ to go to Greystones Intermediate School but her parents were not interested in education for girls:

. . . they didn’t bother with the girls then, you know. Boys could have anything, but …You get married, you don’t need to. That’s the attitude then. So it didn’t get you anywhere.

She started her reading journey at school: she learned to read there. At the age of seven she started to read Dickens, unabridged: ‘I read David Copperfield; that was my favourite.’

Dickens made a great impression on her:

I liked the characters. I mean, they were really interesting characters, weren’t they? True to life,  in a way, but funny as well. I loved David Copperfield. I think he went through a lot. I know Oliver Twist is a similar sort of thing, isn’t it, what happened to them when they were younger, but I liked the characters. I liked Peggotty.

Her parents did have books at home, and both were readers:

I used to get them from the library, mostly. We had got, luckily, at home, we had got here, you know, volumes of them. . . . he [her father] used to be like army books and war books.. and  she [her mum]  used to read love stories, you know . . .

When, much later, her mum lived with Eva in Bramley, she read in bed:

She used to go to bed in the afternoon. … Because she was elderly …  she was 38 when she had me …  I used to give her all sorts of books, she used to read them upstairs and then she used to have a little nap and then come down for tea.

As a child, Eva did not get many books as presents; she went to Burngreave Branch Library which was just down the road though she never got any help with choosing books:

I used to go regularly, yes, and pick my books, choose my books. … I used to read downstairs. If I started reading, it went over my head when everybody was talking, if I got really interested in a book.

Eva went to Burngreave Secondary School which she enjoyed.

I loved school. And our head teacher was Scottish, and she came from Carbrook School. She was always a miss – she never got married.

She was Scottish and tall. She used to have her hair trimmed short, and she used to always wear tweeds and suits. … But she was very interested in music, so we got that drummed into us. I’ll always remember her for that … and speech training, we had speech training. Elocution.

… when I was at secondary school, we had elocution lessons. They didn’t in most places, but we did. It was just like having proper elocution lessons, so we did a lot of Shakespeare, you know, so you learnt that off by heart, that sort of thing …  Hamlet … to be or not to be, that is …  I learnt that off by heart, that speech, but I can’t remember it all now.

Libraries continued to be important for Eva even after she married and had a family. Initially she used Handsworth Library but that was pulled down:

[we] had to either go down to Darnall, or go up to Manor Top. We often used to go there when the girls were young; we used to catch the bus. Or we used to walk it, and then we’d got the books … well, we got the bus coming back, because it was a nicer library, you know.

As she got older she read more widely: ‘I liked mysteries. I like murder mysteries.’

[Agatha Christie] : I used to read her books, yes. But once you’ve read one of her books …  I used to like them, but they seemed to be all … when you look at them closely, they all seem to be the same, don’t they?

Eva enjoyed Dorothy L Sayers and P D James as well as adventure stories like Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and John Buchan’s Thirty Nine Steps. She also liked comedies: ‘Not silly, but funny.’

Cold Comfort Farm: I read that, yes. I’ve got it actually.

I’ve read Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Compton Mackenzie … I like his books [like] Whisky Galore

Like several of our interviewees, Eva read books which were seen as shocking at the time:

Lady Chatterley’s Lover … I’ve read that, that’s neither here nor there. … I’ve read  Edna O’ Brien – I like Edna O’Brien.

When asked if she was shocked by them, she replied, ‘Not really.’

Eva still reads, though the venue has changed over the years:

Now, of course, I only read in bed. If I wake up early I read, I have a little read at night. But I don’t read like I used to do, I don’t read downstairs. And I got into that habit when the girls were young and you couldn’t concentrate, and they were all there, so that’s when I used to read when I went to bed.

I often used to go to bed early when I was married because I was short-sighted, so it was handy for me. Because I had to have my glasses on, I could lie down in bed… he often used to find me in bed [asleep] with my glasses on, and he used to just take my glasses off!

Her husband didn’t object because he was a reader as well.

Eva enjoys reading well-loved books again.

I often read books that I am very fond of again, it doesn’t bother me. Revise myself on them. … Gone with the Wind, I’ve got that, naturally. Oh, I’ve read it two or three times. I keep coming back to it.