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Women's Supper at Durham Cathedral

The Durham prebend, Richard Kaye, was the chief patron of the Swiss-born artist, Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. As elsewhere, Durham had suffered the insecurity of 250 years of conflicting religious attitudes: the Reformation, the return of Roman Catholicism followed by its rejection again, High Church, Puritanism and, by Grimm's time, a period of complacent materialism. The prebends were beneficiaries of numerous estates donated to the priory and profited from the boom in Durham’s 18th-century industrial economy. Frequently absent, typically harvesting multiple appointments, their duties were slight and increasingly social rather than religious. They were encouraged to entertain often and lavishly, and were provided with the services of their own cook, one of whom, John Thaker, listed in his “Art of Cookery” the twenty-eight different dishes of a dinner laid before them in 1753. They included pork, ham, beef, veal, lamb and venison, fish and shellfish (among them, the intriguingly named ‘crab loves’), game, poultry and the surprisingly modern-sounding ‘mackaroney parmasan’. Feasts were given for any number of established worthies, from city officials and local gentry to fellow clergymen – and also, as part of their charitable responsibilities, for the poor. The fare was probably rather less extravagant at this dinner for the old women of Durham: simple food followed by a pipe of good tobacco seems to have been their treat.

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