The British Library holds many manuscripts that offer insights into the practice of cookery and culinary tastes during the 18th century.
About the collection
The 1700s witnessed significant advancements in agriculture and food production, as well as an increasing variety of ingredients available for cooking that were bought back from Britain’s trade networks and expanding empire. The establishment of plantations and expansion of slave labour in the Americas meant that foodstuffs such as sugar, coffee and cocoa became more widely available in Britain and were incorporated into popular recipes. Changes in tastes, patterns of consumption and cooking practices from the era are preserved in manuscript recipe books, bills of fare and household food accounts.
Most of these manuscripts have been preserved within the papers of family estates of royalty and the aristocracy. Household accounts often include kitchen expenditure, so offer insights into food costs and food fashions among prominent families. Included among these are the kitchen accounts of the Coke family at Holkham Hall, household recipes of the Duchess of Marlborough within the Blenheim Papers, daily registers of bills of fare in the house of the Duke of Newcastle, and food accounts for Althorp House.
The collection contains a number of household manuscript recipe books. Manuscript recipe books were often kept by prominent women within the household who would have had oversight of the kitchens. These volumes often contain assorted collected recipes in multiple hands, reflecting a tradition of adding to family recipe books, an example being the recipe book of Anne Nicolson. Some manuscript recipe books are compendiums of collected recipes from multiple authors, such as the cookery recipe book containing recipes from Mrs. Bates, Mrs Burbidge, Mrs. Meymott and Lady Herness.
- Accounts of the royal kitchen of George I of Great Britain
- Ledger detailing bills of fare tables of the royal household of George III at Richmond, 1765
- Account book of the butcher for the Lamb family
- Table plans of bills of fare for the household of Thomas Pelham, 1st Earl of Chichester
- Book of household recipes for making preserves and confectionery, owned by Elizabeth Sloane
- Recipe book of the 18th century diarist Caroline Powys
- Recipe book kept at Chequers during the 18th century
- A commonplace book of Joanna Clay containing her recipes, laundry advice, and riddles
What is available online?
The Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue contains catalogue entries for 18th century culinary manuscripts.
Information on food in the 18th century is available via the BL learning website’s pages on Books for Cooks.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
18th century culinary manuscripts can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Use our online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts, to find and request this material. Recipes can be located by using the advanced search, entering a preferred start and end date, and then searching with terms like, ‘cookery receipt’, ‘culinary receipt’ or ‘recipe book’ in the search bar.
Please contact the Manuscripts Reference Team for information about accessing restricted items.
What is available in other organisations?
- The Wellcome Collection holds a collection of domestic medicinal and culinary recipe manuscripts dating from the 16th - 19th centuries. Many of these are available to view online
- Leeds University Library holds many cookery manuscripts in its expansive Cookery Collection
- The National Library of Scotland holds manuscript recipe books from the 18th century and many of them are available online
- The Folger Shakespeare Library holds many early modern English manuscript recipe books. The Folder Library also hosts the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC)