Culinary manuscripts: 18th century

Table plan of a bill of fare for the 1st Earl of Chichester
Table plan of a bill of fare for the 1st Earl of Chichester, Thomas Pelham, Add MS 33509, f 1.

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.



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?