East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

More about Mr Straw’s House…

Part of the store cupboard on the second-floor landing

More about Mr Straw’s House and its connections with food, as promised…

William Straw was a grocer and seed merchant with a shop in the Market Place in Worksop. He moved to 7 Blyth Grove with his family in 1923, having bought it in 1920 for £767. 2s. 6d and rented it out for two years before having it redecorated for their occupation. William and his wife Florence (nee Winks, the daughter of a local butcher) had three children, William (1898), Walter (1899) and David, who died in infancy in 1903.

After serving in the army in World War 1, Walter joined the family business and William became a teacher in London. The mulberry tree planted in the back garden in 1925 and the orchard and allotment established across the road from the house a little later supplied fresh fruit and flowers for the shop, along with ingredients for the preserves and fruit juices sold there. There are detailed plans for the orchard and allotment covering the period from 1926 – 1983 in the archive at the house, changing from year to year. That for 1948, for instance, included beds for asparagus, celeric, parsnips, tomatoes, ‘curled greens’, cucumbers, marrows, peas, lettuce, rhubarb and raspberries, along with three rows of ‘greyhound’ cabbage (an early summer pointed variety that can be sown in succession over a period of several weeks).

Other produce for the shop may have come from the ‘show’ allotments in the town where William Straw senior and other local gentlemen with a similar interest worked their plots. As the name suggests, experimentation with new varieties of seed and gardening methods that could be ‘shown’ to a wider public might have been combined here with an element of competition!  

Walter continued the business when his father died in 1932. William, having made some very successful investments over the years, gave up his teaching post after the death of their mother in 1939 and returned to Worksop to look after the house. From the very detailed records that he kept we know that he did a weekly bake on Saturdays, including bread for the coming week, and used his mother’s recipes for cakes and other food – as do the staff and volunteers at the House for the tea and cakes provided once a month when the property is open to the public, or for ‘Tasting the Past’ events. Other records show that by growing several varieties of the same vegetable in the same year – cabbages for instance -  his own experiments in gardening also provided the household with a year-round supply.

Very little was changed in the house or thrown away in the sixty years before William Straw’s death in 1990, when he left the contents and most of his estate to the National Trust. Along with the drawers and cupboards full of clothing, the family photographs and books, you can see tools of the family grocery trade, jars and jars of seeds, and a vast number of Kilner jars, accumulated over a forty year period for preserving fruit and vegetables, some complete with contents. One of the most fascinating exhibits is the store cupboard on the second floor landing with modern tins and jars of food alongside others of much greater vintage – Cerebos salt, Camp coffee, packets of Bovril and ‘concentrated lemonade’, and a jar of goose grease from 1932 - all mixed in with cleaning materials. William Straw kept inventories of the cupboard, but curiously never made any attempt to group tins and packages of the same food together on the shelves.  

There is some really fascinating material in the archives at the House, including records of Walter’s studies for a qualification from the Institute of Certificated Grocers, account books giving an insight into the shop’s customers and the wider social context of the time, and William’s attempts to grow liquorice. They also show how deeply involved both brothers were in other aspects of life in Workshop, including their interest in its history.

They deserve a blog of their own – to follow soon – but in the meantime Mr Straw’s House will be open from Tuesday – Saturday until 30 October 2010 before the winter break. You need to pre-book for visits. See the website at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-mrstrawshouse/ for details of opening times and ring 01909 482380 to book.

Many thanks to Megan Doole, the Custodian at Mr Straw’s House, for her interest in the MuBu East Midlands Food project and her help in making connections that I might otherwise have missed.


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About this Sponsor

A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.