East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

More about Mr Straw…

In an earlier blog I mentioned the fascinating archives at Mr Straw’s House in Worksop and promised to say more about them at some point. They include the index that William Straw made of the recipe book that his mother had compiled since she was in her teens, which included  recipes for ginger beer, furniture polish, and remedies for rheumatism and other ailments as well as cakes, bread and other food. There are also lots of suppliers leaflets and price lists, customer’s order books giving an insight into how their tastes changed over the years, and a table of Railway Rates & Charges from 1882 that his father no doubt used to calculate the cost of sending different food products from his shop in the Market Place at Worksop to various destinations. From 1917, when food rationing was introduced during the First World War, there are registers of customers supplied with sugar and butter.

William also experimented with growing liquorice, which had been grown in the grounds of the Priory church in Worksop in the past for medicinal purposes (as a mild laxative, and as an expectorant to help clear a chesty cough) and was a significant local industry until the mid-18th century. It is not known how successful he was, but to judge from the notes and newspapers cutting that he accumulated he had obviously done some thorough research into the topic. 

Advertisement from 1931

There are also various items related to Walter Straw’s studies for a qualification from the Institute of Certificated Grocers. Walter, William’s brother, had joined his father in the family grocery business, and holding such a qualification would no doubt have strengthened its reputation as a ‘high class’ supplier. Some of the question papers that Walter was required to answer during his studies make fascinating reading in themselves. For instance: ‘Describe the tea plant and state what you know of its growth and cultivation. Draw from memory a map of India showing the tea-producing districts’; and ‘Why is it that French packers are able to obtain a better price for their sardines than the Spanish or Portuguese packers? The answer to this - one of the few that Walter did not get right – was that French sardines, unlike their Spanish or Portuguese counterparts, were well-matured before packing…   

As a footnote, the Institute of Certificated Grocers was formed in 1909 by a group of grocers to establish professional standards for training and education, and held its first examinations in 1910. The grocery trade was a predominantly male occupation at that time, which may help to explain why the banquet to celebrate its inauguration was interrupted by suffragettes when it reached the point of the toast to ‘The Houses of Parliament’. More women entered the trade during the First World War, to replace men serving in the armed forces, and in 1915 the Institute discussed admitting them as ’Lady Members’.  In 1920 1,640 candidates took the examinations, and during the Second World War the Institute introduced courses that enabled Prisoners of War in Germany to study for qualifications by post. In 1972 it merged with the Institute of Food Distribution to form the Institute of Grocery Distribution. There is more about its history at www.igd.com.

Mr Straw’s House itself is now closed until 12 March 2011. See http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-mrstrawshouse for full details of  opening times.


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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.