East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

A few curiosities…

As my MuBu scholarship will be ending next month, I thought this might be a good time to share a few of the more unusual things that I’ve come across in the course of my researches – so here are a few curiosities from across the region:

Conviction for snaring partridges on a Sunday

Benjamin Bennett of St Mary’s parish, Nottingham, a framework knitter, was convicted on 24 March 1779 of using ‘a Net and two Dogs called Pointers for the taking of Partridges’ (Records of the Borough of Nottingham, Vol VII: 1760 – 1800 (Thomas Forman & Sons, 1947), 15 April 1779).  Does this mean that it was legal to take partridges on other days of the week? It’s quite possible, as laws against poaching were mainly a feature of the earlier 19th century when landowners claimed shooting rights for themselves and severe penalties including transportation were imposed for taking game – including rabbits, despite the damage they did to crops and their value as food for the labouring classes. 

If you’d like to read how an expert poacher snared his game, see James Hawker’s journal A Victorian Poacher (Oxford University Press, 1962) which recounts his exploits in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.  Don’t be tempted to follow his example, though… In 2007 two men from Bargoed, Caerphilly were prosecuted under the Poaching by Night Act 1828 and fined £385 each for shooting rabbits to feed their pet hawks. While transportation has long since been abolished, they could still have received a sentence of three months hard labour under the Act.

Exemption from the ‘restrainte of eating flesh in Lent’

From the parish register of Mackworth, Derbyshire: ‘Whereas the right worshipfull Francis Mundy of Markeaton… for the avoiding of the penalties and dangers of the laws and statutes made for the restrainte of eating flesh in Lent and in consideration that he hath in his house at diett or table the right worshipful Mrs. Dorothy Poole gentlewoman about the age of four-score years, who is very weak and sickly, not able to go or stand without help, hath desired me to grant licence to and for the said Dorothy Poole to eat flesh for and during the time of her sickness, which I have thought fitting and in regard I know the considerations aforesaid to be most true, I do hereby grant unto the said Dorothy Poole to eat flesh for and during the time of her sickness according to the laws ans statutes of this realm in that case made and provided…’ (Edward Hinchcliffe, Vicar of Mackworth, 9 February 1618).

The Mayor of Northampton opens oysters with his dagger

According to William Andrews in Bygone Northamptonshire (Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co Ltd, London, 1891), p214: ‘He is said to have done this to keep them a sufficient distance from his nose’ – Northampton, says Dr Fuller, ‘being eighty miles from the sea, fish may well be presumed stale therein. Yet, I have heard (says the Doctor) that oysters, put up with care, and carried in the cool, were weekly brought fresh and good to Althorp, the house of the Lord Spencer, at equal distance’.

Beware of the knives

According to John N. Merrill in Derbyshire Folklore (Footprint Press Ltd., 1995), p114: if two knives cross when laying a table, this is a sign of a quarrel that will arise ‘in the immediate future’. In Lincolnshire folklore, ‘to leave knives crossed is to court calamity’, while ‘to sharpen a knife after supper is to make the way easy to the burglar and cut-throat’. It was also said to be unlucky to have a crowing hen – but more of the folklore of poultry on another occasion.

Street sellers of bananas and celery fined in Leicester

There were a number of reports in November/December 1932 of fines imposed on sellers of bananas and celery in Leicester who were trading in violation of local bye-laws. They were often ex-servicemen who claimed, in the words of one, ‘I cannot live on fresh air… It’s the only chance I’ve got of getting a living’. After being fined 2s 6d, another said: ‘I shall still go on doing it. How can my wife’s dole money keep eight of us?’. Several of the sellers were unable to pay the fines, or refused to do so on principle, and were sent to prison. The whole episode caused such strong feeling – with one local councillor paying the fine of one of the sellers, and the family of another being visited by a lady in a ‘luxurious limousine’ with food parcels – that the Markets Committee of the Borough Council eventually agreed to let them rent stalls on non-market days (Leicester Mercury).

The ‘outward beauty’ of an apple pie

And finally, a few lines from a poem in praise of apple pies from the Northamptonshire County Magazine (Vol 1, 1928, p55):

Of all the delicates which Britons try,

To please the palate, or delight the eye;

Of all the several kinds of sumptuous fare,

There’s none that can with apple-pie compare,

For costly flavour or substantial paste

For outward beauty or for inward taste…


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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.