Hartfield History Group

The planned speaker for our January Social having pulled out two weeks before the event due to a health emergency, we were truly grateful to member Gilly Halcrow for stepping into the breach with her illustrated talk on the History of Food, Drink and Table Manners. This was a highly appropriate topic, as before the talk the assembled company of 80 members and friends had sat down (with impeccable table manners!) to a light three course meal prepared by the committee consisting of a starter, home-made soup and artisan bread, and assorted desserts.

Beginning with a reference to a meal hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire at Chatsworth 120 years ago that consisted of twelve courses, Gilly traced the changes in food preparation and consumption from the time of King John and demonstrated how many phrases in the English language have their origin in this sphere. For instance the word “curfew” was originally “couvre-feu” and referred to the practice of covering the open cooking fire at dusk to avoid the danger of the thatched roof catching fire. Food in the early days was served on squares of baked bread or trenchers (hence “a square meal”, “a good trencherman”). Salt was such a valuable commodity that it was used for payment (hence the word “salary”) and guests were defined as sitting above or below the salt. By the time of Queen Elizabeth 1st (1600) trenchers were made of wood. Forks were not widely adopted until the 1700s, gentlemen in particular regarding their use as unmanly, preferring to spear their food with the point of a knife.

Food and drink had an influence in the financial world: Lloyds of London was originally a coffee shop opened by Edward Lloyd in 1713.

Table manners and etiquette were adopted by the top strata of society in Victorian times and were fully described in the first ever English cookbook “Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management”. Mrs Beeton herself was highly influential, although she had a relatively short life, dying in childbirth at the age of 29. Her successors in the 20th and 21st centuries were TV chefs such as Philip Harben (the first TV chef), Fanny Craddock, Margeurite Patten, Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet), Nigella Lawson,

Mary Berry and Prue Leith. All have had an influence but special mention was reserved for Gilly’s favourite, the reliable Delia Smith!

Gilly asked for donations, including her speaker’s fee, to be made to the Friends of Ashdown Forest.

For our February 26th meeting, we are very much hoping to welcome Delia Taylor, the speaker who was due to come in January. Now recovered, her subject was to be “Victorian Street Life”, although she may be persuaded to revert to the subject she was due to speak on in January, “The Glory of MGM Musicals”. Those on our email list will be advised as soon as possible (info@hartfieldhistorygroup.org.uk should you wish to be added!). All are welcome: members free, visitors £2.50, starting time 8:15 pm in the Village Hall.