The Helmingham Recipe and Medical Manuscripts,  1580-1612
with Moira Coleman (Independent Scholar)
at Sutton Hoo

Saturday, 8th March 2014.


Using the archives from Helmingham Hall, we will explore the manuscripts, their writers and their purpose.  Why leave a record in the first place? How closely do the instructions resemble published versions? Who was intended to read them?  What do the instructions reveal about their writers?  What do the ingredients and techniques reveal about Helmingham Hall?

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                Food to impress: simple techniques lead to sophisticated solutions, especially when it comes to using home-grown produce, something for which the gardens at Helmingham Hall are still renowned.

11.15 – 11.45:                Coffee break

11.45 – 12.45:                Perfumes to delight: In a largely self-sufficient household occupied by upwards of 30 people, odours were inevitable. Perfumes to delight leads us beyond the shores of Suffolk for rare, exotic and expensive imported ingredients then back into the Hall to explore their creation and use.

12.45 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 15.00:                 Colours to astonish: Catherine Tollemache owned medieval manuscripts revealing her fascination with colour. We trace this interest through her own instructions, detecting the myriad ways in which colours to astonish were achieved.

15.00 – 15.20:                Tea break

15.20 – 16.20:                Medicines to amaze: We conclude with a comparison of Catherine Tollemache’s own notes and others contributed to her, where we find medicines to amaze. We compare received instructions for high-status remedies with the evidence of her role as a dispenser of care to those who could least afford it .

c.16.20:                            Thanks and Close

Some Suggestions for Reading and Browsing

Versions of all books listed below – and more – will be available to browse on the day

Edited versions of contemporary manuscripts and publications, 1596-1618:

Coleman, Moira, Fruitful Endeavours: the 16th-century household secrets of Catherine Tollemache at Helmingham Hall, Phillimore, 2012,

Dawson, Thomas, The Good Housewife’s Jewel, with an introduction by Maggie Black, Southover Press, 1996.  Dawson published the original in 1596, aiming his work at the growing middle classes. Instructions range from food to medicinal remedies.

Lawson, William, A New Orchard and Garden with The Country Housewifes Garden, a facsimile edition of the 1618 book with an introduction by Malcolm Thick,  Prospect Books, 2003.

Markham, Gervase, The English Housewife, edited by Michael R. Best, Mc-Gill Queens University Press, 2008 (the first version appeared in 1615).

Spurling, Hilary, Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book: Elizabethan Country House Cooking, Faber Finds (paperback), 2008. Highly recommended for its scholarly but readable presentation of Lady Fettiplace’s 1604 manuscript and its historical context.

Wider reading:

Colquhoun, Kate, Taste: the story of Britain through its cooking, Bloomsbury, 2007 (paperback, 2008). A social history of British cooking and diet from the Romans to the present day.

Hardyment, Christina, Home Comfort: a history of domestic arrangements,Viking, 1992. A good introduction to household tools and techniques with copious illustrations.

Mason, Laura, Sugar-Plums and Sherbet: the prehistory of sweets, Prospect Books, 1998, paperback, 2004. Laura Mason is a food historian with a scientific background.

Paston-Williams, Sara, The Art of Dining: a history of cooking & eating, The National Trust, 1993. Sumptuously illustrated, presents cooking and eating in the context of the household and provides facsimile examples of recipes.

Sim, Alison, The Tudor Housewife, Sutton Publishing, 1996, paperback 2005.

Credible websites offering access to manuscripts and more:

1. The Wellcome Foundation describes its site as ‘a destination for the incurably curious’ and offers a searchable database of authentic manuscripts:

2. Ivan Day is a well-known food historian, writer and broadcaster. His encyclopaedic knowledge is shared and expanded with a wide range of links from:

About Moira Coleman

Moira is an Open University honours graduate, now retired from a long career with the WEA, and author of two books. Fruitful Endeavours: the 16th-century household secrets of Catherine Tollemache at Helmingham Hall (2012) and Finding a Place in the Past (2013) were both inspired by the Tollemache Family Archive. She is working currently on the transcription of three household inventories spanning 110 years of occupation at Helmingham Hall from the late 16th century to the early 18th century.



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