The BBC One programme, Bargain Hunt yesterday broadcast a small film about the Georgian Kitchen at Number One, Royal Crescent, Bath.
This building was one of the grandest houses in the Crescent, which was designed by John Wood the Younger, and it was of course here that Catherine Morland promenaded with Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey:
As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company.
The house has had many interesting residents including Frederick, Duke of York. It is now a wonderful museum run by the Bath Preservation Trust, and is always worth a visit to its fabulous restored and decorated rooms, staffed by really helpful, knowledgeable and, in some cases, very entertaining guides!
The house is decorated as it would have been in the Georgian era: below is the fabulous first floor drawing-room:
And here, below, is the ground floor dining room, the table set for a typical Georgian dessert course, with sweetmeats and nuts and decorated with some rather wonderful sugar sculpture:
But this part of the programme -a few minutes long only-was really about the Kitchen- which is rather wonderful as we do not get to glimpse inside Georgian kitchens very often. So let’s look, in some detail, at the items on show in the basement kitchen at Number One, and see how they would be used and how they would work.
From the right, on top of the scrubbed surface of the pine table you can just see the outline of some sugar nips, right next to a very typical 18th century conical sugar loaf. The nips were used to break up the sugar loaf, most likely imported from the West Indies into the nearby port of Bristol. Here is a better, clearer picture of some 18th century sugar nips, made from iron, for you to see:
In the picture below, you can see the sugar nips mounted on a piece of wood. Also on the table surface you can clearly see a wooden lemon squeezer and a brass pestle and mortar, used for pounding spices:
The kitchen has three types of spit turning devices on show: the first, the most infamous, a cage which was wall mounted and which would have held a Turnspit Dog,who would have run, hamster-like, in the case, turning the spit as required.
Here is another picture, from the book, Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales, published in 1800 of a Turnspit dog hard at work:
it is really appropriate that this cage is still installed in a kitchen in Bath for it was in Bath that the last turnspit doges were used, when other parts of the country had resorted to other, mechanical devices with which to turn their roasting meat. Mechanical devices such as this clockwork jack, below. This is an 18th century counterweight jack with a flywheel:
This works by gravity : a weight is attached to a string, which winds down the mechanism, every 20 minutes or so, then it has to be rewound. I’ve operated one of these in the food historian, Ivan Day’s kitchen, at his home in Cumbria. You can see it in my picture, below, to the right of the fireplace:
His clockwork jack had a weight made from an old cannon ball. The sound of the clockwork mechanism working, tick-tocking away, and then being re-wound every so often, must have been a very familiar sound in smaller Georgian households.
The problem with clockwork spits was that they demanded a lot of attention in order that they could be re-wound, and they were not particularly efficient. Below is the frontispiece from Martha Bradley’s book,The British Housewife (1756) showing a very well equipped Georgian kitchen…
You can see the kitchen maid pulling the chain of the clockwork jack, to help turn the spit:
Another type of jack was on view in the Kitchen at Number One: a bottle jack set above a screen or a “hastener”:
This jack would move the joint of meat clockwise and then counterclockwise in front of the fire so that it cooked evenly. Below is a bottle jack- note that it gets its name from its shape- and a hastener on show in the Georgian House Museum at Bristol:
Bottle Jacks were spring driven, wound up with a key and they ran for a fair length of time before running down, and were an improvement on the clockwork jack. The meat to be roasted hung from small hooks in the bottom of the jack. They were designed to hang inside a vertical tin, reflecting oven-the hastener- which would be set in front of the fire, facing the coal grate. This produced heat evenly up and down the suspended joint or bird. In addition to the heat radiating from the fire, the sides and roof of the tin oven further reflected heat, making for more efficient use of fuel and more even roasting.
The drip tray, set before the fire and under the meat cooking before the it, was used to collect the fat which dropped from the meat during cooking time. The large basting spoon-which you can see underneath the tray- was used to baste the meat during the cooking process.
Also on show in the kitchen are some rudimentary and rather smoky and smelly sources of light. Tallow candies, above, are notorious for the smell and the smoke that they produced, very inferior to expensive wax candles. Tallow was normally the fat obtained from beef or lamb.
In the centre of this photograph, above is an iron crusie lamp- a lamp powered by animal grease or fish oil. The fat would be put in the bowl of the iron lamp, and a wick would then rest in it, and be lit to provide a light.
In the centre of this photograph is a wooden and iron rush nip, or rush light, typical of the early to mid 18th century. It was designed to hold a rush that had been covered in animal fat by immersing it in a trough, which was, ideally, as long as the rush to ensure the rush was well saturated with the fat. Gilbert White of Selborne, near Chawton in Hampshire tells us of the method of choosing rushes for used as rushlights, in his book, The Natural History of Selborne:
The proper species of rush for this purpose seems to be the juncus effusus or the common soft rush, which is to be found in most pastures, by the side of streams or hedges. These rushes are in the best condition in the height of summer but may be gathered so as to serve the purposes well, quite on to Auutmn….as soon as they are cut they must be flung into water and kept there for otherwise they will dry and shrink and the peel (the rind-jfw) will not run…The careful wife of a Hampshire labourer obtains all her fat for nothing for she saves the scummings of her bacon pot for this use: and if the grease abound with salt she causes the salt to precipitate to the bottom by setting the scummings in a warm oven….A good rush, which measured in length two feet four inches and a half burnt only three minutes shorter than an hour and a rush of still greater length has been known to burn one hour and a quarter. These rushes give a good clear light”
And finally, something that would have been in constant use, bearing in mind the presence of tallow fat candles and foodstuffs in the kitchen area…18th century mice traps on the pine dresser. One wooden, one iron:
You can even see some poor mice captured in the iron example to the centre right….
So, there you are, a short trip around some 18th century gadgets that would have been found in many kitchens and homes of the era. I do hope you have enjoyed it. The episode of Bargain Hunt is available to view, here, on the BBC iPlayer for the next six days for all of you living in the UK. The part of the programme that interests us begins at approximately 24 minutes in.