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Historic cookery books from the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery

a photo of the spines of various copies of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

© University of Leeds

A smorgasbord of historic cookery books and recipes awaits in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery’s, Cooks and their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds. The extensive Cookery Collection which the exhibition draws from is cared for by Leeds University Library Special Collections. Here Galleries Assistant Manager Laura Beare picks some of her favourite people, objects and stories from the collection


Marvellous Mrs Marshall

a photo of a book cover called Fancy Ices with polar bear carrying a desert on a platter and frontispiece portrait of a handsome Victorian woman

A.B. Marshall, Fancy Ices, London, 1894. © University of Leeds

Forget Mrs Beeton, Mrs Marshall was the celebrity chef of the 1890s. Her books, cookery school, demonstrations and weekly paper The Table instructed the booming middle classes in fine cookery. In the collection we have a copy of her ‘Fancy Ices’ 1894 book, with the marvellous Polar Bear illustration on the front. Mrs Marshall earned the nickname the ‘Queen of Ices’ for her writing on ice cream and other frozen desserts and was granted a patent for a machine that could freeze a pint of ice cream in five minutes.

Spontaneous combustion of drunkards

a photo of several open volumes including the anatomy of drunkenness

Robert Macnish, The anatomy of drunkenness, Glasgow, 1840. © University of Leeds

Alfred Chaston Chapman was a man after my own heart. Chapman’s true collecting passion was for books about beer and alcohol! In his lifetime he was President of both the Institute of Chemistry and the Institute of Brewing. His diverse collection contains a rare survival of a 16th-century treatise on how to keep a hop garden and ‘The Anatomy of Drunkenness’, a well-used Glaswegian publication from 1840, about the ill-effects of alcohol, including the ‘Spontaneous Combustion of Drunkards’.

Where it all began

a photo of Mrs Beeton's Cookery books lined up

Isabella Beeton, The Book of Household Management, London, 1861, with later editions. © University of Leeds

We owe our world class Cookery Collection to the indomitable Blanche Legat Leigh whose donation of over 1500 historic cookery books in 1939, which is where it all began. Always one for a bargain, this former Lady Mayoress of Leeds knew how to haggle. Dealing with the top booksellers from across the country she ensured her collection was of the best quality. Mrs Leigh’s collection includes a first edition of Isabella Beeton’s ‘Book of Household Management’ with a hand written note from the author’s son, Mayson M. Beeton, and the first ever printed cookery book, De honesta voluptate ac valitudine, from 1475.

Renaissance MasterChef

a frotispiece of a beared man and an illustration of a medieval kitchen

Bartolomeo Scappi, Opera dell’arte del cucinare, Venice, 1570. © University of Leeds

Meet beard aficionado and Italian Renaissance master chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Scappi worked for Pope Pius V in the Vatican at the same time that Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and his book, Opera dell’arte del cucinare was the first-ever illustrated cookbook. This beautifully detailed book gives a glimpse of 16th century tastes and recipes, including pizza toppings such as sugar, pine nuts and rosewater. There are also wonderful illustrations showing the kitchen furniture, utensils and other equipment that would have been used to prepare and serve food in Renaissance Italy, including the first labelled picture of a fork.

Flamingo tongue anyone?

a photo of an open book with Latin text

Apicius, De re coquinaria, Venice, ca. 1490-1500. © University of Leeds

Some of our earliest recipes on display come from De re coquinaria, a medieval compilation of Roman recipes which date to the fourth or early fifth century AD. Highlighting the dietary habits of the ancient world the book claims that the tongues of flamingos have a particularly fine flavour.

A how to guide – laying the table

a photo of an illustration of table wit labels indicating where pates of sweetmeats and other delicacies should be laid

Charles Carter, The Compleat Practical Cook, London, 1730. © University of Leeds

In his 1730 book, ‘The Compleat Practical Cook’, Charles Carter shared his pearls of wisdom on how to cater for noble tastes. Carter cooked across Europe for Queen Anne’s diplomats and when he returned to England he served as cook for noble families such as the Duke of Argyll and Lords Pontefract, Lempster and Cornwallis. The eye-catching engraved images of table settings are the perfect ‘how to’ guides for an 18th century feast.


Cooks and their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds is on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery until January 31 2018.

The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery is the public face of the world renowned Special Collections held at Leeds University Library. Special Collections looks after over 200,000 rare books, hundreds of thousands of manuscripts and five collections designated as nationally and internationally important by Arts Council England. Anyone is welcome to explore the Leeds University Library Special Collections through the exhibitions at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, through the online catalogue, through the Special Collections blog or by visiting Special Collections.


Free to all visitors, the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds holds exceptional collections on a vast variety of subjects. We welcome you to research the area of your interest in the Fay and Geoffrey Elliott Reading Room, whether for formal academic study or personal interest. There are nearly…

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