The Swan Circle

A story of Georgian networking

Pitchcocked eels: Tavern dining in the 18th century

Entertainment & Culture, Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1700-1750, West Family 1750-1800 No Comments »

The Swan at Brentford

By 1777, the Swan tavern at Brentford had developed a reputation for hospitality, quality food and entertainment. The proprietors Henry and Elizabeth West – my great, great, great, great grandparents – had acquired a large fortune from the success of the tavern and were able to acquire further property on Kew Green and in Brentford.
   The tavern landlord during this period was often a man of substance, ranking above the tradesmen of the town. Surprised foreign visitors found that the English five star taverns were decorated and fitted to a high standard; according to Rosamond Bayne-Powell in her book, Travellers in Eighteenth-Century England:

'They found the stairs and landings carpeted. The bedrooms were spacious and clean with good mahogany furniture and immense four-post beds, piled so high with feather mattresses that it needed a short pair of steps to mount into them. There were curtains at the windows and curtains round the beds, wax candles in the sitting-rooms and pictures on the walls.'
  By the end of the eighteenth century, dinner was served in a common dining room or coffee room and there were set menus, however prior to this innovation, diners had the choice of hiring a private sitting-room or having meals with the landlord and his family in the parlour or kitchen. Tables were often covered with large joints of meat, fish and game and there were no napkins, visitors had to wipe their fingers on the tablecloth as the locals did.
  The Swan tavern specialised in fish recipes and even had its own ornamental fishponds for the purpose. In 1746 the Manor of Richmond granted a licence to Henry West to fish for 'Thames salmon of the weight of fifteen pounds each at the best', but it was not a salmon dish that made the Swan famous, but another recipe entirely.
  William Hickey (1749 – 1829) the memoirist, recalled a visit he and his brother made to the Swan between 1775 – 1782 in a failed attempt to avoid becoming inebriated:

  '"Let you and I therefore get out of the way of temptation, mount our horses and ride gently to Richmond, Brentford Ait, or any other place within ten miles of London that you prefer, where we might take a quiet dinner, a pint of port each, and jog soberly home in the evening." To so steady a plan, which I really liked, I readily consented. The event, however, never answered; entirely the reverse. The first excursion of this kind that we made we dined upon the Island off the town of Brentford, where there is a house famous for dressing pitchcocked eels, and also for stewing the same fish, and got so completely intoxicated we were incapable of mounting our horses and obliged to take a post-chaise to convey us to town. The wine being remarkably good, we ordered bottle after bottle until poor prudence was quite drowned.'

What are pitchcocked eels? Hannah Glasse the eighteenth century doyenne of English culinary expertise included recipes for pitchcocked eels and eel stew in her famous, and often plagarised manual The Art of Cookery:

To pitchcock Eels.

TAKE a large eel, and scour it well with salt to clean off all the slime; then slit it down the back, take out the bones, and cut it in three or four pieces; take the yolk of an egg and put over the inside, sprinkle crumbs of bread, with some sweet herbs and parsley chopped very fine, a little nutmeg grated, and some pepper and salt, mixed all together; then put it on a gridiron over a clear fire, broil it of a fine light brown, dish it up, and garnish with raw parsley and horseraddish; or put a boiled eel in the middle, and the pitchcocked round. Garnish as above with anchovy-sauce, and parsley and butter in a boat.

To stew Eels.

Skin, gut and wash them very clean in six or eight waters, to wash away all the sand; then cut them in pieces, about as long as your finger, put just water enough for sauce, put in a small onion stuck with cloves, a little bundle of sweet herbs, a blade or two of mace, and some whole pepper in a thin muslin rag, cover it close, and let them stew very softly.
Look at them now and then, put in a little piece of butter rolled in flour and a little chopped parsley. When you find they are quite tender and well done, take out the onion, spice and sweet herbs. Put in salt enough to season it. Then dish them up with the sauce.

   Both dishes appear to have been heavily seasoned in keeping with the English traditions of the day – perhaps the custom of drinking sweet wines and clarets helped offset the strong taste of the food!

The Aits from Kew 

The Brentford Ait from the Kew bank showing where the Swan tavern once stood


MJ Holman (@mishjholman)

Kew and the Noble Savage

18th Century Digressions, West Family 1700-1750 1 Comment »

The idea for this blog first materialised when I began to research the family tree of my grandmother and realising the family had some extraordinary links, I decided to chart those connections. I wanted to create a complete story of those intertwined personalities, of places, of lifestyles and a contextual view of society as a backdrop.
   My grandmother's family the Wests moved to a house on Kew Green, Surrey in the early 18th century and are listed as occupants from 1746 through to at least 1794. The Wests had links to the Capel family, who granted them rights of passage to land passengers on the south bank of the Thames in the 1720s. At Kew Palace, the future George IV was undoubtedly a fan of their particular brand of entertainment, and they may have been unwitting middlemen in his pursuit of the actress Mary Robinson.
  The Kew connection is a delightful excuse to write about some individuals and events that may have been familiar to the family. The story of the short life of an eleven year old boy called John Savage would have been known to them. The burial register of St Anne's Church Kew has an entry recording his death:

"John Savage an Indian youth of the tribe of Catawa came from Michelmahana and was taken under the protection of Her Majesty May 29 1769 by whose gracious order he was committed to the care of Mr Bellamy. He was by his guardian sent to a respectable school at St Edmundbury, Suffolk. He died of rapid consumption April 21 1772 at Mr Bellamy's house at Kew in the 12th year of his age. Jack Savage was a youth of truly, amiable disposition and greatly beloved by all that knew him".

    The register entry immediately evoked Dryden's words from The Conquest of Granada, hence the title of this piece

"I am as free as nature first made man,
 Ere the base laws of servitude began,
 When wild in woods the noble savage ran".

   John Savage probably attended the King Edward VI School in St Edmundsbury under the guardianship of the Reverend Daniel Bellamy, minister of Kew and Petersham and the author of some poems and sermons on the Book of Job. 
   Life on the Green with its high profile personalities and the very strIct rules of the school, must have seemed far away from the world that Savage had came from.
The school, established in 1550, published a set of rules for teachers, parents and pupils:

Rules for staff in 1550
They shall abstain from dicing, gaming and tippling. They must not keep their family on the premises. Women like deadly plagues shall be kept at a distance. The masters shall not be excessively harsh or severe or weakly prone to indulgence.

When it is thought fit to allow some relaxation to unbend the mind and sharpen the wits the boys shall amuse themselves in decent sports such as running races, the use of the javelin or archery. They shall not play dice, knucks (knuckle bones) or chuck farthing (tossing coins). These games are unworthy of a well bred youth. The privilege of recreation shall only be allowed on Thursdays and only then if the weather is fine and the work of the scholars justifies it.

Rules for parents in 1550
You shall allow your child a bow, three shafts, bow strings and an arm guard to exercise shooting.

School rules for the boys in 1550
Those who cannot read and write shall be excluded. They must learn elsewhere the arts of reading and writing.

No boy shall come to school with unkempt hair, unwashed hands or dirty shoes or boots, torn or untidy clothes. Any boy misbehaving himself either in Church or any other public place shall be flogged.

They shall speak Latin in school. Truants, idlers and dullards shall be expelled by the High Master after a year's trial. Every boy shall have at hand, ink, paper, knife (used to sharpen a quill pen), pens and books. When they have need to write the boys shall use their knees as a table.

 MJ Holman

Manorial Records and Genealogy… do not be afraid

Family History, The Georgian Home, The Swan Circle, West Family 1700-1750 No Comments »

Since making my début as a Genealogist in 1985, I have occasionally been apprehensive about consulting certain types of records. The possibility that I might have to trace an equity pleading, or consult a manorial record has often plagued my nerves with anxiety. Some of my apprehensions stem from consulting a late medieval Manorial Court Book for a Norfolk manor, written in tiny abbreviated Latin.
Genealogists embarking on quests for eighteenth century ancestors, should not avoid manorial documents because of a fear of the unknown. The records may only appear useful to those who have ancestors who held property in copyhold, but it should not be forgotten that tenants are often mentioned too.
To illustrate the usefulness of manorial documents, I will use two examples in relation to the individuals featured in The Swan Circle, one from a Court Book and the other from a Rentals Survey.
   Any researcher who wishes to view a manorial document for a parish, will need to ascertain the name of the manor that contains the parish, and whether the documents exist for the era they are interested in. A search through the Manorial Documents Register database at the National Archives will indicate where, if any, the documents are held. If a Court Book for the pertinent dates does not emerge, do not despair, it is possible that a book either side of the required dates might be of assistance; entries were made retrospectively regarding the surrender of a property, so look forward as well as back.
Many Court Books have an index of individuals, but it is more useful to search the document thoroughly – ancestors not yet discovered may be lurking further down the property line! If a Rentals Survey exists, use it to provide a shortcut when tracing how many family hands a property has passed through.
The Rentals Survey and the Court Books consulted for The Swan Circle are held at The National Archives in class CRES 5, but most Manorial Documents are kept at County level. Some records are still in private hands and are occasionally surrendered to local archives, so the pertinent records may not be in the public domain.

Our first example is for a Court Leet or Court Baron held in 1746 in the manor of Richmond, Surrey. The individual concerned is Stephen West and his name appears in the left margin of the page with notice regarding his death. The document provides useful genealogical information: from it we discover the extent of the land and premises Stephen held at Kew, 'half an acre of ozier ground' and 'a House in the ayte' and have determined that he had an only brother called Henry, a fisherman and heir.




 The second example is from the Rentals Survey and again concerns Stephen West. The entry pertains to a piece of land on the island known as Mattingshaw in Brentford and shows the line of ownership after Stephen's death. The document lists his 'heirs', including his brother Henry, Henry's wife Elizabeth and their son Henry and shows that the property passed out of the family hands and into the trust of Thomas Samuel Maycock in 1793.

Manorial Documents Register
Medieval Genealogy
Examples of English Manorial Documents
Using Manorial Records

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