Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Down and Out with a side of Water Gruel

To my esteemed and learned Readers,

I would be hardly the first Londonite Blogger to describe to you the loathsome scenes of Pillage and Violence that hath for the past several Days flash'd upon the Publick's TV screens around the Earth, as a motley horde of Jilts and Sponges hath cruelly pillaged the City of London, shattering windows, looting shops, and setting fire to the Streets.  And knowing that the Readers of this Blog most likely had more important things on their Minds (and being herself glued to the BBC anyways) it is on this account that the Authoress hath neglecteth her Pen.

And for those readers who knew that the Authoress had been residing in Hackney, rest assured that I had fled these previous Lodgings shortly before the Riots began, (having already realized that Kingsland Road offered nothing but a Path to Vice and Iniquity) and hath found refuge in a far more agreeable quarter of the West End.  Blessed Readers, the affair is over.  The Lady of Quality lives.

Yet just as the local bus performs its same course, whether it be empty or not, the Authoress methodically continues her investigation of the Common Diet at the Westminster City archives, combing though parish records in hopes of finding out about what was being eaten in workhouses.

Find below a Bill of Fare from the workhouse at St Martin in the Fields (est 1725).  This one was recorded in 1774:


I would much rather have eaten at the Foundling's Hospital (check out their Bill of Fare) than have to stomach this stuff.  Sorry to say, but I don't think the fact that the water gruel was sweetened with "sugar and spice" would have rendered it much tastier.  Does this Bill of Fare represent simply the cheapest food the overseers could find?  I wonder if features of this dietary –– the alternation of specific meals on certain days, the ad-hoc nature of supper (bread always served with some kind of dairy) –– reflect the overseers' perceptions of the pauper's palate?

I couldn't find too much about the meal from the workhouse rules, but from what I gather, it was a pretty bare-bones existence:

"The master take care that every person in health be kept to work ... from Lady Day to Michaelmas from 6 o'clock in the morning till six at night, and from Michaelmas to Lady Day from 8 o'clock to 4 ... and that they be allowed one hours time for breakfasting, and one hour for dinner, and that they leave of work an hour sooner on Saturdays."

Wonder if there were any complaints?