History of Food and Drink in the Institute of Historical Research Library

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Items relevant to the history of the production, trade and consumption of food and drink can be found in many of the library’s collections. While there are a number of publications devoted entirely to this broad subject much information can also be found in the library’s ever-growing collections of printed and electronic bibliographic, primary and reference sources. Below are some examples:


Bibliographies, Archive Guides and Secondary works



Parliamentary sources

Parliamentary sources such as editions of Parliamentary Debates and Acts of Parliament give insight into issues to do with food and its supply chain and health and safety legislation.

Estate, Religious and Royal household records

Account books and other records often contain insights into domestic food consumption and management. For example, the Progresses of Queen Elizabeth contains rich descriptions of banquets, including Christmas feasts, and details of food costs. The Account books of the Franciscan house, Broad Lane, Cork, 1764-1921 details expenditure on food, drink, staff and kitchen equipment.

Letters, diaries and Travel writing

We hold a wide range of edited diaries, correspondence and travel accounts which are a good source of information about food history.

Examples include:

  • descriptions of dinners and dining establishments
  • insights into household management
  • agricultural management
  • travellers' descriptions of food and agricultural practices in different localities

Directories and local guidebooks

Post Office Bath Directory 1870-1

General and Commercial Directory Birmingham, 1858 

Trade directories are a rich source of information about the food supply chain and equipment, including for example advertisements for shops and businesses, details about market gardens and types of employment.


Although we don't have a complete set, we have a substantial collection particularly for the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. London, Irish and Scottish directories are with the relevant collections, those covering the English counties and Wales are in the English local history collection (the latter cover the English borders and Wales together).


Other collections:


Guidebooks often contain descriptions of interest to food historians. Leigh's New Picture of London (1822) for example contains a section on the supply of provisions, market gardens, breweries, fairs and markets.


Exhibition catalogues

The collections include catalogues from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the 1862 International Exhibition, both containing illustrations and descriptions of tools, equipment and machinery.

Recipe books

A range of editions are held, examples include:

Some examples taken from the sources

What to do with Swan offal

Title page image from Curye on Inglysch

Taken from the famous medieval recipe book, the Forme of Cury, what follows is a tasty recipe for swan offal and liver.

Chawdoun for swannes. Take ðe lyuer and ðe offal of the swannes, & do it to see ð in gode broth; take it vp. Pyke out ðe bonys; take & hewe the flessh smale. Make a lyour of crustes of brede & of ðe blode of ðe swan ysoden, & do ðerto powdour of gynger, of clowes, & of piper, & a litul wyne & salt, & see ð it, & cast ðe flessh ðerto iheweed; & messe it forth with ðe swan irostede.

Hieatt, Constance B. & Butler, Sharon (eds.) Curye on Inglysch : English culinary manuscripts of the fourteenth century (1985), p. 131

The changing dining habits of the English upper classes

Angliae Notitia; or the present State of England

'In former times their [the English] Table was in many places covered four times a day; they had Break-fasts, Dinners, Beverages, and Suppers, and every where set Dinners and Suppers until the late troubles: wherein many eminent Families were much impoverisht, a Custom was taken up by some of the Nobility and Gentry, of eating a more plentiful Dinner, but little or no Supper…'

Chamberlayne, Edward. Angliae Notitia; or the present State of England…(1669), p. 82

..and the dining habits of those not so fortunate

'A Dinner at a Cheap Lodging house' illustration from London labour and the London poor

'The dinner was then half-portioned out in an adjoining outhouse into twenty-five platefuls…and afterwards handed into the kitchen through a small window to each party, as his name was called out…he commenced tearing the meat asunder with his fingers…others sat on the ground with the plate of meat and pudding on their laps; while the beggar-boy, immediately on receiving his portion, danced along the room…I must confess the sight of the hungry crowd gnawing their food was far from pleasant to contemplate…'

Mayhew, Henry. London labour and the London poor (1861), vol. 3, p. 315–16

A description of the Nutmeg tree by Pierre Poivre (1719–1786)

Photo of IHR library shelves

…il s’en trouve de formes différents, car il y en a d’oblongues et d’autres rondes. Elles sont également bonnes mais la ronde est ordinairement plus dure…il n’y a cependant qu’une seule noix aromatique, mais comme je l’ai dit de deux formes, car il y a un arbre qui porte des noix oblongues et un autre rondes…les unes et les autres sont aromatiques et ont les même propriétés.

…it is found in two forms, for there is an oblong one and a round one. They are equally good but the round are usually harder…it does not only depend on the aromatic nut, but as I have said on the two species, because there is a tree which carries oblong nuts and another the round…both are aromatic and have the same properties.

Ly-Tio-Fane, Madeleine (ed.) Mauritius and the spice trade : the odyssey of Pierre Poivre (1958), p. 116

The Boyd Massacre of 1809

Chadwyck Healey's British Periodicals, screen image showing an extract from Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany

In an account written ten years after the event at hand, Captain Berry relates the horrific fate of 66 of the 70 people on board the Boyd, anchored in Whangaroa harbour, New Zealand; ‘we had seen the mangled fragments and fresh bones of our countrymen, with the marks even of the teeth remaining upon them…’

From the Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany (April 1819),
p. 312 -, accessed electronically via the Senate House Libraries’ shared subscription to Proquest's British Periodicals.

The Irish Famine

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers screen image

Early in 1846 Parliament was beginning to comprehend the magnitude of the famine afflicting Ireland.

'It appears from undoubted authority, that of the 32 counties in Ireland, not one has escaped failure in the potato crop; of 130 Poor Law Unions, not one is exempt; of 2,058 electoral divisions, above 1,400 are certainly reported as having suffered; and we have no certainty until the receipt of the more minute Returns now in progress of completion that the remaining 600 have altogether escaped.'

Taken from an ‘Extract of a report of the Commissions of Inquiry into matters connected with the failure of the potato crop’ (Whitehall, 6th February 1846), in House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.


Current copies of our journals are on open access in the library, and back issues can be ordered from the stack. Many are also available online within the building via the links on the catalogue entry. BBIH and JSTOR are examples of the online databases that can be used to locate journal articles. We hold many that cover this subject, and the following specifically on the subject:

Food and foodways : history and culture of human nourishment  (this title is available electronically onsite via the Senate House Libraries’ shared subscription).


For history theses across other universities, see History Online. See further information on theses holdings at the IHR library. These are a few examples covering food history:

Electronic resources

A full list of our electronic resources is available at http://www.history.ac.uk/library/collections/eresources. Below are a few examples of resources that could be useful for this subject (most are available onsite in the IHR or via subscription only):

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