First Monday Library Chat: The Library at the Royal College of Surgeons

Welcome to the final FMLC of 2015! This month, we travel to London and talk to Louise King (Archivist) and Geraldine O’Driscoll (Library & Archives Assistant) at the Royal College of Surgeons. Louise and Geraldine kindly take us a virtual tour of the rich recipe holdings at the RCS and offer us an enticing recipe for macaroons. Interested? If so, read on…

Can you tell us a little more about the archive collections held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England?

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has been creating its own archives since its foundation in 1800. It has also collected archives created by and for surgeons with many pre-dating the College, going back to its predecessor the Company of Surgeons (1745-1800). The institutional archives document the College’s activities and its initiatives to support and develop the surgical profession. Unfortunately the College was hit be a number of incendiary devices in 1941 so there are significant gaps. The other “deposited” archives relate to medicine and surgery from the 16th to the 21st centuries, including personal papers, case notes, diaries and photographs. Our collection policy now focuses on significant advances in surgery and surgeons who have made those advances or played key roles in the work of the College but was previously broader than that.

How does a surgical archive come to have recipe books in their collections and do they get used by researchers?

As with so many other archives, we often don’t know how we come to have the recipe books in our collections. Many of the earlier accessions, including the recipe books, were usually donations from Members and Fellows of the College.

The recipe books are certainly not the only non-surgical items that we have amongst our deposited collections. There are also the attendance books of various social groups such as the Western Friendly Medical Group who met to dine and play cards in the 19th and 20th centuries. We have a volume of letters to and from Rudyard Kipling, some illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones, due to his friendship with a former President of the College.

Due to their purpose, the recipe books are often in very poor condition through repeated handling while in use so we have made a number of them candidates on our Conserve our Collections scheme. Through kind donations we have such items conserved so that they survive for future generations to wonder at the recipes for “the green sickness”, consumption and the King’s Evil amongst others.

Can you give us a few highlights from your collection, or tell us about some lesser known recipes?

Although the archives at the Royal College of Surgeons of England only contain a small collection of recipe books, with the majority dating from the Eighteenth Century, they do contain an amazing variety of food recipes and medicinal and household cures.

We’ll discuss a small selection of these to give you a flavour of the diversity that there is. We have also selected some just because they are fascinating or particular favourites of ours.

Book of “Receipts” (Ref.MS0475)

This is a small bound manuscript from the Seventeenth Century containing a variety of recipes for both ailments and food. Here is an example of a food recipe, beautifully written, for making macaroons.

“To Make makarrunds” from Book of "Receipts" (Ref.MS0475)
“To Make makarrunds” from Book of “Receipts” (Ref.MS0475)

 

Manuscript Receipts Collected by J Sharp (Ref.MS0517)

This Eighteenth Century volume offers the reader some fascinating recipes including this one for making hair grow on any part of the body with its curious use of dried bees!

“To make hair grow on any part of the body” from Manuscript Receipts Collected by J Sharp (Ref.MS0517)
“To make hair grow on any part of the body” from Manuscript Receipts Collected by J Sharp (Ref.MS0517)

From the same volume comes this household recipe to mend china using the “Chinese Method”.

“The Chinese method of mending china” from Manuscript Receipts Collected by J Sharp (Ref.MS0517)
“The Chinese method of mending china” from Manuscript Receipts Collected by J Sharp (Ref.MS0517)

Receipts, an Eighteenth Century collection (Ref. MS0458)

This is a particularly interesting item which came to us consisting of 12 unbound pages of manuscript. Written in several hands, it includes recipes for making Friars liquid balsam and cures for asthma, cough, convulsions, jaundice and piles. This recipe below, taken from this volume, uses mistletoe as the main ingredient as this was thought to alleviate convulsions.

MS0458  convulsions
“Receipt for convulsions or any sort of fit” from Receipts, an Eighteenth Century collection (Ref. MS0458)

Recipe book of Sydney Humphryes, 1646, (Ref.MS0059)

The volume contains a book of “Receipts” initially compiled by Sydney Humphryes. The recipes include treatments for various conditions including burns, vomiting, the plague, scrofula, as well as fruit waters and hair dyes. Two particular favourites are the ones below; a cure for deafness which uses ants and red worms and one for staunching bleeding which has chimney soot as a vital ingredient!

“For deafness” from Recipe book of Sydney Humphryes (Ref.MS0059)
“For deafness” from Recipe book of Sydney Humphryes (Ref.MS0059)
“To staunch bleeding” from Recipe book of Sydney Humphryes (Ref.MS0059)
“To staunch bleeding” from Recipe book of Sydney Humphryes (Ref.MS0059)

 

A Collection of choice Receipts Compil’d by Thomas Augustus Freeman, c1779 (Ref. MS0088)

This volume contains many recipes which might still be appropriate today such as using elderflower to make an eye solution and saltwater to clean a wound, as illustrated below in this cure for the bite of a mad dog.

“For the bite of a mad dog” from a Collection of choice Receipts Compil'd by Thomas Augustus Freeman, (Ref. MS0088)
“For the bite of a mad dog” from a Collection of choice Receipts Compil’d by Thomas Augustus Freeman, (Ref. MS0088)

 

What tips can you offer to help users find recipes via your catalogue or finding aids?

Users can find our catalogue at: http://surgicat.rcseng.ac.uk/ A simple search using “recipe” as a search term will produce all the items relevant to this collection. By clicking on the record it is then possible to see fuller details about the item. We were lucky enough to have had a long-term volunteer, who was particularly interested in our recipes, list them in detail. It is now possible to use these lists to search for specific recipes, making the job of a researcher a little easier. We are happy to make these lists available on request. Anyone wanting to see one or more of the recipe books does need to make an appointment by emailing us Archives@rcseng.ac.uk.

 

 

 

 


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