150 years ago this year Mrs Isabella Beeton died at the very premature age of 28, leaving behind two boys, a new born baby, several books she authored, and as it would turn out, a lasting legacy that has influenced generations of cooks and food writers ever since. Undoubtedly, her most famous book is Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management published in 1861, which sold over 60,000 copies in its first year of publication and remains in print even today. And so, in commemoration of her death and, should I add, in celebration of her life and works, London’s Guildhall Library prepared an exhibition called: Celebrity Cooks: Mrs Beeton and her Contemporaries.
This is a modest but well presented exhibition; a set of four cases displays seven different editions of the Book of Household Management (and some of her other works) including some interesting facsimiles. Complementing the book display there’s a series of objects including moulds, dishes, cutlery and other kitchenware that are contemporary to Mrs Beeton.
There’s also an interesting timeline detailing Mrs Beeton’s biographical information, contextualised by relevant historic events, publications, inventions and other notable food-related events involving cooks, businessmen and food writers. Other books on display include several works by Eliza Acton, Sheila Hardy, the French chef Alexis Soyer, and even Mary Berry and Delia Smith.
The exhibition is also accompanied by a soundscape in which the visitor can listen to the familiar sounds of a kitchen and a woman humming in the background. As part of the interpretation there is a long table presenting full colour prints of desserts that belong to the Plaque IV of the Book of Household Management including a charlotte of pommes, a chocolate cake, a wedding cake, and tartlets too, amongst other spectacular Victorian treats. It is definitely worth visiting, especially if you are a curious bibliophile, but I have to say that it is a good idea to plan other things to do because however interesting the exhibition may be, this visit won’t take more than thirty minutes.
The Giuildhall Library is also offering a programme of events and talks exploring different aspects of food history and gastronomic heritage. Click here to read more.
From 21 January to 17 April, 2015
Monday-Friday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Wednesday 9:30 am – 7:30 pm