Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Gastronomy with Francis Johnson…

Amongst all the anecdotes I’ve been told about Francis Johnson, by far the most common has been that he loved a good lunch. I’ve often come across enthusiastic letters from him to a client thanking them for providing a wonderful lunch during one of his visits. On occasion I have also found him to express disappointment at what he felt to be a poor meal, never to the person In question, but quietly and always politely to his friends.

Now you might have seen that we’ve started up the History Centre cookery club again under the name ‘History Bakers’? Basically, those of us with an interest in baking are taking it in turns to transform a recipe taken from our collections into an edible treat for the rest of the staff. I like to think that Francis Johnson would have approved of our efforts in this arena. And perhaps we have evidence that he would…

On Friday last, I came into the office to find a recipe book on my desk compiled by Robin Dermond Horspool and published in 2001. The book reproduces an edited version of the housekeeping book of Almary Graeme of Sewerby Hall, Bridlington, 1756-1812. Amongst the more usual recipes of plum cake, almond pudding, beef stew and black pudding, there are also recipes for pickled salmon, syrup of violets and calves head pie.

Recipe book from History Centre Local Studies collection [L641.5]

Thinking that someone had left it for me to select my next recipe for ‘History Bakers’, I sat down to have a proper read and was surprised to see a lovely dedication to Francis Johnson. Reading on, the acknowledgments showed that the author and Francis Johnson had been friends who shared an interest in both Sewerby Hall and Almary Graeme. The author recalls fond memories of the two friends sitting at the dining table used by Almary with the sound of her case clock in the background counting away the hours they spent discussing various subjects.

Dedication of the book in memory of Francis Johnson
   
Some of you might know, others might be interested to learn that he did a lot of work on the refurbishment of Sewerby Hall and the bowls pavilion during the 1970s and 1980s. He was also responsible for arranging the purchase at auction of three paintings to be hung in the newly refurbished hall in the late 1970s. For this reason, he had privileged access to Sewerby Hall and it was presumably during this period that he and Horspool had their long discussions. 
Francis Johnson’s expertise and skill as a classical architect were highly valued by East Riding Borough Council who engaged him on many works relating to Sewerby Hall. They also commissioned him to undertake surveys of various other of their properties and, at the council’s request, he worked on the Town Hall in Bridlington and the Old Lighthouse at Flamborough.

Sewerby Hall, Sewerby, Bridlington

So, as a personal tribute, I dedicate this month’s ‘History Bakers’ to Francis Johnson. It probably isn’t up to his exacting standards but I like to think he would have given us points for trying.

Claire Weatherall, 
Project Archivist
     

Links: ‘History Bakers’ webpage and ‘History Bakers’ blog on Prince Albert’s Pudding

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