A Victorian Catering Ledger

This week, Librarian Helen Skilbeck takes a look at an unusual piece of Leeds’ history: Godfrey Wood’s Victorian Catering Ledger.

Unassuming to look at but containing a goldmine of information, Wood’s Catering Ledger details events and banquets he catered for in the Victorian era, covering the period 1840s – 1870s.  As well as detailing the food items he was providing , he also provides prices, staff costs and notes any issues on the day of the event. Godfrey Wood was based at 15 Commercial Street in the heart of Leeds, where he ran a licensed confectioner’s shop. His catering business at one time employed Adolph Powolny as a chef, long before he founded Powolny’s Restaurant on Bond Street.

Some major events in Leeds’ history are covered by this ledger, including the opening of Leeds Town Hall on 7 September 1858 by Queen Victoria.

Wood’s entry for providing the catering at the Leeds Town Hall opening banquet. ‘Providing a Banquet at the opening of the Towns Hall Leeds on Tusday 7 September 1858 for 274 Guest at 17/ per head. The Mayor Peter Fairbiarn to provide tables, seats and wine’ [sic]
He includes the menu for the banquet which was to be “all could but the soup” [sic]. Dishes included Potage de Tortue, Cuisse de boeuf, Remolade Italienne, Jambon de York, Gelee a la Dantzig and Eigenbatin Torte. Unfortunately, no descriptions of the dishes are included, so we are left to imagine what the banquet looked like.

Copy of the banquet menu served for Queen Victoria on the occasion of the opening of Leeds Town Hall in 1858.
The banquet menu served for Queen Victoria in 1858

One rather intriguing entry shows a table plan for a wedding breakfast. On closer inspection, it shows there to be two brides – one at either end of the room at seats 5 and 27.

Table plan showing the seating position of the two brides.
Wood’s table plan showing the seating position of the two brides

The accompanying entry reads as follows:

February 4th 1856. Providing a Wedding Breakfast, William Gott Esq., 43 guests. Total cost £42/3/6 with brides cakes costing  little over £13.

No further details on the food are provided but a search of the local newspapers produced a little more about this event. The Leeds Intelligencer (5 February 1856, p. 3) reports that a double wedding had taken place on 4 February 1856 concerning Elizabeth, the daughter of William Gott (of the textile manufacturing family), who married Robert Nairne Esq. of Berkeley Square, London. The second marriage involved Caroline Brooke, the niece of William Gott and granddaughter of Benjamin Gott,  to the Rev. John S. Warren. The Leeds Mercury called the occasion “two of the most gay and fashionable weddings.” The bridal parties occupied eight carriages, and crowds flocked to Leeds Parish Church to view the brides in their “magnificent in the extreme” dresses (Leeds Mercury, 5 February 1856, p. 3). The wedding ceremonies were conducted by Rev.  Dr. W.F. Hook, Vicar of Leeds, and afterwards  the whole wedding party departed for Denison Hall, home of William Gott.

Another event catered by Wood was the laying of the foundation stone of Leeds Grammar School, which took place on 6 April 1858. Wood was called on to provide teas, coffees and meats as well as finding tables and seats for 224 boys and 106 guests. He assigned one bottle of wine for every eight boys, 28 in total, as well as 24 bottles for the guests.

Copy of the ticket to attend the laying of the foundation stone of Leeds Grammar School.
Ticket to attend the laying of the foundation stone for Leeds Grammar School, 6 April 1858

Some of the most interesting parts of the ledger concern the notes that Wood leaves for himself. A ball and supper in Sheffield on 20 January 1848 includes a list of the staff to be used:

Waiters: Robinson, Wiltshire of Wells, Wood, Godfrey, the porter, self, Mrs, daughter, Mr Hick, cook, 2 Sheffield waiters, 2 women to wash up

On 8 February 1850, Mr Bateson, Mayor of Leeds, was supplied with a stand up supper and tea, coffee, ices and desert for 369 people. Here the waiters include “the drunkard” and Wood provided food for the musicians as well as 20 policemen.

Wood reports on 3 April 1851, William Rand Esq. Mayor of Bradford, was provided with tea, coffee and biscuits for 300 guests. Afterwards, a table was set out with biscuits, fruits, ices and jelly. Wood notes that 10 dozen bottles of wine were needed rather than the four-dozen he provided.

Spelling was not Wood’s strong point and he sometimes writes phonetically, which can make it difficult to read on occasion. The names of the people he caters for are again sometimes spelt incorrectly, making further research a little tricky. However, there is a wealth of detail in this plain ledger that hint at events and occasions worthy of more research. Anyone with an interest in food history would also find the dishes and types of foods served to be a fascinating glimpse of the tastes of the time.

*****

To hear more about the Victorian Catering Ledger and other treasures belonging to the Local and Family History Library, please book free tickets for our upcoming online talks: Treasures of the Local and Family History Library (26 June, 1-2pm) and Further Treasures of the Local and Family History Library, (10 July, 1-2pm)

The Victorian Catering Ledger is kept at Leeds Central Library in the Local and Family History Library and forms part of our Special Collections. Please note you will need to bring some ID with you to view this item and please check the opening hours before making a special journey (at the time of publication all Leeds Libraries remain closed during the Covid-19 pandemic).

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