All of the classes, both the prosperous and the starving, ate their soup in the Regency. For the rich, as wealthy man- about- town Rees Gronow noted, the big evening meal started with soup, and then everybody developed a huge appetite and an even bigger thirst.
What was the most prestigious soup for the high-living nobility and gentry? That came from Barbados, in the shape of the turtle, or more precisely from its precious meat. Fresh Turtles, when available, were advertised in the newspaper with a time and date when they were available. Turtles could be dressed and sent to the houses of the rich and enjoyed en familie. It was the number one soup.
Royalty enjoyed turtle soup; it was the only hot item on the menu in 1813 when 900 people led by the Duke of York and all of his brothers bar the Prince Regent celebrated Wellington’s victory at Vitoria in June 1813; then, as if to justify Gronow’s words, there was Port, Madeira and Claret for all; often, the soup was accompanied by a cold alcoholic punch.
Turtle soup was available in the street; perhaps the best was in New Bond Street, at the Albion or the confectionary and cook shop of Charles Waud. Perhaps Charles Waud would be a slightly better bet. He was, after all, purveyor of turtles to the King, and that’s what turtle soup was made from. There was, of course, mock turtle soup, which contained a sheep’s head instead of turtle meat, and mocked the poor as much as it mocked the posh version of the soup- sheep’s head was offal. That sounds obvious, but, as you went down the social scale, it was less and less true.
He also provided confectionary and sweetmeats to the Prince Regent and his royal bothers and sold theatre tickets to the Theatre Royal in Haymarket. He was top drawer.
Waud was a great food sourcing entrepreneur. He provided the food for the Grand Masquerade at Vauxhall Gardens (below) in 1813. The weather had been awful all day, despite being July, and the 2500 guests were rained on until about 11pm. This did not stop the dancing, drinking and morally dubious behaviour. The Tripod magazine reported that;
the night becoming more favourable over head than could have been expected about eleven o clock a crowd of the thoughtless dissipated and debauched assembled together under various disguises and dripping trees.
Pleasure Garden Masquerade, Museum of London
They ate at one in the morning. The main dishes were 150 dozen of fowls; 150 dishes of lamb; 200 tongues and hams; 300 lobsters raised pies; 200 Savoy cakes, 250 dishes of pastry; 300 jellies quarts of ice creams; 500 pottles of strawberries and 300 hundredweight of cherries ….
And of course, more alcohol than anybody was counting. All provided by the great Charles Waud.
It was a masquerade, and everybody was in disguise; and lots thought it was hilarious to dress as the poor, and as grotesque characterisations of the poor;
Dustmen, chimney sweepers, waggoners, clowns, harlequins, watchmen, scavengers, jackass men, chambermaids and courtesans were very numerous and excellently supported. Among the best noticed one groups we chimney sweepers who threw soot in the eyes of the company another of coal heavers who d—–d and bl—-d with all the volubility of St Giles’s
Meanwhile, the real poor of St Giles and elsewhere were starving. The worst year of the Regency for hunger was 1814; bread prices were high, the winter was as severe as anybody could remember (the snow did not clear in the south of England until March), and casual work outside for the poor was in short supply.
Soup was needed for the poor. The grateful, obedient poor deserved soup, but not of course, the turtle soup slurped by the rich as a preface to gargantuan eating and drinking. The soup of the poor was prefaced by deference and followed by nothing, or potatoes.
The newspapers overflowed with soup recipes. In January 1814, the Morning Post’s correspondent HUMANITAS (as they often styled themselves) offered this recipe;
In the view of the rich, charity like this carried the danger of moral hazard- the moderately poor could not afford beef, so the abject poor had to be denied it. With the inclusion of a small amount of beef and some bones, this would have done the job adequately. It was never a permanent solution to the problems of starvation, but then it was believed that such a thing was neither possible nor very desirable. The poor were given the scrapings at the bottom of the culinary barrel and the rich were entitled to feel good about it.
Two days later, the same newspaper was pleased to announce a local resident-possibly HUMANITAS himself- had been feeding twenty families a day on soup for one penny a quart. It was given a meaty flavour by the pot liquor from Mr Austen’s Beef Shop in St Martin’s Court, who provided the liquid from the bottom of a soup pot that had had meat in it. It was not made clear whether the same twenty families were to live on this soup forever or twenty families live on it for one day only.
The man who fed the poor and maintained social order with this cost-efficient way of avoiding starvation, was, of course, Charles Waud of New Bond Street.
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4 thoughts on “Turtle soup for the rich, and flavoured hot water for the plebs. Soup in the Regency”
You make a mistake above; you said there was no meat in that receipt, but in fact the words ‘A shin of good fresh beef cut in pieces’ is a part of it. No, not a lot of beef, but I’ve fed a family of five on a stew made with three x 1- inch thick slices of shin, the quality of it increased with bones added, which means the marrow is also added. A whole shin would be significantly more, especially if including the hoof for some gelatin. frugal, but not entirely meatless. And better than nothing. Beans or peas would have increased the nutritional value greatly, however.
Thank you, Sarah. I have made changes to the text. As you so rightly say, it was better than nothing, but my general point was that ‘nothing’ was, and still is, the base line for the poor.
absolutely! but more impactful on looking at the very meagre amount of meat. I estimate about 3 half-inch cube pieces of meat per person… and being shin, rather tough meat at that. I always cook shin in wine, usually my own elderberry, for the alcohol to tenderise it. Thanks for changing it! The irony of this, of course, is in Pitt’s comment over the bread riots in saying, “If they cannot afford bread, let them eat beef.” Beef reduced in price, actually, over the years of the French wars, as milk, butter, and cheese increased; there was such a fear that there would be starvation that dairy land was made over, by law, to beef cattle. I can’t find the date of Pitt’s comment, it has been excised from the web since I first came upon it accidentally. Stewing beef went down in London prices from 7 1/2d/lb in 1800 to 6d/lb by 1820, shin and leg going from 3d/lb to 2d/lb.
So thrilled to read about Charles Waud, he is my fourth great grandfather and I’ve searched for years to learn more about him. Looking forward to reading more from your blog!