Blencowe Families' Association Newsletter Vol. 9 No. 3 September 1994

ANN BLENCOWE 1656- 1718?

Edward M. Blincoe

Last summer I was lucky to come across "The Receipt Book of Ann Blencowe 1694", a list of recipes both culinary and medicinal, handed down within the family, and printed as a book in 1925.

Ann Blencowe, the daughter of a renowned mathematician John Wallis, and second wife of Sir John Blencowe, was born in 1656 and married 1675. Fortunately her father, husband and third son William, all featured in the Dictionary of National Biography so background to her life was easy to find.

Her father John Wallis 1616-1703 was professor of Geometry at Oxford and the most eminent mathematician England had produced, until Isaac Newton using some of Wallis's discoveries eclipsed him. He was a man of wide interests writing on theology and philosophy; with his friend Robert Boyle, he was a founder member of the Royal society and he even had some success in getting deaf mutes to speak, but it was his ability as a cryptographer that brought him prominence. During the Civil War, he decoded captured secret messages from the king, for the parliamentary side. He was cunning or principled enough not to reveal all the incriminating evidence, and despite signing a protest at the execution the Charles I, he remained in favour throughout the commonwealth period. On the restoration of the monarchy, he was appointed chaplain to Charles II and continued with his position as the government's official cryptographer.

During this period, he was offered the bishopric of Hereford, but declined it, and suggested that his son-in-law be given some preferment instead. As a consequence John Blencowe was appointed to the King's Bench.

John Wallis was careful to keep secret his decoding techniques, despite pleas to reveal them from mathematicians all over Europe, but he did pass them on to his grandson William Blencowe 1683-1712, and on his grandfather's death, he in turn became the official cryptographer at a salary of £200 p. a. [per annum]

William was also proposed as a fellow of All Souls Oxford, but declined to take holy orders. The warden then vetoed his appointment, but the queen intervened personally on his behalf and he became the first lay person to be a fellow. Unfortunately after a fever, he had a period of insanity, and shot himself dead with a pistol.

Ann Blencowe and her sister were described by the famous gossip John Audrey, as being "very handsome young gentlewomen". In 1694, The date of the recipe book, her husband was M. P. for Brackley, the nearest town to Marston St. Lawrence where they lived.

At this period, in pre-industrial England, educated women were expected to make up potions and remedies from herbs in their gardens, to treat family servants and even animals. Consequently the book is divided into Household recipes and Physical recipes, which are herbal potions and distillations. This expertise with herbs, had the result that very complicated recipes held no terror for Ann and her friends, and ingredients like spices which were not locally available could be ordered from London by mail order, whence they would be delivered by carrier.

Perhaps he only thing we could call convenience food was bread. -(Inflation was a problem in Ann's day too.) A recipe for an almond pudding which calls for a two penny loaf to be crumbled into it, has foot note saying that as two penny loaves were now so small, she now uses a loaf and a half. It would be interesting these days, if manufacturers reduced the size of their products instead of raising the price up on a regular basis). Consequently recipes cover every aspect of cooking down to making what we would call stock ......

John Blencowe, a lawyer, seems to have been well thought of and hard working, but reading between the lines,

great ability as a judge. Whether his position as M. P. called for a lot of entertaining or not, the evidence of the recipe book reveals an extensive circle of both men and women showing a great interest in food, and contributing recipes.

The Blencowe family's meals were probably not typical of the population as a whole, as the contributors, eg. Lady Oakes Scotch Collops, Lord Kilmory's Indian Pickle and Sir Thomas Probins' was of roasting ducks, indicate a fairly aristocratic circle and an eclectic approach to cooking. It is only the obvious abundance of cream, butter and eggs which show it was a rich dairy area, and to us, bombarded with dire warnings on animal fats, the quantities of cream used in syllabubs, flummerys and shaking pudding, and the rounds of butter used in cakes, seem rather alarming. Despite this, or maybe because of it, both Ann's husband and father lived well into their 80's.

If the household recipes take great pains to achieve perfection, the physical ones are more mysterious and even more alarming, seeming to operate on the opposite principal, that the worse it tastes, the more good it must do you. "Plurey Water, also good for gripes and fitts in children", mixed a stone (14 Ibs) of new made horse dung with 8 Ibs of aniseed and licorice into 3 quarts of wine and distilled it.

picture of a way of life that has passed, by giving details of processes which would be considered too mundane to be mentioned elsewhere. I give this recipe for bleaching cloth to show you win some and you lose some.

To Whiten Cloth

Take Sheep's dung, new made in May or June, or any time of ye Summer; which putt into a soft water, and stir it together till it is well broken and pretty thick. Then power it into a sive plac'd over a tub that will easily contain all ye cloth, so that it may be all covered with this water. Lay ye cloth in this green water on Satturday morning, letting it soake in it till Munday morning; then lay it out upon ye grass by a pond, or river side, which is better, keep it there, constantly wetting with pond or river water let it lye out Munday Tuesday e Wednesday beat it out and lay it in pond water all night; ye rest a day lay it out and water it till ye afternoon. Then forbare, that it may have time to dry out before night; then putt it dry in a tubb, being wash'd clean, laying a buck sheet on it. Upon ye buck sheet putt good store of greens - viz Mercury, Mallows, Kecks or wormwood, all or any of these. Then have in readyness a strong lye, which pour boyling hott upon ye greens, that it may descend to ye cloth, then cover it, greens & all close, that it may keep all night. On Friday morning lay it on ye grass again e keep it with

it may be dry against night. Then take some lye and make it boyling hott and pour it on ye cloth with fresh greens as you did before. On Saturday morning, lay it out and .... it as on Friday, yet left it ly in ye ..... Monday morning. Then lay it out upon ye grass, every day watering it with pond water till it is white enough.

Phew! When did she find time to do the cooking.

A Cover Letter From The Authors

Dear Bob and Helen,

I hope this letter finds you in good spiritsand free from the aftershocks of earthquakes.

I wondered if you would like this piece on Ann Blencowe and her recipe book.

I suppose it should have more recipes in it, but they made the article very unwieldy and if you think it interesting, I enclose a copy of a couple of sheets with some typical recipes. I think the little pye would be very tasty. [ED: See Page 5]

I don't think we can make the Colorado Reunion trip, but perhaps we will see you the one after that.

All our best wishes,

Edward and Jenifer Blincoe , Lancashire , England


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