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Understanding Common Record Types: Household books

Guide to understanding common types of archive documents: abstracts of title, accounts, annual reports, charters & letters patent, constitutions, diaries, household books, land deeds, letters, manorial records, maps & plans, minutes, photographs, & wills.

Introduction to household books

Personal documents containing entries relating to common household recipes, remedies and housekeeping tips.

Why they were created

Created to record useful information and instructions relating to the management of a household.

Who might have created them

Created by housekeepers, staff employed by large households, heads of households.

Where you might find them

Usually found with personal records of family members, or amongst other miscellaneous household related records. Commonly found in the following collections:

  • Landed families
  • Estates

Period from which they most commonly survive

Commonly created in the early modern period through to the early 19th century.

Key features

Physical features

  • Paper, multi-leaf
  • Manuscript writing in ink
  • Loose sheets bundled together or bound into volumes
  • Alternatively, entries might be made into pre-bound blank volumes

Informational content

  • Food and drink recipes
  • Ingredients and instructions for making home remedies and medicines
  • Recipes for household cleaning products
  • Housekeeping tips
  • Occasionally, rough accounts for household goods purchased
Manuscript recipe noting ingredients, measures and method

U DDHO/19/8 (12)

Recipe for cold cream, showing ingredients no longer commonly used, and demonstrating how home remedies for illnesses were made, c.1860

Manuscript recipe noting ingredients, measures and method

U DDHO/19/8 (15)

Recipe for macaroni pudding, c.1860

Manuscript recipe noting ingredients, measures and method

U DDHO/19/8 (17)

Process used to cool wine, showing how scientific knowledge was employed to accomplish household tasks, c.1860

Manuscript recipe noting ingredients, measures and method

U DDHO/19/8 (21)

Recipe for curry powder, showing method to be used, equipment needed, and where to purchase ingredients, c.1860

Note on critical analysis

Things to consider:

  • Such items are often compiled over a period of time, even across several generations, therefore one book might contain entries made by more than one individual
  • Later edits may be made to earlier entries, as a recipe or method is honed over time, and an analysis of handwriting styles might be necessary to evaluate who might have made any edits and at what period these were made

Potential research uses

Household books can be useful when undertaking research into the following areas:

  • Popular and folkloric medicine, diseases and ailments
  • History of cooking, ingredients and methods
  • Housekeeping practices
  • Transmission of generational knowledge
  • Eating habits

Specialist skills and knowledge

Further reading in the following areas will help researchers when using these sources:

  • Secretary script - early modern examples are commonly written in Secretary or mixed Secretary/Italic hands
  • Imperial system for weights and measures, particularly in relation to liquid and dry ingredient measures
  • Terms associated with cooking and baking methods
  • Historical terms for common chemicals, food ingredients, etc.

Resources at Hull History Centre

Search for further examples of household books using our online catalogue. Try using search terms such as household book, commonplace book, recipe book, housekeepers book, etc.

Alternatively, if you prefer to browse, the file below contains a list of household books held at Hull History Centre. Please note that this list is not comprehensive, but represents key examples of the document type.

Further help

The following secondary literature provides examples of research based on household and recipe books: