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Hannah Glasse

A Housekeeper receives her mistress's instructions for dinner in this period plate.

Hannah Glasse (March 1708 – 1 September 1770) was an English cookery writer of the 18th century. She is best known for her cookbook, humbly entitled, “The art of cookery, made plain and easy: which far exceeds any thing of the kind yet published…”, first published in 1747. The book was reprinted within its first year of publication, appeared in 20 editions in the 18th century, and continued to be published until 1843. Although Hannah’s life never over lapped that of Jane Austen, her book influenced countless Regency households, no doubt including the Austen’s own, and may be regarded as the Mother of modern cookbooks.

Hannah Glasse was christened on 28 March 1708 at St Andrews, Holborn, London. Her mother is said to have been Hannah Reynolds, a widow. Her father,Isaac Allgood, a landowner of Brandon and Simonburn, both in Northumberland had recently married Hannah Clark, the daughter of a London vintner. Hannah Glasse was brought up in Allgood’s home at Simonburn near Hexham, together with his legitimate children, Lancelot and Isaac. She once described her mother in a letter as being a “wicked wretch!

During her childhood, Glasse formed a relationship with her father’s youngest sister, Margaret Widdrington, with whom she corresponded through most of her adult life. The surviving letters are the major source of information about Glasse’s personal life. Isaac Allgood and his wife Hannah Clark had both died of illness by 1725, when Glasse was 16 years old. On August 5, 1724, Hannah Glasse married an Irish soldier, John Glasse, at Leyton. Glasse’s letters reveal that from 1728–1732 the couple held positions in the household of the 4th Earl of Donegall at Broomfield, Essex. Thereafter they seemed to have lived in London.

Hannah Glasse’s identity as the author of one of the most popular of 18th-century cookery books was not finally confirmed until 1938, when the historian Madeline Hope Dodds of Gateshead settled the matter. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy was published by subscription in 1747, and also sold at ‘Mrs. Ashburn’s China Shop’ according to the title page. A second edition appeared before the year was out. The book did not reveal its authorship, except generally with the signature ‘By a Lady’. This permitted the erroneous claim it was written by John Hill. In Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, a dinner party is recounted in which the publisher Dilly suggests Hill was the true author. Johnson was not convinced, saying “women can spin very well, but they cannot make a good book of cookery.” He continued that he, himself could write a very good cookbook, because he would write it upon “philosophical principles”.

Frontspiece to a 1747 edition of Hannah Glasse's book

In 1747, the same year in which the book appeared, John Glasse died. Also in that year, Glasse set herself up as a ‘habitmaker’ or dressmaker in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, in partnership with her eldest daughter Margaret.

The direction “First catch your hare” is sometimes misattributed to Glasse. The closest to it in her Art of Cookery is the recipe for roast hare (page 6) which begins “Take your hare when it be cas’d”, meaning simply to take a skinned hare.

In 1754 Glasse became bankrupt. Her stock was not auctioned after the bankruptcy, as it was all held in Margaret’s name. However, on 29 October 1754, Glasse was forced to auction her most prized asset, the copyright for The Art of Cookery. On 17 December 1754, the London Gazette stated that Glasse would be discharged from bankruptcy (issued with a certificate of conformity) on 11 January 1755. In the same year, she and her brother Lancelot repaid the sum of £500 they had jointly borrowed of Sir Henry Bedingfeld two years before.

The Marshalsea Prison

Glasse once again fell into dire financial difficulties and was consigned on June 22, 1757 to the Marshalsea debtor’s prison. In July 1757, she was transferred to Fleet Prison. No record has been found of her release date, but she was a free woman by December 2, 1757, as on this day she registered three shares in The Servants Directory, a new book she had written on the managing of a household. It was not a commercially successful venture, although its plagiarized editions were popular in North America. Her daughter continued to pay the rates on the Tavistock Street premises until 1758, when it was listed as empty.

Food prepared from Ms. Glasse's book

In 1760 Ann Cook published Professed Cookery which contained a 68-page attack on Hannah Glasse and her work. Ann Cook lived in Hexham, and was reacting to an alleged campaign of intimidation and persecution by Lancelot Allgood. In the same year, Hannah published her third and last work, The Compleat Confectioner. It was reprinted several times, but did not match the success that Hannah had enjoyed with The Art of Cookery.

The London Gazette announced that “Mrs. Hannah Glasse, (half-)sister to Lancelot Allgood, died on 1 September 1770, aged 62”. In 2006, Glasse was the subject of a BBC documentary that called her the “mother of the modern dinner party”.

Glasse and her husband had eight children:

  • Margaret, the eldest
  • Lancelot was christened 1 July 1736 at the parish church of St Andrews in Holborn, London.
  • Isaac Allgood was christened 19 September 1738 at the same church. He was a junior official or ‘writer’ with the East India Company by 1754, and witnessed a document in 1756 on the ship Edgecot
  • George Buck was christened 2 January 1740 at the same church. He was of the crew of HMS Sunderland, a Royal Naval ship, when it sank in a storm on 1 January 1761 near Pondicherry India
  • Catherine
  • Hannah
  • Eliza was christened 27 July 1741 at the parish church of St Andrews.
  • Elizabeth Mary was christened 7 December 1743 in the same church

 

In 1995, Prospect Books Ltd published a facsimile edition of the 1747 edition of the book, with introductory essays by Jennifer Stead and Priscilla Bain, and a glossary by Alan Davidson. In 1998, Applewood Books published a facsimile edition of the 1805 edition of the book, annotated by culinary historian Karen Hess. Much of this information is taken from these two books.

Modern adaptations of many of Hannah Glasse’s recipes may be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.