In this episode we look at some of ways Black Country people fed their families in the past, from garden plots to general stores – and not forgetting the fish and chips!
What did Victorians eat?
Some Victorian foods were the same as the things we eat today such as beef, pork, milk, flour, oatmeal, eggs and butter, and seasonal vegetables, although they would have been bought from local shops or made or grown themselves.
Rich children would eat a wider variety of foods, and better foods than the poor, who may have rarely had meat. Children who lived in the countryside often had more choices.
Here’s some weird dishes that you might have found in Victorian Times!
- Bone marrow on toast – scraped from the inside of beef or mutton bones, said to be a favourite of Queen Victoria.
- Broxy – meat from animals that had died of a disease. Poor people might have no other choice if they wanted meat.
- Brown Windsor Soup – beef gravy with fruit.
- Water Souchy – fishy leftovers boiled in water
- Flour Soup – watered down flour, butter and milk
Our story starts at the Sweet Shop – Let’s take a closer look at it’s history.
Like the baker’s shop next door, the sweet shop is a replica of one from Birmingham Street, Oldbury. The exhibit takes the name of Thomas Cook who ran a small confectionary business at 21 Bond Street, Dudley between 1871 and 1901.
The business was a typical family run operation with Mr Cook as confectioner, his son Thomas as assistant confectioner and his son’s wife Martha and their two children all helping out.
Martha would probably run the shop, while the two men made sufficient sweets to stock the shop and supply to other retailers.
In those days it was widely believed that sugar was a nourishing food and particularly the working class consumed large quantities when they could afford it.
The Tilted House
In the story the children visit the Tilted House – where Mary and John are picking vegetables. It’s a real house you can visit at the museum – but why is it tilited?
In the areas around mining communities, you often find houses leaning together at crazy angles and held together by iron tie rods because they had sunk into old forgotten mines.
They were called ‘pit-pulled’ and John and Mary’s house, ‘Jerushah’, from Cooper’s Bank, Gornal Wood on the western fringes of the Black Country, is an example.
It was probably built around 1847 when Cooper’s Bank consisted of a group of cottages scattered across the small coalmines, quarries and brickworks of the area.
Gregory’s General Store
Did you know that the first supermarket in the UK only opened in 1948? Before that “general stores” were popular in English Towns, from Victorian times right into the 20th Century. They offered a wide range of goods and foods and in this episode the children have a look inside Gregory’s General Store which was a real shop, originally at numbers 89 and 90 Lawrence Lane, Old Hill and now restored at the museum. If you visit you’ll get a taste of what shopping was like in 1913.
Mrs Gregory held a wide selection of stock and catered for those on low earnings struggling to make ends meet. It was common for essential weekly items such as eggs to be sold individually and for tea, butter and paraffin by the penny’s worth. Meat and dairy produce was sold from the counter on the right of the shop and included bacon, ham, butter, cheese, margarine, beef suet, pork fat, lard, scratchings, homemade faggots and mushy peas, tripe and cowheels. The family kept their own pigs and chickens which were reared for the shop. Groceries and greengrocery was sold from the centre counter – the majority of vegetables were displayed outside the front of the shop in baskets on the pavement. The left counter was used for the sale of a wide range of goods including sweets, drapery and cigarettes.
The shop remained in the Gregory family until 1936 when it became Parkin’s Shop. It finally closed around 1976.
Anyone for Fish and Chips?
- Fish and chips were a popular choice of food for working class people in the later Victorian years and through the 20th century and remain a firm favourite to this day.
- The humble potato arrived in the UK in the 16th Century
- Fish fried in batter is thought to originate from Jewish communities in London in the 17th Century.
- The first recipe for fried fish comes from William Kitchiner’s cookbook The Cook’s Oracle, first published in 1817.
- Fish and chips were one of the few things that weren’t rationed in the Second World War.
- Fried potato chips were thought to originate from the North of England
- It’s not known exactly when the fish and chips began to be served together but today we eat over 380 million portions as a nation, each year!
Hobbs’ Fish and Chip Shop
In the story the children enjoy fish and chips from Hobbs’ shop which was originally in Hall Street, Dudley. Let’s find out more!
The building dates to the late 1700s but was refaced with bright red pressed brickwork in 1889. In the early 1900s the shop served as a commercial laundry with Joseph Hobbs establishing his chip shop around 1916.
The impressive tiled interior of the chip shop features hand painted tiled wall panels made by Pilkington’s Tile & Pottery Company, Manchester, which have carefully been restored.
Joe Hobbs is remembered as being a hard task master and fastidious about the cleaning of the shop interior. He also took particular care in the purchase of his fish, and was similarly particular about his choice of flour using a special saffron flour obtained locally which gave the batter a reddish tint.
If you like Fish and Chips check out the restored shop today, it’s a great place to grab something to eat on your visit to the museum but your lunch won’t be wrapped in newspaper, which was a common way to wrap a portion in the past!
Activity: Try some cooking
If you want to try cooking a recipe from the past why not try making Rock Cakes? They were a way for poorer families to get a taste of cake, with just a few simple ingredients and they’re still popular today.
Here’s the Ingredients:
- 50g plain flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 level teaspoons baking powder
- 175g light brown sugar
- 175g spreadable butter
- 125g mixed dried fruit
- 1 large egg
- 1–2 tablespoons milk (if needed)
What you need to do:
- Mix the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together
- Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture is like breadcrumbs
- Stir in the fruit
- Separately whisk the egg and then mix through, adding a little milk if needed
- Place in spiky lumps on a lined baking sheet
- Cook for 15-20 minutes at Gas Mark 5 / 190 degrees