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December 16, 2015 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

Provisioning the country house & food production

2015-12-14, Apley Estate, Certain outgoings, 1817

Apley Estate, Certain outgoings, 1817 (whilst owned by the Whitmores)

2015-12-14, Apley Estate Farm accounts 1817

Apley Estate Farm accounts 1817

I recently spoke at a study day entitled Provisioning the Country House & Food Production. I focussed on Apley Walled Garden, what it produced 100 years ago & what it’s producing now. But the speaker after me was much more eminent – Jon Stobart, history professor at Manchester Metropolitan university. Part of his talk looked in detail about the provisions for Stoneleigh Abbey & those sent to the owner’s London house (in Kensington) in 1794. What struck me is how little things have changed ! When I head off on a Sunday night, Gavin packs me a cool bag of delicious provisions all from Apley Farm Shop (including Apley beef & game) & Apley Walled Garden. But I also take other bits & pieces – sometimes it’s something the Estate Yard has made or repaired for me, sometimes just foliage from the garden or window box plants.

Professor Stobart looked at provisions for the country house, but also for the London residence of the estate owners.

For both homes, some furniture was made by their own estate staff or by local craftsmen. On the beautifully handwritten lists of provisions, I spotted two words new to me – besoms (an old term for a broom) & bohea (a black China tea that comes from the last [tea] crop of the season).

Sources of provisions other than the estate itself included shops in the local village & local towns, luxuries from London, items spotted shopping in fashionable spa towns (eg. Bath & Cheltenham) & even items collected on a Grand Tour.

How were items found & delivered ? Newspaper adverts, word of mouth (recommendations from friends), speculative shopping (asking if something was stocked or could be made), personal shoppers (ie. by proxy), sending a servant to look for something, getting items sent by post or even just going shopping themselves.

How were items paid for ? in cash (if a servant was sent to pay & collect something), with a bill of exchange – an early version of as cheque (if being delivered by post) or via a solicitor.

The Stoneleigh Abbey estate wasn’t self sufficient, so some items obviously had to be sourced from elsewhere, eg coal. When the estate was over productive, it was able to supply others with excess amounts, eg bread flour.

I need to get back in touch with Professor Stobart in January, as late one night last week, Gavin was rummaging through a box of Apley Estate archive documents & found these very detailed, handwritten household accounts of Apley Park [known widely as Apley Hall] when it as owned by the Whitmores (the Fosters bought it in 1867). I’m sure he’ll be interested to see them.

They are beautifully hand written, somehow without any mistakes by someone with perfect handwriting, preserved for 200 years & in incredible detail. There’s a lot to be said for computers, but I wonder if our computer records will still be readable in 200 times. ‘Print it off’ is still the best advice for anything of importance.

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