Women in Print : Everyday food in print

Dorothy Hartley, who lived at Froncysyllte, near Llangollen, was the setting out point for this day of talks by food writers and illustrators, scholars, friends and family members foregrounding the cultural importance of the illustrated cookery book. Hartley’s writing is direct and, as Jojo Tulloh pointed out, addresses the reader as a friend and equal, inviting them into the book as though it were a farmhouse kitchen.

Steffan Jones Hughes and myself were lucky enough to visit Roger Mansbridge at home near Chirk earlier this year. As one of the executors of DH’s  will he is in possession of many personal litems, photographs and manuscripts. The story of DH’s papers is sadly familiar in the case of the archives of  independent, unmarried and childless women- much of it was put into a skip. However,  the bulk of what survives is now at MERL in Reading, or in the possession of Adrian Bailey, who is writing a biography  of Hartley. I came accross this anecdote in Bailey’s introduction to an anthology of her Daily Sketch articles ‘Lost Worlds’ ( Prospect, 2012)

“I first encountered Dorothy Hartley in the late 1960’s when she was in her mid seventies. …My diary records my meeting with Dee as friends and family called her. ‘Most hospitable but house is difficult to find. Living on a pittance. Served lamb chops. Very proud and independent. Folk historian of rural life. English eccentric and national treasure.” (p.19)

She is still woefully under acknowledged as such, despite a recent documentary about her life and work she is not as well known or well regarded as a scholar as she should be. Perhaps this is because of the multimodal nature of her books- she refers to her drawings constantly, approaching drawing as a continuum of her writing.

Hartley’s work as both Hattie Ellis and Jojo Tulloh pointed out is ever more relevant, with her insistence on understanding the materiality of history and tradition, as well as knowing the provenance of, and the importance of respecting and understanding your food. Her ‘History of Water in England’ is a scase in point, still stunningly original in its concept and execution.  ‘Food in England’ is her best known work , and has never been out of print since it was first published in 1954. It is a prototype self sufficiency manual which is also a history lesson and an essay in English identity. She not only gives you the recipe but tells you how to build the oven to cook it in. Jojo Tulloh termed her an ‘athropolgist in the kitchen’. I have written elsewhere about her blend of writing and illustrating in an article entitled The jobbing artist as ethnographer: documenting ‘Lore”

Roger’s treasure trove is occasionally dusted using a hairdryer- just one of the fascinating insights we learned of from the day.

The short introduction to Dorothy Hartley was highly enjoyable, supplemented with reminiscences and anecdotes from Roger about her life and adventures

The next speaker was Elisa Oliver from MMU, who edits the academic journal ‘Feast’ which  is a series of online publications that explore our relationship with food as a social event, a marker of identity, a product of history and a commodity for trade. Elisa outlined the ways that artists had intervened in our everyday relationships with food by placing it in the gallery or foregrounding the ritualistic aspects of food production and consumption through participatory art practice.  She highlghted how illustrations, specifically phtographs, in cookery books ‘erase the labour’ involved, and looked at the ways that recipes are presented as aspirational instructions. She also talked about the recipe as a site of memory, citing the example of women in WW2 concentration camps who shared detailed memories of meals they used to make as a way of shoring up their personal and collective identities.

Dr. Eleanor Byrne, also from MMU,  spoke next, examining the cookbook as memoir in the work of Alice B Toklas. She traced the ways that Toklas’s relationship to Gertrude Stein is played out in the reminiscences in the book. The ways through which the writing and illustrations ‘folded in’ members of their wider acquaintance was explored, analysing the use of illustrators drawn from their acquaintance.  The illustrations often referred to artists who had painted Stein and herself,  creating a protected space in which queer identites and friendships were celebrated and nurtured. Their adventures in France and Italy in their two cars ‘Aunt Pauline’ and ‘Lady Godiva’ taking supplies to field hospitals and moving freely around occupied France raised questions about their privilege and friends in high places. The recipes often name drop their famous friends- the dishes made for Picasso for example- and are more often than not recounting food that their succession of chefs had produced as they travelled.

After these two highly interesting talks we broke for a delicious bread and cheese lunch generously provided by Oriel Wrecsam, with bread from the Wild Loaf in Liverpool  and locally sourced cheeses.  I was especially delighted to be offered a glass of homemade grape juice from the Cambridge garden of Miranda Gray, who had also kindly brought windfall apples and quinces for the tabletop for their perfume. It was a privilege to be able to talk to Miranda about her mother’s work, and her friendship with Peggy Angus, at whose house Furlongs Patience had met Norman Mommens, the sculptor with whom she moved to Italy. The life they shared together forms the basis of her celebrated book ‘Honey from a Weed’ (1986) which was 30 years in the writing.

Patience Gray and Dorothy Hartley were the subject of Jojo Tulloh and Miranda Gray’s presentation after lunch. Jojo coined the term ‘vagabond cooks’ to describe them, and outlined their inspirational lives spent wandering and gleaning traditional knowledge from everyone and anyone that they encountered- from Charcoal burners in the New Forest to water carriers in Puglia. What communicated itself so strongly was the inspirational way the two women approached the business of living as country women, and the vast amount of  practical knowledge and detailed observation of the landscape that this entails. Miranda recalled her mother regularly collecting mushrooms such as chantarelles  when she was a child, and leading them on walks where they would forage for sorrell and such edible herbs. The accounts of her life with her mother cast a spell over the audience who were in thrall to the romance of the creative life she had  created for all around her. We could have happily listened for the entire afternoon. Jojo had undertaken a pilgrimage to Patience Gray’s kitchen the year before and has written about it, with beautfully evcative photographs here . She has also shadowed Dorothy Hartley’s method of cooking taken from a ‘bargee’, the type of cooking that informs her interest in self sufficient food production and cooking represented in her book ‘The Modern Peasant’ (Penguin, 2014) Miranda also read out a letter from her mother and recalled the way that she and Primrose Boyd had created an illustrated business card after working at the Festival of Britain as young women,  which outlined the many jobs they felt qualified to take on for five shillings. bargees-dinner-680x390

img_5951img_5949Our next speaker was Elisabeth Luard, who spoke entertainingly about her ‘posh’ upbringing, learning about food from ‘behind the baize door’ as her mother’s interest in food extended only to ordering it in from Harrods.  She spoke of her double life on leaving home, as art student by morning and typist for Private Eye by afternoon. She continues the association by having a regular column in Richard Ingram’s ‘Oldie’ magazine. Elisabeth recounted stories of taking her children with her to live in rural Spain, and how they were a rich source of information about the food culture of the region. She spoke of the importance of sketching rather than photographing (taking a photograph is intrusive, whereas making a drawing is much more likely to draw people to you) and explained how through documenting a woman winnowing cumin seed she learned that this allowed the salt in the air to attach to the spice, making it last longer and taste better. The process of creating her book ‘ A Cook’s Year in a Welsh Farmhouse (Bloomsbury, 2011) was described, with its combination of photographs (taken by friend and ‘gallery artist’ Clare Richardson over the course of a year) and her own paintings informing the writing with her careful observation of the ingredients she uses.

We broke again for afternoon tea at this point, with homemade cakes made in tribute to our authors. Jojo Tulloh had brought some homemade bread and wild plum jam as fitting food for Dorothy Hartley, and Ellie Byrne had made the biscuits that Alice B Tolkas would serve her friends. I made a seed cake (inspired by DH but actually a very good Delia Smith recipe) and had made a stab at making ‘soul cakes’ from an ancient recipe. However these came out a bit solid and medieval looking and potentially posed a risk to the teeth of anyone who tried them. There was also a very lovely windfall apple cake made by Jeanette Orrell and Bara Brith made by Roger Mansbridge and other cakes supplied from Wrexxham county market.

The final speaker was Hattie Ellis, who presented a robust defense of the illustrated cookery book and its future. Speaking of her own book ‘The One Pot Cook’ (Head of Zeus, 2015) and the conversations she has had with editors at Grub Street and  Bloomsbury about the use of illustrations vs photographs in cookery books. ‘Photographs date’ whereas illustration takes you directly to the time of writing. She championed the sort of cookbook that was for cooks rather than chefs, and read a quote from Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed’

“Cooking is not to be regarded as a display of virtuosity, it is far more vital than that.”

As ever the generosity of those speaking was reciprocated in the enthusiasm of those listening, and the discussion at the end of the day had us all determined to illustrate (not photograph- pah!) every meal we  produced from now on! As an exercise in history writing, the spots of time that recipes represent- however ‘everyday’ these memories are, are important to acknowledge as a continuum of traditional ‘lore’ hard won over time and we all responded to the ‘heritage technology’ of print and paper  as a means to pass on what we know to others.

In a similar vein the chapbooks that are produced  for these events are an exercise in ‘history from below’ create a space for a personal and creative  tribute to the women in question. I was delighted to recieve text and artwork from Jojo Tulloh and Miranda Gray for a chapbook about DH and PG, which joined the growing collection from diverse artists and writers. Thanks too to Rhi Moxon for her beautiful chapbook in tribute to Elisabeth Luard. img_5918

I keep returning to Ellen Lupton’s phrase ‘the underground matriarchy’ when thinkng about these Women in Print events. Often the  legacies that are passed on by these women, for those who were lucky enough to have known these women first hand, and for the rest of us who know them through their books,  is a pervasive sense of a life well lived, rather than accolades for their particular ‘virtuosity’ .Their influence as writers, artists, teachers, art directors, mothers, hostesses, is produced ‘both by producing their own work and by creating contexts in which innovation can flourish’. Lupton says-

‘Women seem to spend more time underground, gaining collective recognition and regenerating the field in intangible ways….An important goal of feminism is to make the values traditionally associated with the world of women into values recognised across the social and sexual spectrum: to nurture, to include, to respond, to support, to enable. As the influence of women continues to grow in the coming decades, such skills may no longer be regarded as distinctly feminine or as the exceptional product of women’s achievement. Design competitions must begin to include new categories – such as lectures organised or given, exhibitions curated, new curriculum planning and special research in areas such as cultural iconography. In this way, we will be in a better position to acknowledge all levels of accomplishment – from the surface of the page to the underground of the community.’

Thanks to Oriel Wrecsam for their generous support of this event.It was funded by Arts Council Wales.





Women in Print: Dorothy Hartley and Others- domestic food writing since 1920

The date for this event is now set for 29th October 2016, at Oriel Wrecsam.

This ‘Women in Print’ event celebrates and discusses the contribution to cultural life domestic cookery books – committing to print knowledge that had previously been passed in a practical way from mother to daughter in the kitchen – have had on our collective taste and sense of identity through food.

Dorothy Hartley, the author of ‘Food in England’  and ’Made in England’  lived in Fron, near Llangollen, for most of her life. Her books are practical manuals for traditional skills associated with the home and the kitchen, but also are a form of  social history, calling into notice the food that has been cultivated and prepared by ordinary people for their everyday domestic life.

The legacy of writers such as Hartley can be seen in the work of Florence White, Patience Gray, Alice B Toklas, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Jocasta Innes and in our own time Jo Jo Tullohand Hattie Ellis, to name but a few. Their writing champions the kind of food made for friends and family in the home.

The design and illustration of these books – brought to a mass audience through publishers such as Penguin, Faber and Persephone books- is a large part of their appeal, and we will discuss the affordances of print in transcribing and transforming vernacular food culture.

The day of talks will end with a communal meal , and  specially commissioned print works  will be available.

We are delighted to be collaborating with Oriel Wrecsam for this event.

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The Ballad of Women in Print- Chetham’s Library, Friday 20th May

WIP-CHETHAMS-BOOKING-INFOThe facebook page is here and the eventbrite page to book is here


Chetham’s Library, Manchester

FRIDAY 20th MAY 2016

Programme for Friday
10.00 coffee and welcome

10.30 Lauren Padgett- ‘Brutal exhibitions of depravity’: 19th Century Wife-selling in Street Literature.’

10.50 Hannah Allan- ‘Lost Voices of the Witches: Absence and Persecution in Lancashire Folk Tradition’

11.10 Q+A 20 mins

11.30 break (20 mins)

11.50am Stephen Basedo- ‘Maid Marian in Victorian Penny Bloods’

12.10pm Jenna C. Ashton– ‘Radical Zines: making & writing as feminist practice’

12.30 Q+A 20 mins

Lunch 1- 2 pm

2.00pm Jennifer Reid- ‘Women in Manchester’s broadside collections: songs for and about girls and women’

2.20pm Emily Portman- Woman’s Tongue: Subversive Female Voices in the Axon and Holt Broadside Collection

2.40pm Q+A 20 mins

3pm end


Chapbooks exhibited at RISD


It was great to exhibit a selection of the chapbooks at Rhode Island School of Art during the ‘Illustrator as Public Intellectual’ symposium in November. There was a lot of interest in extending the project to the US and we are working towards developing the chapbooks in various ways with friends and colleagues from RISD and MICA.

The ‘Women in Print’ network exists to promote research, discussion and writing into the overlooked contributions and legacies of women to 20th century print culture – whether as writers, publishers, artists and designers, art directors, teachers and/or through their domestic lives. The ‘Women in Print’ events are a series of  gatherings which bring together academics, practitioners and family members to discuss  the ways in which women’s creative and intellectual cultural agency is manifest through and framed by popular print culture. At each event a limited edition print run of illustrated tribute chapbooks by contemporary writers, artists and academics are given out . The chapbook project uses the medium of print to facilitate an inclusive and open ended form of history writing which values the subjective and creative response to the cultural legacy of  these women alongside an appreciation of their work. https://womeninprintnetwork.wordpress.com/

Women in Print : Witchcraft and the Popular Press

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A really interesting and inspiring day in Boscastle, and hopefully just the start of a much larger conversation on the subject.

The breadth of approaches to the subject was what made the day especially interesting,  considering scholarly close reading of the various affordances of witchcraft and its metaphorical use in literary forms alongside the ways that witchcraft enables us to think of the ‘craft’ involved in our making and imagining the world as performative knowledge meant that no one approach was privileged, and demonstrated what an interdisciplinary idea ‘witchcraft’ is- and how it had, as more than one person put it, ‘fallen through the gaps’ in conventional scholarship.

The sense of the witch as an integral part of the ‘imagined village’ was very strong and the ways that this positions traditional forms of knowledge and skills- both in the 20thc and in our contemporary social imaginary.

It was very interesting to see how the positioning of witchcraft emerged through various methodologies, especially the contested territories of the past – from historical surveys weaving threads of witchcraft through the art of women surrealists, interrogating  the relationship between art made for the gallery and art that takes place in gardens and kitchens, and the sorts of questions that are being asked about the kinds of historical knowledge that have been applied to the subject, who is allowed to be an ‘expert’ in the field and so on.

The ridicule of scholarship that has taken place in the past- Theo Brown being described as ‘that old witch’, the energetic refutation of ‘self taught’ folklorists,  and the vituperative reaction to Margaret Murray’s hypothesis also gave cause to reflect on the ways that the subject of witchcraft is itself somehow deemed disreputable.

There was some very interesting analysis of our visual understanding of witchcraft- in the juxtaposition of traditional and modernist motifs in the formal qualities of bookjackets, the line drawings depicting witches as ‘disordered’ and how these mapped the zeitgeist of the times, and created cultural currency for the idea of witchcraft.

It was fascinating to see how the ways that we are visualising the witch and considering the magical in our contemporary responses to the subject – from drawings of objects, collecting personal stories and memories, walking the same landscapes, shadowing the same skills, and experimental conjuring from the essences of the landscape.

A dominant idea was that of collage, or even bricolage- of thinking through objects and making as well as putting  many different forms of writing together. As Katherine Hodgkin pointed out this is an approach associated with 20thc literary and art practice,  but it is also a helpful way of framing practice-based knowledge, and as an approach to encountering the subject of witchcraft.

The idea of witchcraft  as emergent and performative knowledge was beautifully evoked by the Folklore tapes in their performance at the end of the day, and for me, pointed to an interesting hinterland, the wild edges of scholarship and approaches to the subject, blending field work and research into practice.