The British Way of Spice

Kate O’Keefe, Community Heritage Officer at Gloucestershire Archives, explores the UK’s changing eating habits and growth of new cuisines.

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I can still remember my mum’s first attempt at a chilli con carne – I must have been about 11 or 12 years old, so this would be in the early 1970s. Chilli powder was definitely new in our household and mum measured it in tablespoons instead of teaspoons – so we couldn’t actually eat the results. It put us all off for years.

British people have long had a reputation for extreme conservatism and caution when it comes to food, and certainly when I was growing up in the 1970s, our diet could best be described as ‘bland’. Shepherd’s pie, fish fingers – that type of thing. What people today might shudderingly call ‘beige food’. My dad worked for Bird’s, so we had a lot of Angel Delight as well.

An image of a packet of Angel Delight

We did have home-made mince pies and Christmas cake and I’m pretty sure mum had a little cannister of mixed spice for this purpose, which lasted for many, many years. I recently started looking for references to spices here in Gloucestershire Archives – and I must admit I was amazed to see several references to cinnamon, cumin and ginger being used to pay rent in Mediaeval times. The earliest record I found was this one from 1225:

William de Pudiford to Phillip Bonseriaunt.
Bargain and sale of ground on which his granary stood in the village of Fromtun. Rent- 1 root of ginger at Christmas, consideration 7 shillings.
Witnesses: Henry de Clifford, Walter de Salle, Hel de Cantle, Reginald de Wudhend, Ruard de Hereford.

Image of a Latin deed from before 1250

But there may well be even earlier examples.

I suppose I knew a (very) little bit about the Spice Routes, but I’d never really thought about spices being traded and valued in this way quite so far back in time. And not just in London, but here in Gloucestershire too.

People back then (those who could afford them, of course), must have loved the warmth and complexity which spices bring as much as we do today. I’ve read that some uses were medicinal and some for the preservation of food – or at least to hide the taste if it wasn’t too fresh – but even so there’s plenty of evidence for culinary use.

Spicy food is now of course available to everyone, and there can’t be too many modern households which have never had an Indian or a Chinese takeaway. Spices were effectively democratised around the 1960s – and our appetite for them grew so fast that Chicken Tikka Masala (spiced, if not actually spicy) was named as one of our favourite national dishes in 2001.

A screenshot of survey results for takeaways
YouGov survey results showing the UK’s favourite takeaways

Most towns now boast a wide array of food outlets, and my hometown of Newent is certainly no exception: with a population of around 10,000 people we have 2 Chinese takeaways, 2 Indian takeaways and a kebab shop, in addition to our original ‘Tudor’ (ahem) Fish and Chip shop. Not to mention the pizzas, Japanese and Mexican foods which can be delivered to anyone within minutes.

It’s odd to think that even though spices were bought and traded here for hundreds of years, new arrivals to the UK from Asian and African countries and from the Caribbean in the 50s 60s and 70s often struggled to source the familiar flavours they loved. They began to open shops, originally to serve their own communities. Then restaurants and takeaways, which we cautious, conservative types gradually started to frequent and then quickly to love. Perhaps this is fanciful, but I like to think that love of spice was always lying dormant, just waiting to be reawakened.

The first Indian Supermarket in Gloucestershire is probably Motala and Sons in Victoria Street – founded in 1966 and still going strong over 50 years later. You can find it here on a specially commissioned interactive map from the 2020 Gloucester History Festival.

Some takeaway menus
Takeaway menus

People are sometimes surprised to find that we keep fliers and menus from restaurants and takeaways in our Local Studies collections, but they are a wonderful indicator of new communities arriving and, by offering exciting and unfamiliar food, broadening people’s food horizons.

I haven’t been able to find the date or name of the first Indian and Chinese restaurants in Gloucestershire – but I’d love to know…Anybody?

Women’s History Month – Naomi Patterson

For our last post during women’s history month we’ve taken our information from the Barton and Tredworth community heritage site. This was set up during one of our community partnership projects, looking at the lives of local people. Read below for an insight into Naomi’s life and follow this link to listen to audio clips of her describing her experiences:

Naomi Patterson came to Gloucester from Jamaica in the 1960s. She came to join her husband William who had travelled to the UK several years earlier to work at Gloucester Foundry. After her long trip, one of Naomi’s clearest memories upon arrival is remarking to her husband about how many factories there were in Gloucester, not realising that she was in fact looking at the terraced housing of Barton and Tredworth.

She also clearly recalls the first meal William made her when she arrived – freshly cooked mackerel and a glass of stout! Naomi and William lived with family in Barton and Tredworth before getting their own home, and in this collection of audio clips, Naomi recalls some of her experiences and her memories of the area from the time of her arrival. (Click on the link above to listen)

Since coming to Gloucester, Naomi has had several different jobs, raised three children and now volunteers at her church, the United Reform Church and also the Black Elders’ Luncheon Club. ‘Mrs P’ is still very much a part of her local community and a well known personality in Barton and Tredworth.

Naomi Patterson 1
Naomi Patterson

Women’s history month – Quarter sessions

The Quarter Sessions is a collection of accounts regarding mostly petty everyday crime. Last year we went through and picked out various cases that mentioned women, which you can read here:

There’s plenty more material to look through though, such as the case in 1741 concerning Mary Smith. It’s a settlement case, meaning they were trying to find out where she belonged and which parish was responsible for looking after her. According to her statement, she was

‘about 63 and was born in Shaftesbury in Dorset. She married Jeremiah Smith forty years ago and lived with him for twenty eight years. They travelled the country with earthenware as their living. She has gained no parish of settlement since her husband died.’

Such a short statement for such a long life lived. By the sounds of it, she travelled all over the country and would have met a much wider variety of people than most others did, especially women who would be expected to stay in or near their home most of the time.

White document with black inked handwriting

Other records follow the same themes of settlement, theft, and assault against women. There are rarely happy stories in the petty sessions, this was after all where crimes were heard.

In 1738, Andrew Phipps of Berkeley accused Daniel Pick of assaulting his daughter Martha and tearing her apparel on Dursley Fair day. Q/SD/1/1738 A year later Mary Jagger stated she was

‘travelling from Minchinhampton to Cirencester on her husband’s business with Laurence Chidsley, a barber of Tetbury, as her guide. Chidsley pulled her off her horse, violently assaulted her and stole a silver pair of buckles which he still has’.

Neither case goes into much detail and it’s difficult to find further examinations that might tell us how the cases were closed.

White document with black inked handwriting
White document with black inked handwriting

Without a doubt the most common way a woman appeared in the quarter sessions was in cases of bastardy. Women would be hauled in front of the courts and told to name the father of her unborn (in some cases already born) child, so that he would be charged for their welfare instead of the parish. Such is the case in 1738 when Elizabeth Thorn appears. The case states that she is 28 and born in Cowley and has had no settlement since birth. It goes on to say

‘She is with child by Francis Tomlinson with whom she has cohabited for two years. She has sometimes begged but mostly got her livelihood from travelling about selling phisick.’

This one is interesting as it gives a bit more detail, and rarely are the women in these cases said to be living out of wedlock with the fathers for any length of time, which begs the question why weren’t they married? Where was her family? It also mentions she travelled around ‘selling phisick’ – so she did try to fend for herself in some way, and had enough knowledge of herbs and plants to make a living out of it. Who taught her this knowledge – was she particularly skilled? Of course, she isn’t asked any further questions than who the father of her child is, so we’ll never know.


The marginalised voices of women in the justice system hint at so much history yet to uncover, waiting in the archives to be discovered.

Women’s history month – Fielding and Platt workers

In the second week celebrating women’s history month, we’d like to highlight some local women in the workforce.

One of our partner projects was all about Fielding & Platt, an engineering firm from Gloucestershire started in 1866. You can see all about the company and the lives of the people that worked there here:

Black and white photograph of the women working at Fielding & Platt, Second World War

One particular page we’d like to highlight today though is this one about the woman who worked there, see here:

Daphne Collier was one of these women. To listen her memories of working at the engineering firm, check out the link below:

Daphne Collier

The Story of one woman, throughout the census

The census can be a great tool for tracking your family history through the years. Our January Passport to the Past event focused on what the census could tell us about one women. The full event is available on our YouTube channel here!

Living in Chadstone Lodge in Northampton Mary Robinson first appears on the 1871 census at age 3, along with her parents Mary Elizabeth and James White Robinson and two younger sisters Margaret and Edith Maria.

Copy from the 1871 census including Mary and her parents
Mary listed in the 1871 census

From the 1881 census we can learn that Mary is now 13 and has four more younger siblings James, Ethel, Katherine and Louisa. The family have now moved to Waterfall Farm in Northampton. Mary is still living at the family farm in the 1891 census and is not listed as employed.

Copy from the 1881 census including Mary and her family
Mary listed in the 1881 census
Copy from the 1891 census including Mary and her family
Mary listed in the 1891 census

A lot changes in the 10 years between the 1891 and 1901 census for Mary. At age 34 she is now married to bank manager John Riddey and has three children Edith Mary, John and Cicely. She has also moved to London.

Copy from the 1901 census including Mary and her husband John and children
Mary listed in the 1901 census

1911 is a bit interesting as Mary is not found in the same household as her husband John who has now moved to Moreton-in-Marsh a Cotswold Village in Gloucestershire. Instead, Mary and her youngest child Cicely is found visiting Elizabeth Dunkley in Lincolnshire.

Copy from the 1911 census including John Ridley
John listed in the 1911 census
Copy from the 1911 census including Mary Ridley
Mary listed in the 1911 census

Before the release of the 1921 census in January 2022 this could have been where Mary’s story stopped for us but we are lucky to have two more document that call tell us more about Mary and her children.

Firstly the 1939 register, from this we can learn that Mary is now 72 and living with her daughter Cicely and Cicely’s husband Rev Reginald G Bennett at The Steps in Morton-in- Marsh. The register also shows that Cicely is in the Women’s Voluntary Service.

Copy from the 1939 register including Mary
Mary listed in the 1939 register

The Second document we have is a scrapbook compiled by Joyce M Deacon the grandaughter of Mary Riddey (nee Robinson). This scrapbook contains family photographs, of Mary and John Riddey as well as their children and grandchildren.

two black and white photographs, one of Mary and John Ridley and one of Mary, John and Cicely with a dog
Photographs from the scrapbook (D13668/2/1/1) including Mary and John Riddey and their daughter Cicely

The census is a great source of information for finding out about your family history. But it is great to have this scrapbook, so that we can be able to put a face to Mary and her family!

Penny for the Guy?

Do you still put a ‘Guy’ on your bonfire? Children displaying their homemade ‘Guys’ and asking ‘penny for the Guy?’ is thought of as an iconic British tradition.

Most people know that after King James I survived an attempt on his life by Guy Fawkes and his conspirators, bonfires were lit around London to celebrate. This continued across the country and gradually became part of tradition to commemorate the event.

The holiday is often been associated with violence in one way or another, not least because of the dangerous nature of fire and fireworks. It’s associated with Protestant ideals, and as such is used for anti-Catholic sentiments. Nowadays the politics of the celebration isn’t celebrated, but it is used as an excuse for a social gathering to observe the winter months coming on.

In the 18th Century children began to create their own ‘Guy Fawkes’ effigy to burn on the bonfires, carrying around their homemade guy and asking for money. In the 1960s however, the City of Gloucester Headteachers Association petitioned to not only stop the practice, but make it an offence. This petition was unsuccessful, as it was a seasonal practice and not considered threatening. It was also pointed out to them that what they were concerned about (children begging) was already covered under the Vagrancy Act of 1824.

Whilst children were allowed to continue begging a penny for the Guy, the teachers might like to know that the practice has now almost totally vanished. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of trick-or-treaters on Halloween who ask for sweets rather than money. Would they have shown similar disdain and anger towards this? The answer is: very likely.

Typed letter from the Town Clerk

Reference: GBR/L7/1/1/1/5

The Great Gloucestershire Heritage Hub review of the Year 2018

Not quite Sports Personality perhaps, but there’s been so much happening and so many achievements this year, that it’s worth a quick look back now before we move too far into 2019.

Due to problems with our contractors, our building work isn’t quite complete, but our shiny new public area is, by universal agreement, a huge improvement on what went before.  It was good to leave behind our temporary research rooms at the end of March and to introduce improved opening hours including the first Saturday of each month. We’re particularly pleased to co-locate with our friends from Gloucestershire Family History Society, so the Heritage Hub really does feel like a partnership space now.John panoramic stretched Continue reading

New arrivals on our Catalogue

Volunteers from Cheltenham Local History Society have been producing more detailed lists of a number of local solicitors’ collections, supporting the production of the Victoria County History volume for Cheltenham.  These lists are now becoming available through the online catalogue.  Russell Self, who has been co-ordinating this volunteer activity, takes up the story:

Photograph of Cheltenham Local History Society volunteers at Gloucestershire Archives, July 2016

Cheltenham Local History Society volunteers at Gloucestershire Archives, July 2016

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Another website returns!

We blogged recently about the Barton and Tredworth website going live again after its designers, Community Sites, had converted it to a more accessible WordPress platform.  The same process has been happening to another of our partnership sites, celebrating the Gloucester engineering company Fielding and Platt. Fielding and Platt was founded in 1866 on the site of what is now the Quays retail outlet, and two blue plaques on the site commemorate its previous use.  This photograph from the 1950’s shows the rail entrance to the site from Southgate St (can you spot the poster for the Ealing comedy the Ladykillers?).View from Southgate Street c.1950 (D8489)

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New arrivals in our strongrooms (3)

stone laying

Shades from the past: a rather ghostly image of the laying of the foundation stone at Whitfield Memorial Presbyterian Church in Gloucester, 1872 (new accession D14436)

A bumper summer crop of new archives!

We’ve been kept busy over the summer processing new additions of archives – in all that’s meant working on 90 separate batches or ‘accessions’ for June, July and August. We aim to add at least brief details to our online catalogue of all new material within four weeks of its arrival.

Some of the highlights are listed here. If you’d like to see more details, please go to our online catalogue and then search on the catalogue reference given below.

The online catalogue will tell you whether you can access the records now or whether they are closed for any reason. If this is the case you may be able to arrange to see them by appointment.


Aerial photographs (catalogue reference D14493): aerial photographs of Gloucester and district taken by the RAF, 1946

Coal Research Establishment, Stoke Orchard (catalogue ref D14505): drawings, photographs and publications relating to history of the site, 1946-1994

Corse C of E School (catalogue ref S309): admission register, 1946-2001; school photographs and press cuttings, 1914-1972; material concerning the opening of the new School, 1994

Crickley Hill Archaeological Trust (catalogue ref D14279): Trust correspondence, annual reports and financial statements, 1986-2010

Doris Court of Weston-sub-Edge, local historian (catalogue ref D14447): records collected and compiled by Doris Court relating to the history of Weston-sub-Edge since the 13th century

Filton Community History Group (catalogue ref D13476): additional material from the Group including administration files, minutes of meetings, and results of research, including projects undertaken by pupils at Shield Road and Charborough Road Schools, 1999-2001

Gamage Court, Westbury on Severn (catalogue ref D14475): farm account books kept by Harry Baker of Gainsfield Farm, part of Gamage Court, 1949-1967

Gloucestershire Federation of Women’s Institutes (catalogue ref D2933): minutes and other records of various WI branches, 20th cent, including Aylburton [opened 1919]; Brimscombe and Thrupp; Chipping Campden; Churcham; Coopers Hill and Brockworth; Greet; Hardwick; Hempsted; May Hill, Longhope; and also of the Campden Group

Labour and Trades Union movements in the Stroud area (catalogue ref D14481): Stroud Divisional Labour Party minutes, 1940-1959; Stroud Trades Council, from 1989 known as Stroud and District Trades Union Council, minutes, 1969-c.1997; Stroud and Thrupp branch (later Stroud branch) of the  Amalagmated Union of Engineering Workers, minutes, 1924-1980; accounts, 1853-1925, 1963-1980; proposition and entrance books, 1853-1943, 1969-1981; contribution books, 1859-1892, 1915-1920

D G Martin slide collection (catalogue ref D12083): 153 slides and script for talk “Cheltenham Past and Present” comprising views of buildings and street scenes, and giving information about each one, 1960s-1989

Milestones School, Longford and predecessor schools (catalogue ref S154/32): Tuffley Open Air School pamphlet, [1960]; Chamwell School staff and pupil photos , 1976-1979; newscuttings relating to school events, 1983-1984; records relating to the 50th anniversary of Oak Bank and Chamwell School (a merged service caring for children since 1936) 1986; school prospectus, 1986; photographs of pupils and school events at Oak Bank and Chamwell Schools, 1970-1990; video copy TV news piece on a Royal visit to Milestone School, 2001

Oral history recording (catalogue ref D14452): interview with Robbie Green, evacuee in Gloucestershire during World War 2, recorded 6 November 2014

Painswick parish (catalogue ref P244): records include service registers, 1950-2001; church log books and fabric papers, 20th cent; survey of memorials in churchyard, mid-20th cent; deeds concerning land between the lychgate and the bus stop, 20th cent; codicil to will of Thomas Phillips, 1824; sale of advowson of Painswick Vicarage, 1838; church photographs and plans, including ground plan of organ, 1892-20th cent; parish magazines, 2005-2006, 2011-2012

Ruardean Woodside School (catalogue ref S109/2): admission register, 1978-2007; attendance list for Old Scholars’ reunion, 1992; constitution for Woodside Primary Old Scholars and Friends Association, 2012; journal to commemorate the centenary of Ruardean Woodside School (1878)-1978; memories of Slad School, 2012; Forest of Dean U.D. School Board summary and tables of results of examination, 1891-1892

Sandoe Luce Panes of Thornbury, estate agents and auctioneers (catalogue ref D4855): sales particulars and other records of predecessor firms including Luce, Young and Alway, Moses Smith and Luce, Luce, Howes and Williams, and associated firms, relating to properties in South Gloucestershire, Bristol, Wiltshire and Somerset, 1873-1961

Stroud Choral Society (catalogue ref D9329): programmes and posters, 1828-1976; press cuttings and other publicity material, 1828-c.2000