“When I reflect upon the number of books already in print upon this subject, and with what contempt they are read, I cannot but be apprehensive, that this may meet the same fate from some, who will censure it before they either see it or try its value.”
Thus begins Elizabeth Raffald in her dedication of The Experienced English Housekeeper, “To the Reader.”
Mrs. Raffald need not have worried. First published in 1769 in Manchester, the book went through six more editions published in London during her lifetime, and many more pirated ones. Later it influenced the ever-popular nineteenth-century household book by Isabella Beeton.
Elizabeth Raffald – born Whitaker – in 1733 in Yorkshire tells us that she “spent fifteen years in great and worthy Families, in the capacity of a Housekeeper, and had the opportunity of travelling with them.” One of these families was that of Lady Elizabeth Warburton of Arley Hall in Cheshire to whom the book is dedicated. Elizabeth Whitaker married the Warburton’s gardener, John Raffald, and they moved to Manchester in 1763. There she ran a sweet shop, taught cooking, created a Directory of Manchester (streets and merchants), and in her “spare time” had nine daughters. She vouches for the accuracy of her work by saying that “every sheet [was] carefully perused as it came from the Press, having an opportunity of having it printed by a Neighbour, whom I can rely on doing it the strictest Justice.” By the second edition, her copyright was purchased by Robert Baldwin of London, who continued to publish the book.
The copy of Raffald’s book at The Second Shelf bookshop shows the signature of “Eliz. Raffald” at the beginning of Chapter 1. A clue to this signature is provided at the bottom of the title page. The 1769 first edition published in Manchester reads on the title page: “The Book to be signed by the Author’s own Hand-writing, and entered at Stationers Hall.” Her signature appears at Chapter 1. Beginning in 1771, the copies published by Baldwin in London read “N.B. No Book is genuine but what is signed by the Author.” Sure enough, the copies with the imprint London, dated 1771, 1773, 1775, 1776, 1778, 1780, 1782, 1784, and 1786 all have this signature at Chapter 1. The only problem is that Mrs. Raffald died in 1781. The 1782 edition dropped the “No Book is genuine” line from the title page, but someone else went on signing until 1786! By the 1788 edition, the signature is also gone. (I looked at copies on ECCO, all from the British Library except the 1778 edition from the University of Kansas library.)
Another copy of the book, dated London 1789, was recently offered on eBay by the “Mad Librarian.” This copy has the signature of a former owner, Anne Beard, on the front flyleaf. It’s fun to think that she might have been an ancestor of cooking maven James Beard, but we’ll probably never know.