London’s Baking archival exhibit

Our French correspondent, Céline Fernandez, was kind enough to write a post on her trip the London Metropolitan Archives to visit the exhibit “London’s Baking! Bakers, cakes, breads and puddings, from 1666.”

A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to spend a cultural weekend in London, following a study day on promoting heritage collections in Paris (it is way more convenient to reach London from Paris than from mountainy Grenoble and as we say in French l’occasion fait le larron – opportunity makes a thief). I had a long list of things I wanted to see, including the UK National Archives and the British Library where I have never been yet, despite a few trips to London over the past years.

But it was before seeing the British Museum and the V&A exhibition program…and the London Metropolitan Archives current exhibition, carrying such a promising title: “London’s baking! Bakers, cakes, bread and puddings from 1666”.

Nothing to do with the thousand-years-old British-French historic rivalry but…as a French chef’s daughter and active baking archivist, I knew I had to pay them a visit or I wouldn’t forgive myself.

Funny coincidence, during my study day in Paris I heard a presentation about Happy Apicius, a blog promoting the Fonds gourmand, a gastronomical books and archives collection held at the Dijon Municipal Library.

The London Metropolitan Archives are conveniently located near King’s Cross station (it’s only a 20 minutes walk). They are usually closed on weekends but open on Monday mornings, and thanks to my unusual traveling hours I had time to go there before heading back to France.

The small but colourful exhibition “London’s baking! Bakers, cakes, bread and puddings from 1666” is displayed in the exhibition area and in the staircase, both leading to the reading room, and tells the story of London’s bakers and their production from 1666 to the 20th century.

All the documents and images presented are from the collections held at London Metropolitan Archives.

Information about bakers and baking can be found in a range of municipal archival sources such as inventories (of shops and houses for instance), cadastral maps, order or payment receipts, commercial ads, to name only a few, but also in private or corporate collections.

The exhibition, using these archival sources and material, covers several themes, ranging from the existence of bakery shops in the 17th century, to bakers in training, through the food served in public premises (such as schools, hospitals, etc.).

A part of the exhibition is dedicated to the famous London company J. Lyons & Co. and some interesting display panels tell the story of a few cakes that somehow might have played their part in history.

Much to my surprise, I learned that the Great Fire of London started in…a bakery. Not because of a loaf of bread or a cake inadvertently forgotten in the oven, no, it was allegedly a criminal gesture and the presumed felon was hanged for the crime.

I also learned that a pastry might have played a significant role in the love affair between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn…

Icing on the cake, the LMA staff tried some of the recipes and present their work with comments in the “Blind Bakes” gallery (unfortunately not for you to taste but on digital screens). You can download their recipe book on the LMA website.

The Henry VIII-Ann Boleyn cake is of course the first I am going to try back home, and see about its royal power…

Sorry British Library, but you couldn’t beat an exhibition combining archives and cakes! If you happen to be in London before February, do not hesitate and go see it.

As for my next trip, it will be in January. I can’t wait to see what kind of #archivescake California has to offer. Though I already know all about See’s candies toffee-ettes and they better have lots and lots of boxes in stock.



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