a Winter’s Posset

Tis’ the season for hot mulled wine and spiced gingerbread lattes – warming festive drinks to bring festive cheer… but if you are partial to an ‘eggnog’ or a ‘snowball’ then you might just like the sound of this one.

Posset was a popular winter hot drink which was traditionally made with boiled milk curdled with wine or ale, and included eggs, sugar, treacle and spices like ginger and nutmeg.

It can be traced back to the 14th-15th centuries and was originally renowned for its beneficial properties; it was often used as a remedy for colds and chills and to aid sleep. During the 1666 plague it was even used as cure for the disease and there’s a tale from Eyam of a woman who miraculously recovered after drinking Posset!

On Christmas eve it was traditional to drink posset during a family ceremony resembling communion, whereby a ‘Posset Pot’ (a chalice shaped vessel) was filled with hot posset and passed around family members (not sure we could get away with such an activity this Christmas!). As the wine curdled with the milk it would form a layer of sweet curds which was eaten with a spoon, whilst the boozy liquid was sipped from the lip of the chalice. It was tradition to place a silver coin and a ring in the bottom of the posset pot, and as the curds at the bottom of the drink were spooned out, the person who found the coin was promised a prosperous year ahead, and the one who dished up the ring a happy marriage.

Posset pot, London, England, probably 1661. Credit: Science Museum, London

We have a few recipes for possets amongst our archive collections, like this 17th Century one from a recipe book in the Gell family collection. This recipe is for a ‘Sack Possit’, the term ‘Sack’ referring to a fortified wine, most likely Madeira or Sherry.

Posset recipe from D258/32/15/1, 17th Century recipe book from the Gell family collection

To make a Sack Possit

Take 20 Eggs, both ye Yolks and Whites; only take out the treads

beate them well all one way, and put to them one pint

of Sack halfe a pound of Suggar Stir them together very well

and set them on a Chafing Dish on Hot Coles keeping it

constantly all one way till it be better then new Milk

warme then take one quart of new Milk that is just

at boyling, with a whole Nutmeg Cut in quarters, put it to

the Sack and Eggs Stir it two or three times the Contrary

way then Cover it and let it stand on the Coles a little

while, then serve it up hot in the same Bason you

make it in.

And if fortified wine is not your thing, then why not try an ‘Ale Posset’; supposedly if you stir it carefully this one shouldn’t curdle, which certainly sounds a bit more appetising to me!

Ale Posset Recipe from D258/58/10, the Cookery Recipe book of H Chandos-Pole 19th Century

Ale Posset

Take equal quantities of new milk & ale

boil them separately. pour the milk

on the bread in a bowl. then add

the ale by degrees. observe to stir it all

the while to prevent it curdling. Add

nutmeg, ginger & sugar to your taste

And so, tempted by the promise of curdled, alcoholic, custardy delights, some brave members of staff at the Record Office have tried out the 17th Century posset recipe… here are their reviews.

Mark’s attempt…

I have catholic tastes when it comes to drink, but if you want to make me a really happy chap over the festive season, or any season, offer me something thick and sweet: Irish cream, advocaat, toffee liqueur, you name it. I also like a warming beverage such as mulled wine or cider. So how have I never tried eggnog? Or its forerunner, posset? A simple oversight, that’s how. To set matters right, I tried the following historical recipe:

To make a Sack Possit

  1. Take 20 Eggs, both ye Yolks and Whites; only take out the treads. [I’m not wasting 20 eggs on something that may turn out to be disgusting – I opted to quarter the recipe and use 5 eggs.  I didn’t find any treads]
  2. Beate them well all one way [I decided on clockwise], and put to them one pint of Sack [a quarter-pint of sherry, once known as Sherris-sack] halfe a pound of Suggar [so, four ounces].
  3. Stir them together very well and set them on a Chafing Dish on Hot Coles [someone recently borrowed my chafing dish, so I set them in a non-stick pan over a gas hob] keeping it constantly all one way [OK, still clockwise] till it be better then new Milk. [Until it’s thick and creamy, perhaps?]
  4. Warme then take one quart [so, half a pint] of new Milk that is just at boyling, with a whole Nutmeg Cut in quarters [I grated in about a quarter of a nutmeg], put it to the Sack and Eggs.
  5. Stir it two or three times the Contrary way [I admit it was more like 15 stirs in a widdershins direction] then Cover it and let it stand on the Coles a little while, then serve it up hot in the same Bason you make it in. [No. 2020 has been weird, but I have not yet been reduced to drinking from pans]

If I hadn’t had the archivist’s commitment to authenticity, I would have tried to prevent curdling by beating the eggs and sugar together first and adding the sherry and milk a drop at a time while whisking like mad. I didn’t, and it curdled. After letting it stand as instructed, I poured it into two glasses: one for the curdled original, another going through a sieve first. The strained one was much nicer, but each provided a pleasantly boozy custard taste sensation.  My wife described it as “like drinking a bread and butter pudding”.

It turns out the curdling was not a mistake anyway – Felicity Cloake’s 2013 Guardian article observes that “in its earliest form, posset was made from milk curdled with alcohol”. No accounting for taste, is there?

Mark’s Posset

So there you have it – and if you feel inspired to try making one of these recipes at home then do bear in mind the quantities (ie. 20 eggs!) are meant for large households, so you may wish to reduce them significantly unless you require a surfeit of posset. Personally I’m not sure I like the sound of curdled alcoholic milk (or drinking bread and butter pudding for that matter)…. think I’ll stick to mulled wine!

Inspired by Franklin…

The hidden talents of the Record Office team have been stirred… inspired by the Sir John Franklin story some of our staff members have specially recorded some traditional music to accompany our new online exhibition for Google Arts and Culture.

The tradition of singing, or chanting, of sea shanties and ballads aboard ships flourished during the 19th century. Long journeys at sea and repetitive hard work were alleviated by the singing of hauling and working songs, alongside tales of tragedy and loves lost documented in tunes and laments. ‘Handsome Molly’ is an old-time banjo and fiddle tune with a maritime theme, and this fantastic version has been recorded for us by ukulele player and singer Mark Psmith (our records manager!).

‘I wish I was in Londond3311drawing03-copy
Or some other seaport town
I’d set my foot on a steamboat
And sail the ocean round

While sailing around the ocean
While sailing around the sea
I think of Handsome Molly
Wherever she may be’



Folk music has long taken inspiration from historical tales, and what better than a story that meets such a haunting end as that of Franklin and his crew. ‘Lady Franklin’s lament’ is a traditional folk ballad, which first appeared as a broadside ballad around 1850. It speaks from the perspective of a sailor on board a ship, who dreams about Lady Franklin and her plight to find her lost husband.


‘We were homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew

With a hundred seamen he sailed away
To the frozen ocean in the month of May
To seek a passage around the pole
Where we poor sailors do sometimes go’


This version was recorded by folk singer and musician Ewan D Rodgers and features vocals and whistle playing by Clare (our assistant conservator!).




Two tales of self-adhesive tape

Next time you meet a paper conservator, just mention the words ‘self-adhesive tape’ and watch their struggle to retain some self-control.  It is the bane of our profession, the tapes used by very well-meaning people, who were trying to look after or even save important, precious documents and ended up destroying them in the process.  Two unrelated items came into the Conservation Studio yesterday, which show different ways in which self-adhesive tape has been used.

The first is a minute ‘book’ from the National Union of Mineworkers, dating from the mid nineteen eighties (D1920/1/1/39):

D1920 1 1 39 whole - Copy

Each page consists of a backing sheet with a typed up page of minutes sellotaped to both sides of it. That’s two hundred backing sheets with four hundred pages of minutes:

D1920 1 1 39 open tape - Copy

In some cases the adhesive is no longer sticking to the backing sheet, leaving the minutes lying loose; in all cases it has migrated into the paper, causing significant discolouration and weakening of the paper. Removing each piece of sellotape will require a combination of heat, a sticky-stuff removing erasure and quite probably solvents, such as acetone and toluene. The problem is, you see, that in most cases the tape doesn’t come off cleanly, but leaves a little bit of sticky residue which also needs to be removed.  So that’s one thousand six hundred pieces of sellotape to remove, at a very optimistic average of five minutes each: eight thousand minutes – or about 134 hours – of work.  Obviously we can’t justify that amount of time spent on an item that can be studied in its current condition, so all we’ll be doing for now is give it some extra packaging so at least there’s no risk of pages tearing, and adding it to a list of jobs to consider in the future.

The second item is a sale catalogue from 1912 (D7108), which is in a far worse condition:D7108 UL before whole - CopyIn this case the kind person trying to mend the pages has used a combination of different self-adhesive tapes, even ordinary white labels:

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Clearly this item isn’t safe to be handled or looked at, so we will be conserving it in 2019 and we’ll let you know how we get on…


Thank You Matlock Ladies Luncheon Club!

A big thank you to Matlock Ladies Luncheon Club who have given us a £70.00 donation for our Junction Arts photographs project.  The charity Junction Arts celebrated its fortieth anniversary last year and deposited its archive here at the Record Office so future generations would be able to marvel at the wonderful work they do.  Although all the paperwork is undoubtedly fascinating, the nearly three thousand photographs and two thousand negatives are what makes this collection so special: seeing the smiles, the joy, the happiness of children, adults and the elderly, as communities come together to create art.

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To make sure these wonderful people will continue to make everyone smile for centuries to come, we need to package the photographs in archival quality polyester sleeves so they’re save to handle and can’t get damaged by rubbing against each other or sticking together, as some are already doing.  The total cost for packaging all the photographs and negatives is £853.82 – rather too big an amount for us to conjure up, which is why we’re fundraising:


So next time you’re in Matlock, do have a look at our donations box and display in reception – every pound saves five images.  And if you’re feeling especially generous, of course we accept donations over the phone as well: just call us on 01629 538 347 and be sure to leave your name if you’d like your own personal thank you on our display.


Cricket in Derbyshire – have you got a story to tell?

Lien and I visited the County Cricket Ground in Derby on Friday the 19th, to meet heritage enthusiasts from a range of cricket clubs across the county.  We were there to offer some practical advice to clubs that look after their own archives, covering the best ways of managing and caring for old records.  If your heritage group would appreciate a training session on archive management or conservation (very reasonable rates), do get in touch and we will do our best to help.

The photograph above was taken during a moment of gravely studious concentration.  For balance, the picture on the right is rather more animated, being Thomas Rowlandson’s 1811 depiction of what is reckoned to be the first recorded women’s county cricket match, between Surrey and Hampshire (the subject of one of Helen’s posts back in 2013).  This match must have been the subject of many a treasured tale, and we are fortunate to have Rowlandson’s illustration to remember it by.  Memories of other events and experiences, by contrast, slip by without being documented in this way – how much heritage is lost when the stories stop being told?  David Griffin of the Cricket Derbyshire Foundation, organiser of Friday’s event, told us a little of the Foundation’s current oral history project, which is all about capturing those memories for future generations.  I bet they would like to hear from you if you have a tale or two to tell about the game and your own experience of it.  For more on the project, see the Cricket Derbyshire Foundation website.


Arch I’ve Conserved

Join us here at the Record Office on Thursday 23 November from 10.30 to 12.00 to celebrate Explore Your Archives week with a talk and demonstration on how we repair paper and parchment documents.  It’s a free event, but with limited places, so booking is essential. The easiest way to book a place is via our Eventbrite page, or call us on 01629 538347.

Please be aware that although the talk will be delivered in a room accessible via a lift,  the conservation studio – where the practical demonstration will be held – is on the second floor and can only be reached via stairs.

Arch poster


A history of the archives service for Derbyshire

Late last Spring I began what came to be a rather extensive piece of research into the development of the archives part of Derbyshire Record Office. After so much work I wanted to share what I had found, and on Monday we ran an event featuring a talk about the history of the archives service, an exhibition of our own archives (by which I mean the records we actually created rather than those we look after on behalf of the county) and a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the record office building. We couldn’t do the whole building as it is so big, and to be honest once you have seen one or two of our strong rooms, you have really seen the other 12 or 13 (yes, we do have 14 in total for archives and local studies).

I hope many of the people who read this blog are interested to hear how the record office has developed, and I do intend to write further posts in the future so please watch this space. For now here are a few photographs from the event

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‘Is there any post?’ -FitzHerbert project catch up

The FitzHerbert project has been quiet for some time so I wanted to write a catch up blog to update you on progress and share with you one of the highlights of the collection.

Firstly, I want to mention the title of the post: this is surely a familiar phrase in every British household. Especially with the increase in email usage there is always a keen sense of anticipation when you are expecting something to arrive in the post, especially a letter. When something arrives unexpectedly it is always exciting (except if it’s from the bank!). Continue reading