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!

Christmas 1946 at the Butterley Company

Sadly, Christmas won’t be the same for many of us this year. Whether that will mean not meeting family and friends or having no Christmas parties to attend. It will certainly look very different for many. It’s more important to remember the fun times we’ve had in the past, hoping that they will return again for next year’s celebrations. But how was the Christmas of 1946 marked by the Butterley Company?

It was customary for large companies, including colliery companies, to give gifts to employees at Christmas, and offer them Christmas parties or dinners, to thank them for their hard work during the year. The Butterley Company was no exception. As can be seen in this itemised list of dinners and parties for Christmas, the company was willing to reward their employees, including the kitchen staff who were the ones to cook the dinners.

Christmas dinners and related gifts, N5/188/3

Most colliery companies were also known to give coal as a benefit to their employees, including their families after an accident or death of a miner. They paid special attention to widows at Christmas, ensuring that they had a gift of coal to see them through winter. It’s funny now that we view receiving coal at Christmas as a bad thing, but perhaps that may have stemmed from a mixture of other traditions when coal as a main fuel was in its infancy. While we don’t use coal anymore, it seems to have reverted to that previous connotation.

However, from the mid-19th century until the middle of last century, coal was a major fuel resource and contributed to the wealth and power of the companies who worked in the coal industry. As winters were also much colder then, a gift of coal meant someone could spend winter in warmth.

List of money gifts, N5/188/3

The Butterley Company appears to be keen to recognise the hard work not just of their own employees, but those in the community they believed deserved just as much recognition, such as police officers, railwaymen and a postman. They did have to seek approval from the Local Fuel Overseer to grant gifts of coal. The most generous one given in 1946 was to Police Sergeant Herrett who worked at Heanor Police Station, who received 1 ton of coal. Others were given a small amount of money instead.

Permission to give coal to Sergeant Herrett, N5/188/3

After what has been a strange and awful year, it’s amazing to see that even in 1946, people were keen to recognise the contribution key workers made to their local communities. This year, please remember to do the same in whatever way you can, even if its just to spare a thought for those key workers who have kept us all going after the year we certainly won’t forget.


Charitable gifts at Christmas from the Butterley Company, N5/188/3

Christmas Central, What Does it Mean to Get a Lump of Coal in your Stocking? https://www.christmascentral.com/what-does-it-mean-to-get-a-lump-of-coal-in-your-stocking/

Linthicum, K., ‘Why Coal Symbolizes Naughtiness’, The Atlantic, 24 Dec 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/12/why-coal-symbolizes-naughtiness/578857/

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Looking forward to Christmas

We have been counting down to Christmas on our Twitter page, searching our collections for some festive Christmas items. We’ve already come across some great Christmas cards:

There’s also been this letter from Florence Nightingale (D2546/ZZ/16), describing the children’s ward at St Thomas Hospital in 1877: “The whole ward was dressed up at Christmas: & a musical box, an elephant that would wind up & walk about, a Rocking horse which would hold four children… delight the little Patients daily”.

And even a recipe for mince pies from the 1830s recipe book of Clara Palmer-Morewood (D7555/1), who suggests for your filling: “One pound and a half tart apples, one pound of Currants, Three quarters of suet, Brandy, Cinnamon & nutmeg to your Taste”.

Follow us on @FranklinArchive for a daily dose of Christmas cheer!

What are your plans for Christmas this year?

How many times have you been asked this already this year?  Hands up if you are planning a trip away – where are you going?

How about skating and tobogganing on Mont Blanc – just 10 guineas

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Or perhaps a Mediterranean cruise to welcome the New Year – 25 guineas

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And if you’re still hunting for that last minute Christmas present, why not show someone how much they mean to you with a tour of Rome – from just £10 (oops, perhaps that should be £820)

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Don’t forget to read the small print…

If you’d rather stay at home, why not treat the children to a stylish new hat

Wherever you go and what you do, Derbyshire Record Office wishes you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (that is for 2020 not 1899!)

Images courtesy of

Adopt A Piece of History discount extended

We’re extending the 50% off discount for our Adopt A Piece of History scheme to Thursday 14 December, so there are still two weeks left to choose that perfect gift. Our Treasures include our oldest document from 1115, a delicious Bakewell Pudding recipe from 1837, an artist’s tool roll, the Eyam Parish Register, a medieval dance notebook (as seen on the example certificate below), a railway plan and many, many more.  And each one of our other records is available for adoption via the Unique and Become a Part of History options – have a look on our catalogue and search for a place, person, date, parish, school or any subject you can think of to see what gems we hold!

Christmas delivery deadlines:

  • Thursday 14 December for Unique Certificates and Become a Part of History
  • Thursday 21 December for one of the Treasures




Christmas shopping made easy

Have you started shopping for presents yet?  It’s that time of year again when we’re all racking our brains, trying to come up with something original for loved ones who already seem to have everything.  To help you be super-organised, we’re offering 50% off our Adopt A Piece of History scheme throughout November. That means that during November:

  • You can adopt any one of our 50 Treasures for only £10.00. They include our oldest record from 1115, a railway plan, a gardening book, a parish register, a beautifully hand-drawn map, ramblers guides, a Rolls Royce photograph, an artist’s tools and many more (see the full list on our 50 Treasures page).  Simply fill in the form, tell us whose name to put on the certificate and we’ll email it to you.


  • You can adopt anything at all from our collections for only £17.50. The parish register that mentions great-great-grandparents, an old map of a well-loved area, your favourite of our Woodward cartoons, an old school log book – feel free to browse our catalogue for inspiration.  Again, simply fill in the form giving us the reference number and a brief description of the item, as well as the name to put on the certificate, and we’ll email it to you.


  • You can let someone become a part of Derbyshire’s history for only £50.00.  Choose any item from our collections and tell us the reason for the adoption.  We will add your reason to the certificate and the adoption itself will be recorded in our official Register of Adopters, thereby immortalising the recipient, you and the reason for the adoption.


Full details of the scheme are on our Adopt A Piece of History page.


That special Christmas present

If you’re planning to surprise someone this Christmas by letting them adopt a piece of history from our collections, don’t wait too long to place your order through our Adopt a Piece of History page.  We guarantee delivery by 23 December for any order placed by Friday 16 December and for all orders from our list of Favourites placed by Thursday 22 December.


Our Favourites include our oldest document dating from 1115, a notebook with a recipe for Bakewell Pudding from 1837, the plan of the railway line to Mapperley Colliery, a letter written by Florence Nightingale, a Victorian shirt printed by Edmund Potter and many others – see the full list here.  Or choose any item from our catalogue with our Unique option to give them something more personal, such as the parish register that includes their ancestors or a logbook of the school they went to.

And of course there’s our Become a Part of Derbyshire’s History scheme, whereby you don’t only choose any item from our collections for your loved one to adopt, you also tell us the reason why.  Their name and yours, as well as the reason for the adoption, will be added to our Register of Adopters, an official Derbyshire Record Office document which will be kept as part of our archive for future generations to see.



Find out all the details and how to order on the Support Us pages of our blog.




‘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

Advent Calendar – Day 24

Almost there…

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Christmas card painted by John Chaplin, with Edgar Osborne, sent from Palestine in 1917, during World War One (Ref: D5063/3/3)




Inside the card reads:
Palestine 1917
Christmas 1917
Two campaigners send you Greetings, dear Lill
John Chaplin





Born in Bournemouth in 1890, Edgar Osborne was County Librarian for Derbyshire for 31 years (1923-1954). During World War One Edgar served on the Bulgarian Front and in Palestine, from where he sent this card to Lill, possibly his future wife Mabel Jacobson, whom he married in 1918, not long before the end of the war. Other papers of Edgar’s from this time are available to view online via our catalogue, as part of our WW1 digitisation project. Although not available to read online, this series of papers contains a very moving story about Edgar’s experience in Palestine, including how he spent Christmas Day 1917 (ref: D5063/3/2).

After the war, Edgar resumed his career in librarianship, becoming County Librarian of Derbyshire at the age of just 33. During this time, he introduced new services, such as mobile libraries, and developed his own interests in literature, especially in children’s books – an interest featuring heavily in his archive collection, which also includes Edgar’s diaries written during World War Two and papers relating to his retirement in 1954.

Advent Calendar – Day 23

Not many doors left now…

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Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, Vol. 1 (1879) available in Book Room 1

Published in January 1879, the first volume of the Derbyshire Archaeological Journal included

  • an article on the ‘Inscription on the Font at Chelmorton’, by C. S. Greaves, Q.C., M.A.;
  • two articles by J. Charles Cox on ‘The Registers, and Churchwardens’ and Constables’ Accounts of the Parish of Repton’ and ‘The “Mortuary Chapels” of Lichfield Cathedral’;
  • ‘An Account of the Ring of Bells now in the Tower of the Church of All Saints, Derby’ – now better known the Cathedral;
  • ‘A List of the “Alehouses, Innes, and Tavernes” in Derbyshire in the Year 1557’, by W. H. Hart, F.S.A.
  • an article by Rev. J. Magens Mello, M.A., F.G.S. on ‘Palaeolithic Man at Creswell’.

The most recent volume (number 134) now available at the Record Office was published in 2014 and includes articles such as ‘Prehistoric Rock Art, Dobb Edge, Baslow’, by John Barnatt; ‘Archaeological Investigations at Bakewell Churchyard and Hassop Road Roundabout, Derbyshire’, by Alvaro Mora-Ottomano and ‘A Hardwick Scandal of the early seventeenth century: William Cavendish, Lady Arbella Stuart, and the Case of Margaret Chatterton’, by Timothy Raylor.

The Society itself was ‘founded in 1878 as an archaeological and natural history society to foster and encourage interest in the past life and natural history of the county. Though natural history has been taken over by other societies, the Society has widened its archaeological and historical work in response to new needs’ – extracted from Derbyshire Archaeological Journal Vol 134 (2014).

The Society’s extensive Reference Library is stored at Derby Central Library, and a large collection is preserved here at the Record Office (ref: D369). The collection includes the Society’s Council and committee minutes from 1874; accounts 1927-1981; correspondence, 1885-1958; archaeological reports and plans 1940s-1960s; publications, 1950s -1970s, and miscellaneous title deeds and a large number and variety of papers, prints, maps and photographs.

More information about the Society is available on their website – www.derbyshireas.org.uk