Martha Lloyd was a lifelong friend of the Austen's, moving with them from Southampton, where they had shared a home, to Chawton when the chance arose through the inheritance of Jane and Cassandra's brother, Edward. As a young woman Martha did not marry but later in life, after the death of Jane's sister-in-law, Mary, she married Frank Austen whom she had known all her life.
We know of Martha through Jane's letters, through reference to her in a poem of Jane's, Oh Mr Best, but most of all through a collection of recipes she left behind in a household book. Martha and Jane liked trying out new dishes and Martha kept a notebook in which she collected recipes and advice from family, friends and visitors.
These recipes have several times been published and made more widely available, most recently in the excellent A Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye. The Museum owns the original book however and nestling the well-loved, well-used boards onto a protective cushion I was lucky enough to be allowed to immerse myself in it for the length of an afternoon. The boards are the colour of tortoiseshell, mottled. The stitching only just holds firm. Some pages are missing. Martha Lloyd has written her name at the front in a clear, firm hand.
It is easy to be amused and moved by the titles of recipes and advice offered, for as well as containing directions for the making of all manner of robust stews and delicate junkets the book is a treasury of cures and instruction.
‘A Cure for the Staggers’, wouldn’t we all love that, whatever the cause? How many Morning Afters might be aided by ‘A Cure for the Gravel’? The hopeful ‘An Easy but Certain Cure for Consumption’ can only seem poignant. Dr Twiton provides a recipe for a cold, Capt Austen gives instructions for Milk of Roses, to aid the complexion (many a rough sea voyage undertaken), six different visitors provide recipes for Irish Sauce and Lemon Pickle was obviously a great favourite. ‘A Receipt to Curry after the Indian Manner’ adds a sense of a wider world and the instruction to ‘Bake a Buttock of Beef’ by ‘rolling it up very tight with beggars tape’ reminds us of the divisions at work then, as now.
Most enjoyable are the observations and notes added here and there by several different hands:
‘Never stop down your barrel!’ remarks a clear voice across the centuries.
In the House today, in the Visitors Book, you can find many more particular voices, this time from across the globe:
Belissimo! Wunderschon! Merveilleux! Fantabadozie! Why do they visit? A trip to include Shakespeare, Harry Potter, the Brontes and Jane Austen. Bonnets and lace? Colin Firth? Or because for them a writer opened a door that would never again be closed? She and her books gave me hope writes one, She is the reason why I will be a Professor someday writes another. My dear sister Jane, at last! is written in an elderly hand and in a young scrawl, one of my favourites – I’m going to bring my Dad!
Maura Dooley - Poet in Residence