At the end of August, right after I wrote the previous post about researching food in the Eighteenth Century, I got on a plane and went to the UK for the Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford. I went with friends, we had time to enjoy London beforehand, and the conference was just fine. The program included some excellent speakers and presenters and I got to stay in college at St Anne’s and meet some lovely fellow writers.

St Anne’s College

In truth, however, the best part was hanging on in Oxford for another week, more or less on my own. Staying out in East Oxford, I learned my way around, used a bus pass, walked a lot, took hundreds of photos with my iPhone, visited museums and colleges, drank countless cappuccinos, and, best of all, became a Bodleian reader and conducted research for my novel in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room at the Weston Library.

Some of the naval material I reviewed in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera has informed writing I’ve done since. One very relevant document was an 1804 report on certain naval affairs in the London Gazette. I was also able to review handwritten documents from the 1790s, the period that Of Ships and Sealing Wax covers. By the way, the earliest handwritten document I handled was dated 1706. The entire experience was made even more delightful because of the unfailing kindness and assistance of everyone I came in contact with at the Bodleian. And, yes, you really do have to read that oath aloud on admittance!

By roundabout means, I uncovered another resource in London, though I have yet to visit. I was excited to stop in at Persephone Books, where I had obtained by mail the cookbook (I should say, cookery book) that informed so much of my August 27 blog post, not to mention the entire last half of my draft manuscript – Mrs. Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery. Do click on this link to read the wonderful Persephone article about Mrs. Rundell and her book, which “Jane Austen would have used (had she cooked).”

Persephone has published several books on food and cooking. I am now the proud owner of Good Things in England by Florence White. The very knowledgeable staff also recommended that I visit the Guildhall Library, which is supposed to have an excellent collection of cookery books, including the Elizabeth David Collection. A different era, but no doubt fascinating. So that’s definitely going on my “to do” list for my next trip.

Oh, and the other Rs referred to above are “readers” and “revision.” Next up: readers.

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