Whilst researching for the Cooking the Books event we didn’t just confine ourselves to the recipe books. We went looking for other images that would also highlight the recipes and the ingredients.
I’ve known about my ‘Christmas Pudding Man’ for quite a while – even using him as my avatar for this blog – and he seemed an obvious candidate. His body is made up of the ingredients needed in a Christmas pudding – legs of beer mugs, currants and raisins for a body, hat of suet (with a decorative holly sprig) sitting on a flour-bag head, and holding a knife and fork. The original sketch is very small – about 5x5cm – and is in the margin of a scrapbook beside an inserted engraving.
The scrapbook was compiled, and to a large extent drawn, by Robert Woodroff, a local artist working in the first half of the 19th century. I can find out very little about Woodroff, although his name appears frequently as the original artist of engravings of local views and sights. Some of these are pasted into the scrapbook, alongside many other images by other artists on a wide variety of subjects. But it is the little pen and ink drawings between these images that are the real gem of this piece. They show a slightly morbid sense of humour, and succinct observations on life around him.
The image of the kitchen utensils dancing around with the food looks, on the surface, like a version of the “Hey Diddle Diddle” children’s nursery rhyme. Its title – A Christmas Ghost Story – gives you more of an idea what it is really about. When you look more closely at the little piglet – partially dissected – or the lamb’s leg dancing with the tongs, they whole thing turns distinctly more surreal. It is accompanied by a long poem detailing the antics in the kitchen.
Little pieces of history are told, with sketches to illuminate the story. Such is the story of the Vicomte du Barry’s fatal duel on Kingsdown with Captain Rice. Both sides used pistols, despite the image of a sword in one duellist’s hand and a pistol in the other’s. Above that is a delightful little sketch that could illustrate Persuasion of a young Georgian girl tiptoeing through the puddles watched by a shadowy gent in the background as she lifts her skirts almost to her knees.
These little marginal sketches litter most of the first half of the sketch book – a skater looking like Batman, a dead hedgehog, a cat chasing a mouse. Occasionally Woodroff bursts in to restrained colour. These vignettes are mainly pencil sketches on separate pages and inserted into the book. The colour is used sparingly to highlight an aspect of the image and brings it to life.
The artist’s cat sits on his desk, a perfect model for drawing. His tabby coat blends with the grey pencil background, but the burst of red in the cross at his through picks him out, even as the blue ribbon on his front paw is almost lost in the detail. I wonder what his name was?
Two carriages in a yard wouldn’t seem to make much of a subject for a
drawing, but in blurring the pencil background, the yellow and black of the cabs stand out in this scene – pedestrian and everyday to the artist wandering the mews of the town, but an unusual and romantic sight to our 21st century eyes.
In our search through the recipes we came across an unusual one about how to make a hedgehog. With memories of silver foil-covered grapefruit bristling with cocktail sticks full of pineapple and cheese, this hedgehog was a little different. So was the little creature Woodroff drew and painted into his scrapbook. Nowadays a rare sight, but probably not uncommon in his 19th century life.
Every page of this scrapbook has a delight. It is unique in our collections in that it was an artist’s property and sketchbook. It is closer to a commonplace book in some ways, rather than a straight scrapbook with clippings and images from other publications put together by an educated vicar. It doesn’t tell us much about local history or the buildings of Bath, but it does give us an insight into a little-known working artist in the city.
All images are copyright Bath in Time-Bath Central Library.