All posts by kchaconcastillo

Transcription 101: Learn the basics of transcription.

Have you ever wanted to learn how to read and transcribe old historical texts but had no idea on where to start? If so, then I am here to give you my basic tips on how to transcribe historical document. When transcribing you must keep in mind that you are not reading modern text, therefore the techniques you were taught for reading shouldn’t be used in transcribing. In this blog I will be using the Wednesday 17th December 1789 Royal Menu as a template to teach the basics of transcription.[1]

It might seem daunting at first to transcribe due to the handwriting, but this should not stop attempting to transcribe a historical document. To begin, there are different techniques that can be used to transcribe. When I transcribe the first thing I do and  would suggest to do is some research and find out any historical background information of the document; this includes when the documents was written, who wrote it and why it was written, this will give you context for your document. The document that I am using as an example of transcription was written in December 1789, therefore placing it into historical context was written during the Georgian era. It is also stated as a Royal Menu, thus from this we can take that the document will hold food items and meals.

This is the date at the top of the Royal Menu.

The next step I would suggest is to skim read the document, not only does this help through the possibility of being able to pick up on a couple words and letters, but it then makes the process of transcription easier as you start to get used to the handwriting. A mistake that is often made is that people translate words rather than transcribing them. Taking a look at the document, the food ‘brocoli’ appears multiple times; it is very easy to read this as our modern day word ‘broccoli’, but this wrong and can cause many mistakes; as this translating rather than transcribing. Therefore by taking a document letter by letter may seem a long process, but it helps you transcribe accurately and not make the error of translating.


If you are finding it difficult to read the document or are unable to figure out letters, do not panic or give up! The best advice for this would be to leave it and come back after with a pair of fresh eyes; and by this point you may have figured out the word or letter from it being repeated within the document. If you still are unable to identify the word or letter, there are many useful online tools and resources which can be used that offer guidance. One of the tools I used for this document; it offers the alphabet, and this allows me to identify letters that I was unable to solve initially.[2]   

You may also come across different lines, dashes or even little squiggles throughout a document. Some of the can be used as decoration for the end of a word, while others separate text. One common letter that comes in multiple early modern history English texts is what is commonly called a long s, which sometimes can look like an ‘f’ or ‘ʃ’. This is just simply the letter‘s’. Taking a look at the royal menu we can see that the abbreviation of ‘Oys.’ is common throughout the document. Previously ‘oyster sauce’ was stated as menu item; therefore it can be figured out that ‘Oys.’ is an abbreviation for oyster sauce. Other more common abbreviations can be seen in the form of what looks like an infinity sign connected with a ‘c’; this translated to modern day is ‘etc’, however written in transcription it is ‘&c.’     

An example.

Remember it is difficult to transcribe everything on the first go and this does not mean that you won’t be able to transcribe the document. It is fine to leave the document and come back to it later with fresh eyes, there are also online resources that help transcribing which you can use. It is also vital that you do not translate when you are transcribing, as this can change the original lettering of a word and in some instances change the meaning of a word. Once you have conquered and transcribed your first document you will develop your transcription techniques, which will make it easier to transcribe further documents. If you are going to transcribe a document let me know what techniques you use and how you got along in the comments. Also now that you can read, why not check out what foods were eaten during a Georgian Christmas here?!

[1] LS9-226_0015; 17 December 1789

[2] Andrew Zurcher,. English Handwriting 1500-1700, an online course [accessed 5 April 2019]

Who dined at the Palace?

The Royal Menu’s entails the meals that the King, Queen and their family were eating on a daily basis, alongside listing the meals of what the other people at the Kew Palace were eating. This includes the servants, workers and guests who would be staying and living at the palace. This blog post entails to show who the the different guests were and their roles at Kew Palace.

The recording of the Royal Menu’s would have most likely been recorded by ‘The Clerk of the Kitchen’; it was their responsibility to record every meal which would be served to the Royal family, guest and workers.When taking a look at the Royal Menu’s from 1789, you can see that the first meals written on the first page are ‘Their Majesties Dinner’. Which are the meals for the Royals. Moreover their children and their servants are also present in the Royal Menu’s; for example Princess Mary, Princess Amelia and Princess Sophia.[1]

Multiple guests are recorded in the Royal Menu, lets first take a look at Dr Francis Willis (1718-1807) and his servants. Dr Willis was a doctor of ‘madness’ and he ran an asylum in Lincolnshire, but left to look after King George III on November 1788 when he was called upon to take care of the King when his ‘mania was becoming uncontrollable’. By 1789 the King was seen to have been ‘cured’ which led to the increase of the reputation of Dr Willis and thus would no longer be staying at the palace; this is evident as Dr Willis no longer appeared in the Royal Menu. [2]

Lady Elizabeth Waldegrave (1760-1816)

Another guest of the Royal family was Lady Elizabeth Waldegrave (1760-1816). She was a countess and is mentioned in the Royal Menu’s in 1789. Lady Waldegrave arrived at the palace during the period where King George III was seen as being incapacitated due to mental illness during the years 1788-89. She was serving at the side of Princess Charlotte, taking on the role as the Lady of the Bedchamber. Not only this, but she was at the side of Queen Charlotte during this period, remaining loyal to her during the difficult period of the King’s illness.

A name that continuously shows up on the Royal Menu’s is that of Miss Martha Caroline Goldsworthy (1740-1816). She was the head of the princesses’ education, teaching them a range of numerous subjects; such as ‘English, Music, French, German, Geography, Dancing and Arts’. Her official title was ‘Sub-Governess to the Royal Highnesses the Princess Daughters of George the Third’. Miss Goldsworthy was therefore living with the Princess during the period of 1788-89, when the Royal Menus were written as she was educating them.

The grave of Miss Martha Caroline Goldsworthy (1740-1816)

Some of the working roles which are stated in the Royal Menus include Footmen, King’s and Queen’s Grooms, servants, Equerries and Pages. They all took key working roles within the royal Household and were noblemen. Firstly taking a look at Equerries, they were an officer and nobles which were in charge of the stables of the Royal family members and to attend to the King whenever it was required. The roles of the Footmen were that of domestic workers, they had numerous roles to complete for the Royal family; some roles would include making sure their meals were served and running errands.

Another nobleman role was of the ‘Grooms’, who are also known as the ‘Groom of the Stool’; this role was to make sure that the King’s and Queen’s bowels were monitored and assisted. King George III in fact had hired the most Grooms throughout his time as King!

The Royal household had many guests and workers, with guests during this time period of the King’s madness were there to take care of the royal family. Lady Waldegrave and Miss Goldsworthy were there to help take care of the Princesses, while Dr. Willis was present to take care of the King. The workers that are present in the Royal Menus had to make sure that the King and Queen were being served, fed and taken care of. The Royal Menus were in place to control the food that was being made daily in the household, being written by the Clerk of the Kitchen who had to make sure that the food being made would feed everyone at the palace. If you want to find out more about the Royal Menu’s check out our other blog posts! Learn more about Dr.Willis here.  

[1]LS9-226_0021, Royal Menu

[2]John M.S. Pearce,. The Role of Dr.Francis Willis in the Madness of George III (Department of Neurology Hull, 17 Dec 2017), pp. 196-7.

Technology and the downfall of Recipe Books

Times have changed with the advancement of technology, and practically anything can be found on the internet. In the early modern historical period the internet evidently did not exist; books were the principal source for finding information to any questions that one needed to know. Books were available on how to cultivate land, grow food and recipes ranging from food to medicine. But has the advancement in technology meant that recipe books are a thing of the past?

Technology such as the internet has made accessing recipes to be at the click of a button; you can search ‘recipes’ into google and find yourself with over 2.6 Billion sites worth of recipes. In the past the equivalent of this would be a recipe book, which would be passed down through many generations within a family. The Johnson Family recipe book was written between the years 1694 to 1831, with hundreds of distinct recipes that also include medicinal recipes.

The Johnson Family Recipe Book 1694-1831.

Recipe books in family households were passed down through generations; the different handwriting shows how many authors were involved in the making of one recipe book. The Johnson Family recipe book had a continuous change of calligraphy; the writing at the beginning of the book is not the same as the last page in the book. The recipe book also holds sentimental value; ‘Elizabeth Phillips’ is the first name to appear, then it is written ‘Elizabeth Johnson the gift of her Mother Johnson’[1]. The handing down of a recipe book makes it an heirloom, where generation after generation was able to include their own recipes that future generations could try.

Technology has made the sentimental value and worth of recipe books almost disappear. People now no longer need to keep a copy of a recipe, as they can always find the recipe they need by searching for it on the internet. Although it has also allowed for others to share their most special family recipes, one that springs to mind that I have attempted is from Pasta Grannies. They are able to use the internet to share recipes they learned from their mothers and grandmothers. Family recipes are now able to reach all ends of the earth, rather than stay in one family household recipe book.

An example of medicine recipes.

Recipe books were critical in the everyday life, especially for when a person fell sick. Medicinal recipes were used in the hopes to cure people; if it worked then it would be recorded in a book and the recipe would not be lost. A medicinal recipe could be found between food recipes; ‘A salve for any soare but chiefly for a burning sore’ recipe was written following a ‘To make short cakes‘ recipe[2]. By having the medical recipes in-between food recipes shows just how vital and essential it was for people to keep a record of the recipe cures. However, with the advancement of technology, we are also able to find remedies online for common illnesses; there even are online doctors that can diagnose our symptoms! Thus the requirement no longer exists to hold onto recipes that can cure our illnesses.     

An example of a ‘good’ approval on a recipe.

When you look at a recipe book you may notice little squiggles around the recipes. These squiggles are in fact notes which vary from asserting that a recipe is ‘good’ (and even better if they have a tick next to the ‘good’). To even the disapproval of other recipes represented by being crossed out of the recipe book; ‘to make Goosbery Viniger’ in the Johnson Family recipe book was edited to be improved, but in the end crossed out of the recipe book. In some recipes, tips are included of what was done to improve a recipe. A Johnson family member found to perfect making ‘boiled sydar’ you need to have ‘16 pound of pouder sugar to a hogs head’ [3]. This is no different to online recipes’ comment sections, where comments are filled with approval or disapproval of people who have tried the recipes.  Some even offer advice on how to improve recipes by adding or removing ingredients, just like in recipe books.

Recipe books hold significant value, as we are still continuing to use them, this includes both in food and medicine especially. We no longer have to keep a record of recipes, as we can find any recipe through technology; which has meant in the loss of recipe books being written in the modern day. Technology has allowed for the creation of apps such as ‘Food Network’, which allows you to store your favourite food recipes; thus having a large book filled with recipes would be inconvenient. Let me know what you think, are recipe books a thing of the past?      

[1] Wellcome Library. Johnson Family recipe book (MS3082) London, 1694-1831  

[2] LUNA: Folger Manuscript Transcriptions Collection, Medicinal and cookery recipes [manuscript]. (124205) Complicated ca, 1625-1725

[3] Wellcome Library. Johnson Family recipe book (MS3082) London, 1694-1831