History’s celebrity chefs are celebrated in Leeds

University of Leeds curator Sarah Prescott with one of the cookery books. PIC: Simon Hulme
University of Leeds curator Sarah Prescott with one of the cookery books. PIC: Simon Hulme
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In the era of the Great British Bake Off, more people than ever are perfecting their signature bakes at home as they aspire to join the ranks of the nation’s leading chefs and bakers.

But long before the phrase ‘soggy bottom’ had even been coined, an army of star bakers were sharing their innovative recipes so people could recreate them in their own kitchens.

Now, a new exhibition at the University of Leeds is set to explore the rise of the celebrity chef and how recipes have been collected and compiled since Roman times.

Cooks and their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds is the latest exhibition at the institution’s Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery.

Opening on September 1 and running until the end of January, it highlights the university’s extensive ‘Cookery Collection’ of books, papers and objects relating to food, drink and cooking, which date from 2,500 BC to the present day.

The collection was established in 1939 when Blanche Legat Leigh, a former Lady Mayoress of Leeds, donated her collection of 1,500 historic volumes and manuscripts to Leeds University Library.

Dr Stella Butler, university librarian and keeper of the Brotherton Collection, said: “The display will interest anyone interested in the history of food with its fascinating stories about how what we eat has changed over time.”

The exhibition, co-curated by renowned food historians Peter Brears and Dr Eileen White, includes the first English cookery book ever published outside London – which was printed in Leeds.


Highlights include Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes, published in 1891, and her book Fancy Ices, printed in 1894. Agnes Marshall was the celebrity chef of the 1880s. Her books, cookery school, demonstrations

and weekly paper The Table instructed the booming middle class in fine cookery. She earned the nickname the ‘Queen of Ices’ for her writing on ice cream and other frozen desserts and was granted a patent for an ice cream machine.