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Louth Museum

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Formal dinners

by Ruth Gatenby

Dinner in the Masons Arms, 1836

Dinner in the Masons Arms, 1836

Menu, 1899

Menu, 1899

In the museum collection we have several documents and photos recording formal meals in Louth.  I enjoy looking at these and thinking about how things have changed over the years.

One of the earliest documents is an 1836 receipt (shown here) for a dinner provided by the Masons Arms Inn.  It was for twelve members of King Edward VI Grammar School.  We don’t know what they ate, but the total cost of the twelve dinners was £1 10s (i.e. half-a-crown or 12½p per person).  There was an additional 2s 6d for the servants – it is unclear if this was payment for dinners for the servants who were accompanying the group from the school, or if it was a tip for the servants working in the Masons Arms.  I looked on the internet to see what the price of a complete formal British dinner would be today, and estimates vary from about £30 to about £60 per person.

The old menus have a general theme – numerous meat dishes are listed, but there is no mention of vegetables – one can speculate that either that no vegetables were available, or they were not considered worth listing.  No thought of your “Five-a-Day”.

The 1899 menu shown here lists roast beef, roast duck, roast and boiled chicken, pigeon pie, rabbit pie, York ham, ox tongue, potted meat, lobster salad and assorted pastry.  This meal was to mark the Golden Wedding of Mr and Mrs A J Furnish.  The Furnish family had a grocer’s shop in Eastgate (now the location of Boots Pharmacy), and their anniversary celebration was held in the Baptist Church Schoolroom in Northgate (now the Generations Church).

Other menus give more details about the sweets offered.  In 1919, the Special Constables were given a choice of apple tarts, jellies, custards and trifles.  Special Constables were unpaid civilians appointed in World War I (and again in World War II) who undertook “duties for the preservation of public peace, protection of inhabitants, and security of property”.  At their dinner, held in Louth Town Hall and attended by nearly 300 men, mayor William Lacey formally thanked the “Specials” for their alertness during the war.

To compare the foods listed in the old menus with the current day, I had a look at the present menu of the Masons Arms.  It includes a wide range of dishes including vegetarian and gluten free options.  A Louth resident from 100 years ago would easily recognise soup of the day, and sausage and mash.  On the other hand, what would they make of chicken parmigiana, and sweet potato and red onion marmalade seeded tart?