Elizabeth Raffald was a superwoman of her day; an author, innovator, investor and benefactor for the people of Manchester in the mid 18th century, just before industrialization gripped the town. From poor origins she rose to be a housekeeper at Arley Hall but on coming to Manchester in 1763 she began a formidable body of work to benefit the town. A vital and enterprising woman, her achievements were amazing in their scope and variety.
Elizabeth was born in 1733, one of four girls born to schoolteacher Joshua Whitaker and his wife in Doncaster. At the age of 15 she went into domestic service in great houses in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, arriving in 1760 at Arley Hall, Cheshire, where John Raffald, from Stockport was the head gardener. On 3rd March 1763 Elizabeth married John at the nearby church of Great Budworth. It was a rule at Arley Hall that when servants married they had to leave, and so shortly after their wedding they moved to Manchester, where John joined his brothers James and George on the family market stalls. Elizabeth began her first confectioner’s business from their home on Fennel Street near the Cathedral, and went on to have a major impact on the people of Manchester and beyond.
She ran several businesses as well as venturing into publishing. In 1772 she created Manchester’s first trade directory, which she updated and increased in 1773 and 1781.
She was most well known for authoring The Experienced English Housekeeper in 1769. A hundred years before Mrs Beeton this was a must-have cookbook of over eight-hundred original recipes. The first edition sold eight-hundred copies by prior subscription at 5 shillings each, the second edition, with a hundred extra recipes, sold four-hundred copies. The book went on to be reprinted a total of thirteen times, with twenty-three pirate editions also produced. The copyright for her book sold in 1773 for £1400 (£150,000 today)
She innovated many recipes we know today; her recipe for Bride Cake is the basis of modern celebration cakes, and she devised the double icing method we take for granted today. Her recipe for sweet patties is credited as the basis of the modern Eccles cake. She ran a cookery school for daughters of ladies to teach them her famous recipes and catered for public and private dinner parties at the officers’ mess in Manchester and the racecourse at Kersal.
As well as this she had many other notable achievements: She co-wrote a book on midwifery with Charles White, the surgeon responsible for St Mary’s Hospital and Manchester Royal Infimary; She became a co-owner of the Manchester Mercury, the only paper in Manchester at the time, before co-founding a second paper, Prescott’s Journal.
As if all of that wasn’t enough she also:
- Ran a successful confectioner’s, first in Fennel St, then in Manchester’s Market Place.
- Opened the first Register Office in Manchester for servants, an early employment agency.
- With her husband, ran The King’s Head, a coaching inn on Chapel St in Salford, holding regular card entertainments and functions there.
Throughout her career she generously gave food and clothes to the poor, supporting several local widows. Remarkably alongside all of these achievements she gave birth to nine children (although sadly only three daughters survived to adulthood), AND she practiced French in her spare time (though it’s a wonder she had any!)
She has been described by one commentator as ‘Manchester’s greatest female lawgiver and benefactor. She reformed and systemized the cookery of the place which before had been regulated only by shifting and uncertain traditions.’
Written for Sheroes of History by Suze Appleton www.suzeapple.co.uk
Feature image is by the fantastic Julie Gough of the Ilustrated Women in History tumblr. See more of her brilliant work here.
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