Queen Cakes

In my last post about Harriet, she was working as a servant to a vicar in rural Yorkshire. This recipe follows the pattern set by her previous ones: scribbled, abbreviated, difficult to read. The instructions she gives are brief and, despite her notebook being small, she manages to cram three recipes on to one page.

Harriet’s recipe for Queen Cakes

Once I had deciphered the word ‘Queen’ (which took some time!) I then had to work out if ‘the weight of 3 eggs’ included the shell or not. The internet appeared to agree that it did and so I ended up with 200g each of butter, flour (self-raising) and sugar, in addition to the eggs and currants. I baked the cakes in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes and they were delicious: sweet-smelling and light.

Queen Cakes have a long pedigree, with one of the earliest recorded recipes for them being in 1725, in Robert Smith’s ‘Court Cookery: or the Compleat English Cook’. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, recipes often included mace, rosewater, orange flower water, or lemon rind or essence. This post on Regula Ysewijn’s blog explains more about their history, including the fact that they were often baked in fancy little cake pans such as these:

Queen Cakes | Revolutionary Pie
From: Saleable Shop Goods: Counter Tray and Window by Frederick T. Vine (1907)

I bought a very pretty tray but no matter how or what I greased it with, my Queen Cakes were not coming out whole. Hence the old school paper cases seen above! 

On the family history side, I thought I would follow Harriet‘s story back to the start and so this post focuses on her mother, Eleanor Ibson (born Blakelock). Amongst my late mother’s effects, I found this single photo, which my grandma had written ‘my grandmother, Ibson side‘ on the back of.

Possible photograph of my great-great grandmother, Eleanor Ibson

I’m not entirely sure that the dates during which the photography studio operated and Eleanor’s dates line up but presumably my grandma was given this photograph by her mother Harriet. It’s the only photograph of Eleanor (Harriet’s mother) that seems to exist, so there would have been good reason to treasure it. But I may never know for sure if it is really her.

As I started to look at the Blakelocks, a theme began to emerge: illegitimacy. Eleanor Blakelock was born in 1844 in Slingsby, some 17 miles northwest of Kirby Underdale, where she would eventually end up. Her father, Luke, was a boot and shoe-maker, and the illegitimate son of 21-year-old Mary Blakelock. The Blakelocks are a family with interesting origins and side-shoots but I will save them for another day…

In 1861, aged 16, Eleanor is recorded as being a dairymaid at a manor house. Three years later she falls pregnant and her illegitimate son William Blakelock (Harriet’s half-brother) was born in April 1865. There are no clues as to who his father might have been. Eleanor had been working with a groom, William Smalthwaite, who was two years older than her. Was it him? We’ll never know!

Three years later, Eleanor married Thomas Welburn Ibson who was two years her senior. Thomas appears to have taken William in, as he appears on the 1871 census, along with two new half-brothers, Thomas and James. Illegitimate or not, William stayed part of the family. In his twenties, he was living with grandparents Luke and Ann and his cousin Harry (illegitimate son of his mother’s sister!) Ten years later, he is unmarried and still with Ann and Harry, as well as Herbert and Alice, the youngest of his half-siblings.

Eleanor and Thomas had ten children altogether, including Harriet, but the years were not kind to them. In 1875, their baby son Richard died. Then, in the space of just two years in the late 1880s, Thomas lost three of his children and his wife Eleanor. On Eleanor’s death certificate and two of the children’s the cause of death is ‘Phthisis‘ – or tuberculosis as we know it today. Eleanor was just 44. Harriet had lost her mother at only seven years old.

10 thoughts on “Queen Cakes

  1. These un-fleshed out stories are quite poignant, aren’t they? My family stories too reveal little about their lives. Too late now, I guess. But at least you have a recipe book. As I do too, which must share. You’re longing to make boot-blacking and cure cholera, aren’t you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Please do share. There are a few non-food ones in mine too, but mainly furniture-related rather than curing-cholera-based. It’s all very poignant really. I found a photograph of Harriet holding my older sister yesterday, a year or two before Harriet died. That made me realise how very recently all these people lived – yet I’ll never really know what they were like, especially now my parents are gone. But, yes, the recipe books have been a real find, I love them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a fascinating blog!
    I didn’t realise there were special tins for Queen Cakes. The recipe for Queen cakes in my grandmother’s recipe book is followed by one for Adelaide Cakes, which are a variation.
    Looking forward to discovering more recipes.


    • Thank you and welcome! Yes, so far I’ve been surprised by several recipes and what they’ve revealed about previous tastes/ways of cooking. Making bread from beer by-products and how commonplace it was was the biggest revelation, I think.


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