Finnan Haddock Squares

This recipe is from page three of Maimie’s book. Although I believe that some of the recipes in this book have been copied out by her mother Althea, this one is in Maimie’s handwriting. I estimate it to be from the late 1880s or early 1890s.

‘Finnan Haddock Squares. Cut the fish in squares the size of pieces of buttered toast. Lay the pieces in cold milk, and simmer for a quarter of an hour. Lay the fish on buttered toast, and pour over creamy béchamel sauce flavoured with a little mace.’

Finnan Haddock is cold-smoked haddock, traditionally produced in north-east Scotland (although, as ever with the exact origins of food, some debate exists as to exactly where). According to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, the fish is salted and left to dry overnight, before being smoked for several hours over peat and green wood. Such fish could be obtained in London in the eighteenth century but it was likely to be heavily smoked, to survive the long journey. By the late nineteeth century, faster transportation via train meant that a more subtle smoked haddock became available. Poaching it in milk made for a popular breakfast dish.

I’m a fan of smoked anything and so enjoyed this dish, prising apart the flakes of fish and dipping them in the béchamel. There have been some dishes lately that have not been successful (Parkin and Sponge Cake, I’m looking at you) and so it made a welcome change to discover an enjoyable recipe.

I continue to puzzle slightly over Althea and Maimie’s extensive recipe collections, blessed as they both were with a retinue of live-in cooks and other servants. It does seem that writing up the books in this way was another facet of household management that the ladies of the house needed to be on top of. Perhaps this explains why Maimie’s book also features recipes from her mother; maybe Althea was teaching her how to manage her future household.

In a previous post, I speculated that Maimie and her sister Edith had both been educated at home, whilst their brothers went off to boarding school. Certainly, in the 1881 census, when Maimie is 15 and Edith is 7, there is a German governess at Newby Bridge House, a 32-year-old woman called Matilda Schlopes. However, following a bit more research, I have found that this wasn’t the entire story at all.

A decade later, in 1891, 17-year-old Edith is a pupil at a boarding school called Cedar Lodge, many miles from home in Blackheath, southeast London. The school was owned by the girls’ maternal aunt, Mary Caroline Maberly (seemingly known as ‘Aunt Carrie’), who ran it in partnership with her sister Catherine (known as Kate!) Mary was Althea’s sister and some 21 years older than her (their mother Charlotte had twelve children in all between 1825 and 1846!) Kate was thirteen years older than Althea, who was the baby of the family.

Cedar Lodge, Lewisham Hill, 1939, now demolished, garden view. Source: The Blackheath Society, https://www.blackheatharchive.org/
Cedar Lodge, Lewisham Hill, c 1930, now demolished, garden view. Source: The Blackheath Society, https://www.blackheatharchive.org/

Mary merits a blog post all of her own but suffice to say here that she never married and forged a very successful career in education, both running her own school for nearly forty years, as well as co-authoring a grammar book with renowned ethnologist and philologist Robert Gordon Latham. Blackheath Village and Environs, 1790-1970: The village and Blackheath Vale by Neil Rhind tells us that:

Further south, on the corner of Dartmouth Row and Morden Hill, was the girls’ school called Cedar Lodge which had been founded in Lee Park in 1857 by the Misses Mary and Kate Maberly. They conducted their school in Dartmouth Row from 1859 to 1895 when they retired to No. 2 The Orchard – Kate Maberly living there until her death in 1922 at the age of 95 years.

Newspaper advertisements of the time give us a flavour of the education provided. In 1876, The Athenaeum requests:

WANTED, immediately, in a first-class Ladies’ School at Blackheath, a very good ENGLISH GOVERNESS, able to prepare Senior and Junior pupils for the University Local Examinations. English History and Arithmetic specially required. Liberal Salary to a competent Lady. References required. Apply to Miss Maberly, Cedar Lodge, Lewisham, SE.

Nearly two decades later, in 1894, Miss Maberly is advertising for students in The Journal of Education:

Cedar Lodge, Blackheath. Home School for the Daughters of Gentlemen. Senior and Junior Divisions. Best Educational arrangements, with aid from London Professors, and individual attention. Special care as to Physical development. Inclusive and moderate terms. Two vacancies for Lady Students.

It sounds like quite a progressive school if it was preparing ‘the Daughters of Gentlemen’ for university in 1876. There is no suggestion that Edith went on to University. I assume that Maimie also attended the school at some point, although cannot be sure. Given that she still had a governess at 15, I wonder if sending them to Aunt Carrie’s school proved to be an ideal (and perhaps cheap if she allowed family rates!) finishing school for the sisters. Maimie was to settle into a life of marriage and children, whilst Edith never married and lived with her father until he died. It’s good to know that they both had a taste of independence, of sorts, as young women.

Finally, an entry in Edith’s tiny diary from March 1889 gives a flavour of her aunt and some of her classmates (several of whom are still at the school with her two years later, as evidenced in the census). It seems that it wasn’t all Arithmetic and English History:

We had an exeat in the middle of the term, most of the girls went away but I and Eva B [Barwell] and Rosy Garton, Muriel Hanbury, Katie Ingles and Maggie Blair and Mabel Meade King and Mary Lampet part of the time. All the girls went away at 5 o’clock on Friday then we went out into the garden. Eva B was my partner. We had great fun. When we came in A[unt] Carrie said we could do just as we liked and break all the rules. We sprawled about on the tables and played Reversi till tea-time. Had an awfully jolly tea, apricot jam and all sorts of things.’

8 thoughts on “Finnan Haddock Squares

  1. This school doesn’t sound too bad at all, and nor does the recipe. I love smoked haddock, but my husband has horrible childhood memories of it and can’t abide it. As even the smell puts him off, it’s sadly a no-no in our house.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Brandy Snaps | Eating With The Ancestors

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