Hannah Glasse is Hexham's hugely famous and yet almost forgotten former resident. It's not exaggerating to call her the Nigella Lawson of her day and her cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy* was a bestseller - both in her lifetime and for 100 years after her death.
Born in London in 1708, Hannah was the illegitimate daughter of Hannah Reynolds, a vintner's daughter and Isaac Allgood (1683-1725), a Northumbrian landowner with an estate near Hexham. Brought up on the estate as a full member of the Allgood family, Hannah was close to her half-brother Lancelot (latterly Sir Lancelot Allgood) who later helped fund the publication of her books.
After her father became ill, 16 year old Hannah was sent to live with her Grandmother in London. She secretly married John Glasse, a 30 year old junior Army officer on half pay. Over the years that followed, Hannah gave birth to 10 children, five of whom survived childhood. The couple struggled financially and this fuelled Hannah's idea for a cookbook, which she hoped would bring them an income.
Published in 1747, The Art of Cookery was an immediate success both around the British Isles and in the New World with copies owned by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
Hannah's work is important because at the time, cookbooks were written for professional chefs with mostly fancy French recipes. Hannah wrote her cookbook for the housewives and domestic servants of the new middle class. The Art of Cookery contains one of the earliest recipes for curry printed in English as well as a recipe for 'ketchup to keep twenty years' which is designed for 'Captains of Ships'. Hannah Glasse was also the first to use the term 'Yorkshire pudding' in print.
John Glasse died the same year as the book's first edition was published and Hannah became a dressmaker with clients including the Prince and Princess of Wales. Unfortunately, the business was not a success and Hannah was declared bankrupt in 1754 having run up £10,000 in debt - the equivalent of £614,000 today.
Hannah spent a short time in debtor's prison and, mired in debt, was forced to auction the thing she prized most - the copyright of The Art of Cookery. She went on to publish The Servants' Directory (1760) and The Compleat Confectioner, (circa1760) but neither book was as commercially successful as her first.
Hannah Glasse died in Newcastle in 1770 and has largely been forgotten. It is time to acknowledge her as the local legend she is and to honour her life and work as one of the greats of English food history.
*The full title is actually: The art of cookery, made plain and easy; which far exceeds any thing of the kind yet published ... To which are added, by way of appendix, one hundred and fifty new and useful receipts, and a copious index to this and all the octavo editions. Never before published. By a lady.
Simonburn, in the North Tyne Valley, where Hannah grew up, is a remarkable 18th century stone-built village, of no more than 20 houses, situated by the 13th Century Church St Mungo’s. The look of the village has changed very little since Hannah’s time though the Simonburn Tea Rooms and B&B are now central to the community and visitors, with a 28 seat, pet-friendly tearoom, beautiful garden and accommodation options. You may recognise some of the picturesque village green and surrounding houses which appeared in several Catherine Cookson films.