The Catchmay Project

By Katrina Rutz

The Wellcome Library holds Lady Frances Catchmay’s only surviving manuscript (MS 184a),[1] a manuscript said to be from a collection of multiple recipe books compiled by Lady Catchmay in the hypothesized year of 1625. Her manuscript was written by several scribal hands, with a few later 17th century additions, and possibly bears its late owner’s penmanship as well. Held together expertly, this manuscript advertises only slight loss of text, minimal damage and fraying to the margins, and the original limp vellum covers intact with flap and vellum tie. This one volume (32 x 21 cm in size) consists of 134 pages filled with domestic recipes—several “proved”—for medicinal, preservative, and cookery use.

Wellcome Library MS 184a, fol. 22v.
Wellcome Library MS 184a, fol. 22v.

Similar to her vanished collection of manuscripts, not much is known of Lady Frances Catchmay except for a brief mention of her death in the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Transaction written by the late Vicar of St. Briavels, Reverend William Taprell-Allen. This transcription implies that Lady Catchmay of “The Family of Catchmay” was registered to be of St. Briavels, a medium sized village and civil parish in the Royal Forest of Dean in west Gloucestershire, England. According to Rev. Allen, Lady Catchmay died in 1629 and her son Sir William followed in 1683. In his transcription, Rev. Allen points out that “A Lady Frances Catchmay died in 1629, and was buried at S. Briavel’s. I learned this from a transcript in the Diocesan Registry at Gloucestor. Unfortunately the registers of the Parish Church of S. Briavel’s were lost or destroyed during the Commonwealth, and the earliest register now existing dates back only to 1660.” His discovery of Lady Catchmay’s resting place and the missing records prior to 1660 is revelation as to why she remains a mystery.

When mentioning the Diocesan Registry at Gloucestor, Rev. Allen specifically refers to the section of his work subtitled “Extracts From Registers, &c. Transcript (From An Old S. Briavel’s Register) In The Diocesan Registry, Gloucester” where he transcribed “1629—Lady Francis wife of Richard Catchmay Knight, buried 3 Nov:,” the only other time this particular Lady Frances Catchmay is discussed. Her son Sir William, however, is remarked upon frequently in Rev. Allen’s work on the Catchmay family tree. In fact, Sir William is further mentioned in Lady Catchmay’s manuscript left to him as articulated on the inner inscription on the first folio. [2] The witness and distributor of the will, one Ed. Bett. wrote “This Booke with thre others of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye, My lady Catchmay lefte with me to be delivered to her Sonne Sir William Catchmay Earnestly desiringe and Chardginge him to lett every one of his Brothers and Sisters to haue true Coppyes of the sayd Bookes, or such parte thereof as any of them doth desire. In witness that this was her request, I haue herevnto sett my hand at the delivery of the sayd Bookes. Ed. Bett.”

The following phrase of the above inscription refers to “This Booke with the others” alluding to more than one book, creating a tantalizing thought that Sir William should have been the beneficiary of several volumes.[3]

Wellcome Library, MS 184a, fol. 2v.
Wellcome Library, MS 184a, fol. 2v.

With the gifting of these books, this inscription also discloses that Sir William inherited the responsibility to publish his mother’s collection and demonstrates the involvement men had in generating medicinal knowledge. Sir William, receiving medical knowhow from his mother, was left to disseminate knowledge to the next generation. Through Sir William, Lady Catchmay did not merely pass on her collection to her eldest but to all her children, hinting at the high worth she placed in her vocation. As a collector, and possible creator of some, of these recipes, Lady Catchmay readily educated her children in medical and culinary household knowledge she accumulated throughout her life.

Now, hundreds of years later, we are transcribing this manuscript to once again pass on Lady Catchmay’s book of recipes. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) students, Olivia Tropp and Sara Horton, transcribed collectively multiple pages of the manuscript in the Fall of 2013. UCCS students, Kayla Perkins and Katrina Rutz, transcribed three pages each and wrote blog posts on research conducted on the recipes in their transcript pages to be submitted to The Recipes Project through independent study in Spring 2014. Starting Summer 2014, Katrina Rutz, then UCCS student Monterey Hall, continued this transcription work through internships. With each semester, UCCS students (provided with classes on learning to transcribe) also work on pages from the actual manuscript to be submitted to Textual Communities. Graduate students from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, NC and graduate students from the University of Texas, Arlington have also contributed their transcription work; more are signing on as this web page is being published.

July 2014

Primary Sources:

Allen, Rev. W.T. “The Family of Catchmay” Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Transactions: Vol. xxiv, p. 142-155, 1901. The Society and the Author(s). Web. 3 July 2014.

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A Booke of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye. 1625. Wellcome Library MS 184a.
Ff%3Afacetcollections%3A11%3A11%3AEntire%20Catalogue%3A%3A__Orightresult__U__X6?lang=eng&suite=cobalt. Web. 3 July 2014.

Secondary Sources:

Leong, Elaine. “Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household.” Centaurus: 81-103. PubMed Central: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Web. 3 July 2014.

Leong, Elaine. “Finding Recipes.” The Recipes Project. 25 October 2012. Web. 3 July 2014.

Leong, Elaine. “RECEIPT BOOKS, c1575-1800, from the Folger Shakespeare Library.” Adam Matthew Publications: Imaginative publishers of research collections: Adam Matthew Digital Ltd. Web. 3 July 2014.


[1] Published in Women in Medicine: Remedy Books, 1533-1865, ed. Sara Pennell (Woodbridge, Connecticut: Primary Source Microfilm, 2004).

[2]Database description transcribed from S.A.J. Moorat, Catalogue of Western Manuscripts on Medicine and Science in the Wellcome Historical Medical Library (London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1962-1973).

[3] The impression of Catchmay’s multiple recipe books is ascribed to Dr. Elaine Leong, who originated the idea in her own footnote from “Finding Recipes” where she perceived from “a tantalizing note” that Catchmay refers to ‘This Booke with the others of Medicins’,” attributing to Catchmay’s other works.

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