The Hospital of St Margaret’s, Huntingdon

THAR/8/9/2/1/3: 1461 Grant by Edward IV to the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall of the hospital of St. Margaret’s near Huntingdon

In honour of World Leprosy Day (which is January 29th) let’s take a look at Trinity Hall’s own leper house, the hospital of St Margaret, Hungtingdon, and leper houses more generally in the middle ages. The hospital of St Margaret was founded for the purpose of treating lepers by Malcolm IV of Scotland (who was also the Earl of Huntingdon) sometime in the 12th century. In the 14th century during the First War of Scottish Independence, the hospital fell into the hands of the English monarchy. From this time onwards the masters of the hospital were the king’s clerks. However, by 1327 it had fallen into such poverty that they had to refuse admission of a leper who was sent to them by the king. By 1461, the hospital was no longer receiving patients or operating for its original purpose, and it was granted to Trinity Hall. The hospital and its lands were given to Trinity Hall as perpetual alms for the support of the inhabitants of the College.

Leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease, is a complex bacterial infection that mainly affects the nerves, skin, and eyes. In extreme cases it can cause gangrene, blindness, the loss of extremities, and weakening of bones. Although it is treatable today, before the 20th century it was a life-long condition. Leprosy was present in England by the 4th century and became quite prevalent by 1050. Between the 11th and 14th centuries over three hundred leper houses were established in England. The attitude towards leprosy during the medieval period was generally sympathetic. Lepers were seen as holy and close to God. It was believed God answered their prayers more readily, so lepers and leper hospitals were popular recipients of charity.

THAR/8/9/2/1/1: 1355 Inspeximus charter confirming to the Master and the Brethren of the Hospital of St. Margaret in Huntingdon, sundry lands and payments given to it by various persons in Huntingdon.

Contrary to popular belief, lepers were not always considered outcasts and forced into strict isolation from society. The patients were not locked away; they were allowed to visit family and receive visitors. Admittance to leper houses was actually highly sought after, even by those not suffering from leprosy. Many had to seek the assistance of local nobles to help them gain admission. Leper houses (also known as lazar houses or leprosaria) tended to be located in the outskirts of towns and cities or near major travel routes, because the lepers needed to stay in close contact with society to beg alms, sell religious services such as praying for the souls of benefactors, and trade goods.

One of the oldest surviving leper houses can be found right here in Cambridge, the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, Stourbridge (just off what is now Newmarket Road). In 1199 King John granted the chapel the permission to hold a fair to raise funds to support the lepers. At its height, the Stourbridge Fair was one of the largest fairs in Europe.

Leper Chapel of St Mary Magdalene: Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 26 December 2004.

The care lepers received was both physical and spiritual. For the physical care of the patients, emphasis was placed on cleanliness and a varied diet. Clothes were washed twice a week and much of the food served came from the hospital’s own gardens and livestock. Leprosaria generally had fragrant herb gardens the patients could tend to. On the spiritual side, the houses generally comprised of a series of cottages surrounding a central chapel where the patients could pray and attend mass.

However, by the 14th century fears of contagion due to the outbreak of the Black Death brought about greater restriction and isolation for lepers. Fortunately, leprosy was already on the decline in England at that time, and many leper houses were either disbanded or put to other uses such as almshouses for the sick and poor.


Hopping into 2023

According to the Chinese zodiac 2023 is the year of the rabbit (specifically the Moon rabbit). To mark Chinese New Year we hopped over to the Old Library to see what we could unearth on rabbits from our collections.

The earliest depiction of a rabbit that we have is in the wonderful early 17th century bestiary The Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts (1607) compiled by Topsell [1]. This work features a charming woodcut of a rabbit pictured below.

Woodcut of rabbit

At this time, ‘rabbit’ only referred to their young, while ‘cony’ or ‘conies’ was the term used for adult rabbits. Topsell’s description shows that rabbits were primarily viewed as a source of meat (“their flesh is very white and sweet, especially of the young ones”) and fur. What might also surprise you is that, so he tells us, there are accounts of some parts of the world where rabbits are green, although they are usually the more familiar brown! The book contains many mythological creatures, so green rabbits would not be the strangest beast inside this book!

Another more scientific work in the Library which contains rabbits is the monumental 18th century work of natural history Histoire Naturelle, Générale Et Particulière (1749–1788) [2] by French naturalist, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707 –1788). This was published in 36 volumes over a period of 50 years, and translated into many languages. The book contains many accurate engraved copperplate illustrations including five of different kinds of rabbits, together with their skeleton and dissections of their anatomy. The ‘domestic rabbits’ pictured below are Dutch rabbits, which were favoured for rearing for meat because they were larger than other breeds.

Unlike Topsell, Buffon ignores outlandish fables in favour of scientific fact. He details experiments that were conducted by others, for example, to see if a rabbit could produce offspring with a hare (they can’t – and the experiments often did not end well!). His main conclusion is that rabbits erm… breed like rabbits.

The final work that we’ll look at concerns a rabbit of the celestial rather than earthly kind. This rabbit is depicted in an illustration of the constellations recorded in a copy of Manilius’ Astronomicon (1739) [3]. Astronomica is a didactic poem in five books about astronomy, but there’s also a few bits and pieces which conform to what we’d consider astrology today. A folded plate contains a celestial chart copied from antiquity which shows fantastic beasts as well as the more mundane rabbit.

The rabbit represents the constellation of Lepus (Latin for hare). It is usually located below the constellation Orion (the hunter), whose hunting dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) pursue it. According to legend, Lepus was once a bird who was turned into a hare by Ostara, the Goddess of Spring. Once a year the hare was able to lay eggs. This is thought to be the origin of the Easter Bunny.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this quick hop through our special collections.

May the Year of the Rabbit bring you blessings and success!


[1] Topsell, E. The Historie of Foure-footed Beastes. London: Printed by William Iaggard, 1607.

[2] Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc. Histoire Naturelle, Générale Et Particulière : Avec La Description Du Cabinet Du Roy. Seconde Édition. ed. A Paris: De L’Imprimerie Royale, 1750-82. 36 volumes.

[3] Manilius, Astronomicon. Londini: Typis Henrici Woodfall, Sumptibus Pauli Et Isaaci Vaillant, 1739.

#ColorOurCollections- 7-11 Feb 2022

Join us once more and take part in the annual tradition of #ColorOurCollections taking place 7-11 February 2022.

#ColorOurCollections is a week-long colouring fest on social media organized by libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world, and was launched by The New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016.

This is our third colouring book. It contains a selection of animals and fantastic beasts from our rare books including a magnificent tiger and some strange human-animal hybrids.

Download the colouring book (and those from many other collections) here, print the sheets and share your images on social media, using the hashtags #colorourcollections (because the campaign launched in America most institutions are using the American spelling of colour!), #trinhall_libs, and tag us in @jerwoodlibrary.

Download Trinity Hall libraries 2022 colouring book

Happy colouring!

The ‘Tyger’ from Topsell’s Foure-footed Beastes (1607)

Fancy a Cycle Ride? Why Not Follow the Trinity Hall Milestones to Barkway

Four staging posts decorated with the Trinity Hall crescent

The College Archives present many surprising secrets, some of which require researching at different periods in history in order to fully understand and catalogue – like now! In a box labelled ‘Master’s Photos 2014-15’ are 16 colour photographs of Trinity Hall milestones. They show milestones on the old London Road, from Cambridge to Barkway, all of which carry the Trinity Hall crescent. The first is on Trumpington Road facing Brooklands Avenue, and the last 16 miles away in Barkway village. You may already know about the Trinity Hall milestones, but if not, read on…

The milestones were the creation of William Warren, and he describes how he measured out the miles, and then commissioned and set the stones between 1725 and 1740, in his history of the College which he compiled and prefaced in 1730. The history was never completed and he retired from the College in 1743 and died in Kent in 1744. Warren’s Book was subsequently collated, edited and completed by Alfred Dale much later, in 1910 (Dale had migrated as an undergraduate from Trinity College to Trinity Hall in 1877, and was a tutor here from 1899).

William Warren arrived at Trinity Hall to study Law in 1700. Ordained in 1709, he was elected Fellow in 1712, and in 1717 admitted to the degree of Doctor of Law. He became Bursar and was also Vice-Master at a time when the Master, Nathaniel Lloyd, was not permanently lodged in the College, so his duties probably covered those of the absent Master. The idea of creating the milestones was in line with a responsibility the College had assumed in maintaining the roads and pathways (causeways) leading into Cambridge. The ‘Causey Accounts’ were inaugurated by Dr Mouse (later referred to as Mowse). Robert Hare was Mouse’s executor, a Fellow of Gonville Hall who continued to donate to the fund. Mouse died in 1588 and Hare in 1611. Later Causey accounts from 1743 to 1849 can be accessed in the College archives.

Warren’s history of the College is detailed in terms of its early lists of benefactors, properties and accounts, Masters and Fellows, and Latin inscriptions on its earliest College charters and documents. His own account of the erection of the milestones is very detailed:

“July 2, 1725. I took two men along with me, & with a Chain of 66 feet in Length, we measur’d five miles from the Southwest Buttress of Great St Maries Church Steeple in Cambridge towards Barkway…”

A circular engraving on the south side of the Great St Mary’s still marks the starting point. After the miles had been measured, Warren commissioned the carving from various stonemasons, as shown in the table below.

 “The 1st stone has Dr Mouse’s Arms, and 16th stone has Mr Hare’s…Stones 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 are small stones with only the miles cut… Stones 5, 10 & 15 have “Miles to Cambridge AD MDCCXXV” cut in them.”

Warren set small stones on the right hand side of the road as one leaves Cambridge, at each mile, and then between 1728 and 1730 replaced the small stones with taller Portland stones. The 16th and final stone in Barkway village was set on the anniversary of the birth of Charles II and the restoration of the monarchy, on 29th May 1728.

Warren’s Milestones

  1. Road to Barkway
Measured from Gt St Mary’s 5 miles to Barkway000300
1st – 5th milestones erected
1725/10/29Paid Mr Woodward for the 5 mile stone and for cutting letters on the others021200
1726/04/29Paid for measuring 5 miles further000300
6th – 10th stones and also the stone directing the road to Royston erected
1726/08/06Paid Mr Woodward for the 10th stone and erected the 6th– 9th000300
6th – 10th milestones and the stone directing the road to Royston erected
1727/05/02Paid Henry Bridges & Thos: Milton (who had measured the former miles) for measuring the 11th – 16th milestones measured000500
Paid Mr Woodward for the 15th stone, and for erecting the 11th – 14th stones031000
1728/04/251st milestone a larger stone replaced smaller one
1728/05/2916th stone in Barkway (on the anniversary of birth of Charles II and Restoration)
1729/05/0611th and 3rd milestones erected replacing smaller ones
1729/05/294th milestone set up to replace a smaller one
1730/05/296th, 7th, 8th & 9th milestones replacing smaller ones
1731/08/2511th & 12th milestones between Fowlmere & Barley
1732/10/0413th & 14th milestones replacing smaller ones
1732/10/19Great St Mary’s steeple buttress marker cut

A further five milestones were erected on Huntingdon Road, and ten on the road to Haverhill, and the project completed in 1740.

2. Road to Haverhill

1731/05/11To Gogmagog hills
1736/09/234 miles further on towards Haverhill
1736/10/262nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th milestones erected
1740/08/025 more miles measured and 6th – 10th stones erected

3. Huntingdon Road

1735/05/151st  mile measured
1735/05/192nd – 5th miles measured
1735/05/295 stones erected

During World War 2, when signposts were removed in anticipation of a German invasion, the stones were carefully taken out and laid down in the ground. They were re-erected in 1946. 

In 2005 several College Fellows cycled the route to Barkway to check that the milestones were all present and correct, and the photographs in the ‘Master’s Photographs 2014-15’ box were probably taken then. However, that was 17 years ago and it would be useful to check they were still there. A new milestone was cut at the Cardozo Kindersley workshop and erected in the beech hedge on Storey’s Way in 2006 to commemorate the completion of the Wychfield buildings. The term ‘milestones’ has further meaning to the College, being used for various fundraising schemes. For example, the ‘Milestones to the Future’ project was launched in June 2006 to finance the regeneration of rooms in the central College site and bolster the College Endowment fund. Fundraising and philanthropy have always been, right from the beginning, an integral part of the College’s existence, and account for many of its successes.

Top image: Four Trinity Hall milestones to Barkway. The stones all bear the Trinity Hall crescent. The first also bears the arms of Dr Mouse and the last, the arms of Mr Hare. Mouse and Hare kept the ‘Causey Accounts’, philanthropic donations to maintain paths and roads into Cambridge.

Anna Crutchley, College Archivist (Maternity Cover)


Crawley, C., Trinity Hall,  CUP 1976 & 1992

Warren, W., Warren’s Book, ed. Dale, A., 1910

Front Row, Issue 13, Summer 2007

Causey Accounts, 1743 – 1849, THAR/2/2/7, College Archives

The perseverance of a ‘harmless drudge’

Engraving of Samuel Johnson
Engraving of Samuel Johnson from Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1884)

‘Perseverence’ has recently been announced as the Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2021. It is defined as “continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time”. This captures the spirit of people across the world to never give up, despite the challenges and disruption of the pandemic. It might also have been the word of the year chosen by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) in 1755 to define the mammoth task of compiling his famous Dictionary of the English Language [1].

We are fortunate that we have the first edition of Johnson’s remarkable dictionary at Trinity Hall. The College was unusually prosperous in the mid to latter part of the 18th century and this was a period when most of the books in the library were purchased rather than bequested.

Title page of Johnson’s Dictionary

Johnson certainly needed perseverance to complete his dictionary. It was to take him nearly nine years to complete – over five years longer than he had anticipated. However, compared to the first French dictionary completed in 1694, which took a team of 40 people a total of 55 years to complete, this was remarkably speedy.

Johnson was first approached by a group of booksellers and publishers to create the dictionary in 1746. They hoped that it would standardise the spelling and use of the English language. However, in his book’s preface, Johnson explains how he had found the language to be ‘copious without order, and energetick without rules’. As well as the difficulties of the English language itself, Johnson compiled his dictionary almost single-handedly (he had no more than four helpers at a time). In addition to these practicalities, he was mourning the loss of Tetty, his wife of 17 years, who had died in 1752.

The Dictionary, first published on 15 April 1755 in two large volumes, contains the definitions for 42,773 words. Johnson himself pronounced the book “proud in its great bulk”. It was not the first English dictionary, but could be considered the most significant and extensive of its time. One of Johnson’s important innovations was to include literary quotations, most frequently by Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden, to illustrate the meanings and context of the words. Johnson’s definition of ‘Perseverance’ for example, contains quotes from various literary sources:

Perseve’rance : Persistence in any design or attempt; steadiness in pursuits; constancy in progress. It is applied alike to good and ill.

n.s. [perseverance, Fr. perseverantia, Lat. This word was once improperly accented on the second syllable.] 

Persistence in any design or attempt; steadiness in pursuits; constancy in progress. It is applied alike to good and ill. The king becoming graces,
Bounty, persev’rance, mercy, lowliness;
I have no relish of them.
Shakesp. Macbeth. Perseverance keeps honour bright:
To have done, is to hang quite out of fashion,
Like rusty mail in monumental mockery.
Shakespeare. They hate repentance more than perseverance in a fault. 
King Charles. Wait the seasons of providence with patience and perseverance in the duties of our calling, what difficulties soever we may encounter. 
L’Estrange. Patience and perseverance overcome the greatest difficulties. 
Clarissa. And perseverance with his batter’d shield. 
Definition of perseverance from Johnson’s Dictionary (1755)

Johnson’s feelings on the compilation of the dictionary may be seen from this definition of ‘lexographer’ as a ’harmless drudge’ or “Dull, adjective: Not exhilarating; not delightful: as, to make dictionaries is dull work“. The book, Johnson sums up self-pityingly at the end of his preface, ‘was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academick bowers, but amid inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow … I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.’

Despite the drudgery and difficulties involved we can be thankful that Johnson persevered with his task as his dictionary is a treasure trove of anachronistic words. Three of my favourites are:

Hotcockles: A play [game] in which one covers his eyes, and guesses who strikes him.”

Jiggumbob: A trinket; a knick-knack; a slight contrivance in machinery.”

Fopdoodle: A fool; an insignificant wretch.”

There is also much to enjoy in Johnson’s witty and humorous definitions:

Patron: One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.”

“Politician: A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.”

The dictionary was sold for the extravagant price of 4 pounds, 10 shillings – roughly the equivalent of £350 today. In Johnson’s lifetime five further editions were published, with a sixth edition published a year after his death in 1785. Although he was paid a large sum of money in advance, most of this was eaten up by the time the dictionary was published, so it gave him fame, but unfortunately did not make his fortune.


 [1] Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language : In Which the Words Are Deduced from Their Originals, and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers. To Which Are Prefixed, a History of the Language, and an English Grammar. London: Printed by W. Strahan, for J. and P. Knapton; T. and T. Longman; C. Hitch and L. Hawes; A. Millar; and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755.

Further reading

Johnson’s Dictionary Online

Reddick, Allen Hilliard. The Making of Johnson’s Dictionary, 1746-1773. Rev. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

The Natural History of Serpents

In honour of World Snake Day (celebrated every July 16th) we take a look at an interesting natural history book in our collection: An Essay towards a Natural History of Serpents, by Charles Owen, published in 1742. [1]

Title page of Owen's book An Essay on the Natural History of Serpents

Owen was one of a number of clergymen in the 18th century who wrote books on natural history, which are strange mixture of fact and fable as much symbolic as scientific. He was not a scientist so he draws on classical, biblical and mythological sources for his information on ‘serpents’. These include not only snakes, but frogs, scorpions and spiders, as well as mythical creatures such as basilisks and dragons. His aim was not just to inform and entertain, but to share his belief that the natural world, as created by God, had moral qualities, which could guide people as to how to live their lives.

So how useful today is Owen’s book to anyone looking for scientific information on reptiles? Trinity Hall student Alex Howard, who is writing her PhD on snakes takes a closer look!

Woman holding a snake in her hand
Alex with her snake, Ada

Snakes: Fact or fiction

Although almost 280 years have passed since the publication of this book, and our knowledge of the natural world has increased considerably since then, there are some great passages that show an 18th Century view on one of the world’s most enigmatic reptiles.

The Adder

The first passage that caught my eye was a section referring to one of the UK’s native species, the only venomous snake found in Great Britain. The European adder, Vipera berus, is a small, secretive viper that is usually found in heathlands and woods. While the bite can be painful, the venom this animal produces is not dangerous to most humans. Preferring instead to hunt lizards and small mammals, adders can grow to a length of 80cm and live up to 15 years.

A viper next to an engraving from the book of a viper
The Adder

The passage in Owen’s book makes mention of the striking orange eyes of this species:

The Viper or Adder, a subtle and poisonous Creature, slender in Body, about a Foot and a half long, with fiery and flaming Eyes.” p. 51

Owen also notes the presence of the incredible way that Adders reproduce. While many snakes lay eggs from which the babies hatch (known as being oviparous) and mammals give live birth (known as being viviparous), the Adder incubates it’s young internally. These offspring are still technically within separate ‘eggs’, although the shell is reduced to just a membrane that the babies break out with after being born. This process is known as being ovoviviparous and Owen notes as follows:

Snakes lay their Eggs, twenty, thirty, fifty, and a hundred sometimes, in one Nest […] whereas Vipers make use of their own Matrix, and bring forth live Vipers: Their young ones come forth wrapt in thin Skins, which break on the third day, and set the little venemous Creatures at liberty, therefore rank’d among the viviparous Animals.” p. 52


A blindsnake
Pixabay: A blindsnake

Another section that brought me particular joy is one that mentions a group of snakes that take the focus of a part of my PhD, the blindsnakes. These snakes, the scientific name for which are Scolecophidia (which literally translates to worm snake, another common name for this species), are found primarily underground, where they hunt the larvae of social insects such as ants and termites. When most people come across one of these, they usually consider it to be a particularly large worm, unless they see the characteristic forked snake tongue.

Owen remarks on their incredibly small eyes that give them their ‘blind’ moniker:

“The Caecilia or Typhlinus, the blind Worm, as the Greek word imports; not that it wants Eyes, but because they are so little, that he must be furnish’d with good Optics that can discern them.” p. 80

He also notes the presence of viviparity:

“Conradus Gefner tells us, his Wife struct one of these Serpents on the Head, when ‘twas pregnant, and it immediately cast forth its young”.

I find it interesting that he refers to blindsnakes also as “The Caecilian Serpent”. Caecilians as described today are a group of legless amphibians that also spend the majority of their lives underground. Superficially they are very similar to blindsnakes, so it is likely that these two groups of animals were often confused with one another.

Text from page 80 of Owen's book
Owen on the blindsnake, p. 80


Two engraved drawings of dragons, one with legs and the other with a body like a snake
Two dragons

Finally, it appears that also included in the 18th Century categorization of snakes, were the mythical dragons. There is a surprising amount of biological information for these animals, given that they don’t exist:

“Among Serpents, Authors place Dragons; Creatures terrible and fierce in Aspect and Nature. They are divided into Apodes and Pedates, some with Feet, and some without them…” .

“Some have observed, that about the Ganges, are Dragons whose Eyes sparkle like precious stones”.

“Dragons are Inhabitants of Africa and Asia; those of India exceed most in Largeness and Longitude: In the Tower of London, is the Skin of one, which is of vast Bulk”. p. 74

While dragons don’t exist, it is possible that these reports are sightings of the large snakes that inhabit these areas. Burmese pythons and reticulated pythons are found across South East Asia, and African rock pythons in Africa. These species are the giants of the snake world, with reticulated pythons reaching over seven and a half metres.

I hope you enjoyed this trip down snake history as much as I did. I’ll leave you with a quote from Charles Owen:

“The Knowledge of mere Animals (who have no School for Arts and Sciences) is most surprising; these, without visible Instructors, know how to perpetuate their Species to the End of the World.” p. 4

"The knowledge of mere animals (who have no school for arts and sciences) is most surprising"
How do snakes know things without going to school?!


 [1] Owen, Charles, An Essay towards a Natural History of Serpents : In Two Parts : I. The First Exhibits a General View of Serpents, in Their Various Aspects; … II. The Second Gives a View of Most Serpents That Are Known in the Several Parts of the World; … III. To Which Is Added a Third Part; Containing Six Dissertations … : The Whole Intermix’d with Variety of Entertaining Digressions, Philosophical and Historical. London: Printed for the Author, Sold by John Gray, at the Cross-Keys in the Poultry, near Cheapside, 1742. Online at:

What a Larke!

The Early Modern period of the College’s history is dominated by the likes of Stephen Gardiner, Thomas Preston, and Thomas Bilney, but there is another character from that period who deserves a little attention. Thomas Larke was the College’s 12th master, immediately preceding Stephen Gardiner. Larke was an exceptional man. He rose from humble origins, being the son of an innkeeper at Thetford, to become one of the chaplains of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey’s confessor, and he aided in brokering peace with France. 

King’s College Chapel South Front by David Loggan, 1690

Little is known about him prior to 1507 when he became one of Henry’s chaplains. Soon after entering Henry’s service, he was charged with supervising the business side of the construction works at King’s College. He was possibly made a fellow of Kings in 1508/9, and by 1511, he was promoted to official surveyor of the site. Around this time, he had also become Cardinal Wolsey’s confessor. Interestingly, his sister, Joan Larke, was Wolsey’s mistress. She bore Wolsey two children before he married her off to a Cheshire gentleman.   

Rather refreshingly, it appears Larke was a genuinely good man. While Larke was living in Cambridge supervising the works at King’s, he became friendly with Desiderius Erasmus, who was lodging near him. In a letter, Erasmus remarked that Larke was “the most civilised and open-hearted” of all he had known in England. He also received praise from Wolsey’s chief agent in Rome who paid tribute to his modesty and virtue.  

Once the building work was completed at King’s, he was employed in a similar capacity over the work being carried out at the palace of Bridewell between 1515 and 1517. Larke became Master of Trinity Hall sometime between 1517 and 1520, around the same time he was made Archdeacon of Sudbury. He held that position from 1517 to 1522, and from 1522 to 1528 he was the Archdeacon of Norwich. A year after he resigned as Master from Trinity Hall in 1525, he was assisting the work at Wolsey’s college in Oxford, now known as Christ’s Church. 

THAR/8/3/2/3: Grant of John Tayllour, John Puregold, and Thomas Pecok to Thomas Larke, Master of Trinity Hall and the Fellows of Trinity Hall of 6 acres of arable land in the Fields of Cambride1523

Regrettably, very little is known about his time as master other than Stephen Gardiner was one of his fellows. It is unlikely Larke ever lived in College, because in 1524-5 his residence in London was the location of secret meetings between Cardinal Wolsey and the ambassador of France, which led to a peace agreement with France in 1525. That year he resigned his Mastership, and he began receiving a pension from the King of France as a reward for his services. He died in 1530.   


Alumni cantabrigienses : a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900. Compiled by John Venn and J.A. Venn. Cambridge : University Press, 1922-54. 

Cobban, Alan. The King’s Hall within the University of Cambridge in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press., 1969. 

Crawley, Charles. Trinity Hall: The History of a Cambridge College, 1350-1975. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. 

Erasmus, Desiderius. The Epistles of Erasmus From His Earliest Letters to His Fifty-first Year, Arranged in Order of Time, vol 2. Translated by Francis Morgan Nichols. London : Longmans, Green, 1904. 

Saltmarsh, John. King’s College Chapel. Cambridge: King’s College, 1967. 

Oh behave! Conduct books for women

Katherine, Countess of Chesterfield, and Lucy, Countess of Huntingdon, by Anthony van Dyck, c. 1636–40, oil on canvas (Yale Center for British Art). Wikimedia

In the late 17th to mid-18th century there was a boom in the publication of conduct books for women, which instructed on proper manners and moral behaviour. As with modern etiquette guides, the existence of such books hint at the anxieties about the proper way to conduct oneself in social situations. They also provide a valuable insight into the conventions surrounding behaviour, and the expectations of women at that time.

Seventeenth century conduct books were almost entirely written by men for a female readership – and they give strikingly similar advice to their target audience of young aristocratic women. Such books typically contain guidance on religion; how to choose a husband and live with his faults; how to manage a household and raise children; and appropriate behaviour and recreations. This is mixed with censure of faults such as vanity, immodesty, talking and laughing too much, and keeping company with those who might damage their reputation.

We have two conduct books from this time in Trinity Hall’s libraries. Richard Brathwaite’s The English Gentlewoman, first published in 1631, was one of the first conduct books aimed specifically at women. It is a companion work to The English Gentleman, which was published the previous year – and our edition combines both books into a single volume [1]. In his preface, Brathwaite explains that he is presenting something for ladies to aspire to: ‘I have here presented unto your view one of your own sex one whose improved education will be no blemish but a beauty to her nation’. The frontispiece gives the motto ‘Grace my guide, Glory my goale’ which expresses the conventional ideal of feminine behaviour.

Frontispiece to Brathwaite, The English Gentleman and the English Gentlewoman

Published more than fifty years after the English Gentlewoman, came George Savile, the Marquis of Halifax’s (1633-1695) The lady’s new-years gift, or, Advice to a daughter [2]. It was written for his daughter Elizabeth (1675-1708) when she was twelve years old. Full of fatherly affection, Halifax gives Elizabeth advice on how to exist within the strictures of society and of marriage. Halifax never intended the book to reach a wide audience. It was circulated privately at first in a few manuscript copies, but before too long it was pirated for publication. And it was incredibly popular, with six editions in the 17th century and dozens of reprints in the 18th century.

So what were the key rules for a lady in the 17th century to follow?

Dress modestly

Women’s vanity and pride was seen as the root of much of their challenging behaviour. Richard Brathwaite devotes considerable space to appearance in The English Gentlewoman, arguing that women should dress modestly.

He condemns brightly coloured fashionable clothing (‘pye-coloured fopperies’ and ‘thinne Cobweb attires’) which ‘detracts from the native beauty of the feature’. He is particularly incensed by women who wear ‘gaudy’ dresses with a low neckline that exposed the breasts, or ridiculous foreign fashions. In his opinion, such dress is against Christian values, and likely to encourage licentious behaviour and sin.

Halifax similarly cautions Elizabeth against vanity: ‘the Fault to which your Sex seemeth to be the most inclined’. In part because it makes the person obnoxiously full of themselves and ridiculous in the eyes of others:

Shee doth not like herself as God-Almighty made her, but wil have some of her own workmanship; which is so farr from makeing her a better thing than a woman, that it turneth her into a worse Creature than a Monkey. (p. 400.)

Be seen and not heard

As well as modest dress, modest speech is a must. In a nutshell, a gentlewoman should be seen and not heard. As Brathwaite declares: ‘It will become her to tip her tongue with silence’. This is part of the all important modest behaviour. There are also certain topics young women should not talk about. As Brathwaite puts it, she should not venture any ‘strange opinions’ on matters of state or religion. As the majority of women were given little education, they were unlikely to have had an advantage in such debates.

Halifax also cautions against women being too talkative or amusing:  ‘Jollity is as contrary to Wit and Good Manners, as it is to Modesty and Vertue’.  A woman drawing too much attention to herself opened herself up to ridicule. The ideal woman has nothing to say.

Don’t have too much fun

Taking part in amusements outside the home brought disapproval, because it risked her spending time in dubious company. And further, for married women, it took her away from her family responsibilities. Brathwaite advises gentlewomen not to frequent ‘stage playes, wakes, solemn Feasts and the like’ where they might come into contact with company that might corrupt them. Instead, he urges women to spend their time at home looking after their family or in religious devotions – the price of having too much pleasure on earth would be paid for in the afterlife with ‘their soules appointed to hell fire’.

Halifax is perhaps more concerned with appearances than with sin. He sees nothing wrong with his daughter making occasional visits to the play house, entertaining company, playing cards, and dancing. As long as it wasn’t so often that it gave her reputation for idleness:

It wil engage you into a habit of idlenesse, and ill howers, draw you into ill mixed company, make you neglect your civilities abroad, and your business at home, and impose into your acquaintance such as wil doe you no credit. (p.405)

Obey your husband

One of the key functions of conduct books was to advise women on how to avoid marital discord. Both Brathwaite and Halifax say that this could be achieved by a woman obeying her husband, and managing his faults through her feminine wiles. If a marriage was unhappy she would have little option than to learn to live with it. Divorce was difficult and costly, and would lead to a woman’s social ostracisation.

The majority of Hallifax’s guide is a manual on how to survive a bad marriage. There are hints that he was concerned to arm his daughter against the inevitable discontents of a life spent in subjection to a husband.

Elizabeth was to marry just four years later, aged sixteen, to Philip Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Chesterfield (1673-1726). Unfortunately the marriage wasn’t a particularly happy one, and correspondence shows that she had to put up with his adultery, drunkenness, and neglect, until her death in 1708. [3]

Use of conduct books

Conduct manuals sought to define every aspect of women’s lives by presenting an ideal of how they should behave. Both Brathwaite and Halifax wrote these books with gentlewomen (not women in general) as their target audience. Unsurprisingly, the books uphold the 17th century ideal of women: as modest, restrained and subservient to her husband. To modern eyes, however, nothing could be more virtuous, restrained or dull than the lady they describe!

What might a gentlewoman have thought if she had been given this book? Was she grateful for the advice, and viewed it as a model to aspire to? Did she laugh at its precepts? Did she read it at all? These questions will have to remain unanswered.

Jenni Lecky-Thompson


[1] Brathwaite. The English Gentleman; and the English Gentlevvoman : Both in One Volume. The Third Edition Revised, Corrected, and Enlarged. ed. London: Printed by Iohn Dawson, 1641. Available online at:

[2] Halifax, George Savile. Advice to a Daughter. Aberdeen: Printed for and by Francis Douglass and William Murray, 1753. Available online at:

[3] Savile, G. (1989). The works of George Savile, Marquis of Halifax. (Vol. 2). M. N. Brown (Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (2013), pp. 361-62. doi:10.1093/actrade/

Trinity Hall invites you to Colour our Collections

Woodcut image of group of people at a theatre
Image: Detail of Terence, Therence En Francois : Prose Et Rime Auecques Le Latin. (Paris: Anthoine Vérard, 1499.)

Trinity Hall is delighted to be taking part for the second year in a row, in an international week-long (1-5 February) initiative to raise awareness and engagement with rare books and special collections. It is known as Color Our Collections and has been run by the library of the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) since 2016.

#ColorOurCollections offers free downloadable colouring books by libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world, which are perfect for all ages. You will find a huge variety of colouring books at ranging from national libraries to small-scale specialist museums. Whether you like botany or beasts, motorcycles or medicine, there will be a colouring book to fire your imagination.

Participants can share photos of their colouring on social media using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections (an American initiative, hence the ‘color’). You can be as creative as you dare! So get colouring in and share your creations with us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and tag us #TrinityHallOldLibrary.

Research suggests colouring can reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance mindfulness – something we all need during the current lockdown.

Trinity Hall’s 2021 colouring book features an interesting range of characters and historical figures from Adam and Eve to Richard the Lionheart, which we hope you’ll enjoy.

Download it here to get colouring

Our colouring book from 2020 is also available. It contains a mixture of places, animals and plants and is worth downloading for the resplendent cat alone.

Plum porridge anyone? Christmas recipes from the past

Frans Snyders – Cook with Food. Wikimedia Commons

Food is an important part of Christmas festivities and many of our present day gastronomic traditions have their origins in centuries old recipes. These recipes were shared by word-of-mouth or passed down in private notes or journals, but from the 17th century the first printed cook books began to appear. These provide a fascinating insight into past traditions and how culinary tastes have changed over time.  At Trinity Hall we have two cook books in our collection, which were both best-sellers that revolutionised cooking in the 17th and 18th centuries. This post will look at some of the festive treats contained within them.

The French Cook

One of the most important cook books of the 17th century was The French Cook,  first published in Paris in 1651 [1]. It was written by François Pierre de la Varenne (c1615–1678)  chef to the Marquis d’Uxelles, so as such, he was tasked with producing food to impress the crème de la crème of  French society.

La Varenne’s cook book was intended for a professional audience rather than home cooks as he says in his preface it was written for: “my fellows in the profession… of whom some, lacking experience or a ready memory, are unwilling or too timid to become involved in learning what they do not know…”The French Cook was a best-seller and enormously influential across Europe.  In 1652, a year after its first publication, it became the first French cook book to be translated into English by “IDG”. [2] It was to influence cookery across Europe, leading to a move away from highly spiced sweet and sour dishes towards a more natural savoury cuisine.

The recipes in La Varenne’s book do not contain any detailed instructions or helpful measurements for the cook. The modern reader would find many of the dishes suitable for a food trial on the television show I’m a Celebrity, in particular cow udder, pottage of tortoise, head of wild boar, and ‘calfes feet fried’.

Of the more palatable recipes is the familiar festive favourite turkey, which was a popular meat for Christmas in France as early as the 16th century. The French Cook contains a basic recipe for roast turkey: “It must likewise be plumed dry, whiten it on the fire, rost it, and serve.” For the more adventurous chef there is also a more avant garde recipe for turkey with raspberries, which you could imagine in the cookery books of celebrity chefs today:

Turkie with Raspis

When it is dressed, take up the brisket, and take out the flesh, which you shall mince with suet and some little of Veal-flesh, which you shall mix together with yolks of Eggs & young Pigeons, & all being well seasoned, you shall fill your Turkie with it, and shall season it with Salt, Peper, beaten Cloves and Capers, then you shall spit it, and turn it very softly; When it is almost rosted, take it up, and put it into an Earthen pan with good Broath, Mushrums, and a bundle of Herbs, which you shall make with Parsley, thime, and Chibols tied together; for to thicken the sauce, take a little Lard sliced, pass it in the pan, and when it is melted, take it out, and mix a little flower with it, which you shall make very brown, and shall allay it with a little Broath and some Vinegar; then put it into your Earthen pan with some Lemon-juice, and serve.

If it be in the Raspis season, you shall put a handfull of them over it, if not, some Pomgranate.

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

At the start of the 18th century the French courtly way of cooking still predominated in refined households. Cook books were usually written by male chefs who offered complicated recipes, designed for professional cooks and without any detailed or practical instructions.

In Georgian England the aspiring home cook’s prayers would be answered by the Delia Smith of the day, with the publication of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by ‘A lady’. [3]. This cook book, first published in 1747, was in fact, written by Hannah Glasse (1708–1770). When her husband got into financial difficulties, she wrote the book as a means of raising money to support the family. The recipes were extensively ‘borrowed’ from earlier books by other writers.

Glasse’s book became the most popular cook book of its time going through twenty editions in the 18th century. A key reason for its popularity was that it was intended for the everyday cook and so it contained simple, detailed instructions on how to make dishes. In the introduction she states: “I believe I have attempted a Branch of Cookery which Nobody has yet thought worth their while to write upon”. Glasse was a severe critic of the French influence of British cuisine, although she does include simpler versions of French recipes in her cook book.

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy contains several recipes for Christmas favourites including mince pies. Although unlike the modern version, they include meat (usually mutton, beef or pork) as an ingredient. Glasse’s recipe contains neat’s (beef) tongue, sirloin of beef and three pounds of suet; along with sugar, the spice mace, cloves, and nutmeg, currants, raisins, apples, brandy, red wine and lemon juice.

These were used to produce a single large pie, which must have been substantial enough to serve many people at once. The idea of sweet, spiced minced beef sounds quite unpalatable to modern tastes, but it was not until the late Victorian period that mince pies became meat-free. It appears that they weren’t just eaten at Christmas either there is also a recipe for Lent mince pies (chopped eggs replaces the meat).

If this hasn’t whetted your appetite, consider her recipe for ‘Plumb porridge for Christmas’. This delicious gem contains a whole leg and shin of beef, which was boiled into a stock, thickened with bread, spiced, and mixed with dried currants and raisins, plums, sugar and wine. The quantities of meat and dried fruit are enormous!

Although families were generally much larger in Georgian times, it is evident that this recipe would have produced a vast quantity of porridge that would last for weeks. It could be prepared ahead of Christmas, and then perhaps heated up in smaller amounts to give to guests during social visits.

By the end of the 18th century the tradition of eating plum porridge had vanished. If you are inspired to make this dish yourself or are wondering whether it tasted as revolting as it sounds, you can read about Allegra McEvedy’s attempt to recreate it using a recipe from Martha Bradley’s 1756 cook book The British Housewife, or the Cook’s, Housekeeper’s and Gardiner’s Companion. [4]

Inscriptions inside the book show that our copy had two women former owners: Sarah Ann Parsons who owned it in 1841 and Mrs S. Wal[she?], 1850. It is in rather poor condition, and there is some staining to indicate that it was used for cooking. Although strangely not on the pages of these festive recipes. Personally, I will be sticking with my usual nut roast this year.

Jenni Lecky-Thompson


[1] La Varenne, François Pierre De, Le Cuisinier François Paris, 1651.

[2] La Varenne, François Pierre De, The French cook: Prescribing the way of making ready of all sorts of meats, fish and flesh, with the proper sauces, either to procure appetite, or to advance the power of digestion. Also the preparation of all herbs and fruits, so as their naturall crudities are by art opposed; with the whole skil of pastry-work. Together with a treatise of conserves, both dry and liquid, a la mode de France. With an alphabeticall table explaining the hard words, and other usefull tables. / Written in French by Monsieur De La Varenne, clerk of the kitchin to the Lord Marquesse of Uxelles, and now Englished by I.D.G. London: Printed for Charls Adams, and Are to Be Sold at His Shop, at the Sign of the Talbot Neere St. Dunstans Church in Fleetstreet, 1653. Trinity Hall   Strangman Collection   641.59 VAR.  Available online at

[3] Glasse, Hannah, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. The eighth ed., Printed for A. Millar, J. and R. Tonson, W. Strahan, T. Caslon, B. Law, and A. Hamilton, 1763. Available online at:

[4] McEvedy, Allegra and Martha Bradley, ‘How about Christmas ‘plumb porridge’?’ The Guardian Tue 15 Dec 2009. Accessed 11/12/20 at: