Eating in Georgian London: How to Buy Meat and Poultry, Sample Menus and Much Much More

It’s time for another exciting installment from The London Adviser and Guide!  Today we will learn how to purchase meat and poultry in Georgian London. To break up the text, I’m inserting images of course settings from various cookbooks from the early 1800s.  

If you click on the pictures of menus, they will link you to the books where you can find the recipes !!!  

I’m also excerpting from A complete system of cookery, on a plan entirely new, consisting of every thing that is requisite for cooks to know in the kitchen business: containing bills of fare for every day in the year, and directions to dress each dish; being one year’s work at the Marquis of Buckingham’s from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, 1805, by John Simpson. Note to the lazy historical writer/researcher: this book really includes a dinner menu for every day of the year!

Let’s begin with our favorite: The London adviser and guide: containing every instruction and information useful and necessary to persons living in London and coming to reside there … Together with an abstract of all those laws which regard their protection against the frauds, impositions, insults, and accidents to which they are there liable, by John Trusler and published in 1790.


1. It  is by no means advisable to deal with one butcher, unless you can agree to have all your meat, viz. beef, mutton, veal, lamb, and pork, weighed in, at one and the same price, all the year round; which some butchers will do at 5d. a pound, and occasionally give you, at the same price, a quarter of house-lamb. If you enter into such an agreement, take care to have a bill of the weight always sent home with the meat, order it to be weighed by your own people, and agree not to pay for odd quarters of a pound.

If you make no such agreement, and deal regularly with one butcher, you will frequently be charged for a joint you never had; and for half a pound, or a quarter of a pound more than the joint weighs: and you will always pay a halfpenny, or a farthing more per pound, than were you to go to market and cheapen it yourself. In buying a joint at market, of seven pounds and a half,  you may often deduct the half pound, but when sent home by the butcher who credits you, never. This conduct in a family will occasion a great saving at the years end. If you pay your butcher but once a quarter, be sure to have a bill of the weight and price sent in with  your meat, and a regular bill of the week’s meat, every Monday morning. In this case you will see what you are about, and not be liable to be imposed upon.

2. Good meat should not be lean, dry, or shriveled the fleshy part should be of a bright red, and the fat of a clear white. When the flesh looks pale, and the fat yellow, the meat is not good. Cow-beef is worth a penny a pound less than ox-beef, except it be the meat of a maiden-heiser. In a buttock you may know it by the udder.

3. The average price of beef is from 4d. a pound to 5d. The prime boiling parts are the rump, buttock, edge-bone, briskit, thick and thin flank , roasting pieces, the sirloin and ribs.

Butchers make a difference in price between pieces of beef to roast and boil; if you take a piece of each, they will sell prime beef for 4d. halfpenny; if a boiling piece 4d. and often 3d. if roasting alone 5d.

If you want rump-steaks in any quantity, it is cheaper to give 7d. a pound without bone than 4d. halfpenny for the whole rump. A buttock is the cheapest joint, as it is free from bone; for if you wish it, the butcher will sell it you without the marrow-bone, which is worth it’s weight for the marrow.

In buying a buttock of beef, be careful you do not buy the mouse-buttock for the prime one. The difference is easily known; the prime buttock is first cut off the leg, and is the thickest; the mouse-buttock is thinner, and cut off the legs, between the buttock and the legbone, is coarse meat, and not so worth so much by one penny a pound.

A bullock’s tongue will sell from 2s. to 4s. 6d. according to its size and goodness. A good tongue should look plump, clear and bright, not of a blackish hue.

4. The flesh of mutton should be of a bright red, and its fat of a clear white; and unless it is very fat, it is worth little. Ewe-mutton is not worth so much as weather, by a penny in the pound; mutton five years old, if it can be got, is the most delicious; its natural gravy is brown. After it is dressed, if the meat flies from the bone, the sheep was not sound. A leg of ewe-mutton may be known by the udder on its skirt. The udder of a maiden-ewe is little more than a kernel. The skirt of a leg of wether mutton has a lump of hard fat on it, on the inside of the thigh. The shoulder of a wether maybe known by the skin or shank-bone being more covered with flesh, fat and stouter than that of a ewe. The average price of prime wether-mutton is 4d. halfpenny a pound, though it will sell often for 5d. halfpenny.

Sheeps’ tongues for salting or pickling, may be bought in any quantity, in Field-lane, near Fleet-market, from 1sw. 3d. to 2s. a dozen, according to their size.

5. The average price of veal is 6d. though it will often sell for 8d. particularly the fillet. A leg of veal may, in summer, be bought for 4d. the lb. by which means the fillet: will cost 5d. the knuckle 3d. Large veal is seldom good. Veal should be fat and very white, like rabbit or chicken, not red or look as if it was much blown up. Cow calves generally yield the best veal, and the leg and fillet of cow calves may be known by the udder.

6. The average price of grass-lamb is 6d. a pound, that of pig-pork the same, though pork chops will often sell for 7d. or 8d. Butchers seldom sell pork. There are pork-shops in all parts of the town; Sausages are 8d. a pound.

House lamb at Christmas is dear, and if fine and fat well sell for 7s. 6d. a quarter, the leg 5s. At other times it may be bought so low as 3s. 6d. a quarter.

7. If your butcher sends you any tainted meat, he may be fined, bv complaining to a magistrate; but the readiest and least troublesome method of redress, is to put up with a trifling loss, and deal with such a butcher no more.

8. The best markets in town are St. James’s, Newport, Clare-market, Honey-lane, and  Leadenhall, for meat; for vegetables, Covent-garden, and Leadenhall; for fresh butter, Leadenhall, particularly for Epping butter and cream cheese.


1. POULTRY of all sorts may be purchased cheaper  of the higlers at the several markets, than at the Poulterers shops; but of the higler you must take care what you buy: fowls and chickens should be fat, plump and look white, and be particularly white-legged. Chicken may be known by their size, and fowls are young, if they have no spurs, and the side-bones, near the rump, will give way to the fingers; tho’ artful sellers will sometimes break these by way of deception.

By the same marks you may judge of turkies. A large cock-turkey at Christmas cannot be bought for less than 6s. or 7s. at other times 5s.; a hen-turkey from 4s. to 5s. 6d. Fat, crammed chickens, about ten weeks old, om or about Lady-day, are worth about 3s. 6d. each, and a fine fowl at Midsummer is worth 3s. 6d. at other times chickens may be bought of higlers for 3s. 6d. or 4s. a.couple, and fowls at the same price.

Ducks and geese should look white, very plump, and broad over the breast. If the bill will bend back, the duck or goose is young. A fat goose, weight about 10lb. on Michaelmas-day, is worth 5s. at other times about 3s. 6d. giblets included. A green goose in May is worth 4s. The price of ducks is from 3s. a couple, to 5s. Wild-ducks, in frosty weather, may be bought in Fleetmarket for 2s. 6d. a couple; at other times they are worth 2s. each. If they smell fishy, they are of little value; to know this, take one of the pen-feathers from the wing, and put it down the throat; if it smells fishy in drawing it out, the bird will taste so. Dove-house pidgeons, in May or June, may be bought for 3s. 6d. or 4s. a dozen. In winter-time, poulterers will ask 1s. 6d. a piece. Larks, in hard weather, may be had for is. 6d. a dozen. They are best, soon after harvest. Guinea-fowls are best in Spring, when they get fat without feeding. At this time they are worth from 7s. to 10s. each; at other times they are worth little : these last can be bought only of the Poulterers, of whom quails also may be had after harvest, at 2s. 6d. each. Woodcocks are from 2s. to 4s. each, according to the plenty or scarcity.

2. Game may sometimes be procured of the bookkeepers at inns, by those who are known to them. A hare for 4s. 6d. or 5s.; a pheasant for 5s. or 6s. and a brace of partridges, for 3s. 6d. or 4s.

3. Eggs are from 3 a-groat to 8, according to the time of the year; they are dearest in winter: but such as wish for new-laid eggs may frequently get them at the livery stables, for one penny or three half-pence each.

The following is excerpted from, A complete system of cookery, on a plan entirely new, consisting of everything that is requisite for cooks to know in the kitchen business: containing bills of fare for every day in the year, and directions to dress each dish; being one year’s work at the Marquis of Buckingham’s from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, 1805, by John Simpson, published in 1806. The author describes how to preserve meat once it is brought into the household.

In the summer time, cooks should be very exact with the butchers; and make them bring their meat in not later than six o’clock in the morning, for when the sun gets warm, the flies do much mischief; and it is next to an impossibility to prevent them blowing the meat. The pieces of beef that are kept for roasting should be closely examined (the sirloins particularly) to see if the flies have been about them; if they have, cut the piece out, and sprinkle them with salt. The flies are very apt to get under the fat of the right side of the sirloin. There is a pipe that runs along the chine bone, which the flies are sure to get in: this pipe should be taken out without fail, at all times.

It should be made a general rule, to sprinkle salt on all the meat that is hung up either for roasting or boiling—beef, mutton, veal or lamb. The first part that spoils of a leg of veal is where the udder is skewered back; that skewer should be taken out, the under part of the udder wiped very dry, and then rub a little salt on it, and on the udder; by so doing, a leg of veal will keep very good four days, let the weather be ever so sultry. Do by a loin of veal as is directed for a sirloin of beef. The skirt should be taken off the breast of veal, and the inside of the breast wiped and scraped, and sprinkled well with salt. There is a pipe that runs along the chine bone of a neck of veal, which should be taken off, and the chine bone and ribs rubbed with salt. As for a shoulder, that is a joint that is seldom or ever kept above a day or two; nevertheless, sprinkle it with salt When a sheep is brought in and cut up, take the kidney fat from the saddle, and the pipe that runs up the back bone, and then sprinkle the inside of the saddle with salt. A chine of mutton frequently spoils first at the tail, where there is a kernel: to prevent its spoiling, rub that part well with salt, and it will keep five or six days in the heat of summer. A leg of mutton frequently will spoil in two days, and where it spoils first is at the fat that is on the upper part of the leg: there is a kernel in that part which ought to be taken out by the butcher in dressing the sheep. The chine bone of the neck should be rubbed dry with a cloth, the ribs the same, and the inside of the scrag trimmed. Sprinkle the inside of the neck of mutton with salt.

A breast of mutton spoils first in the brisket part: if you wish to keep them, sprinkle both sides with salt Observe the same rules with lamb as have been directed for mutton. The rumps of beef are generally kept for steaks, or daubing, &c. &c. in hot weather, the fat that the butcher usually leaves in should be taken out, and the beef sprinkled well with salt; and the brisket that is hung up for stewing must be salted, if wanted to be kept for a few days. In the summer-time, the boiling pieces require equal attention,. Salt alone will not preserve them from turning. When the beef is cut up in the number of pieces that is wanted, then see that the butcher takes out the kernels from neck pieces, where the shoulder clod is taken off; two from the rounds, one in the middle, which is commonly called the Pope’s eye, the other from the fat lap; and there is another in the thick flank, in the middle of the fat. If these are not taken out, in the summer particularly, salt them ever so much, they will not keep. There is one between the rump and edge bone, which ought to be taken out; when all this is done (which the cook should actually see to himself, and trust to no butcher) then stand by, and see that the butcher salts the meat properly, on a table or board for that purpose. The salt should be rubbed in well with the heel of the hand. When all this is done, then it should be packed up tight in the salt bin; the prime pieces all at the bottom, as they will keep better, and require more time to take the salt.

The roasting pieces of pork at all times should be sprinkled with salt, before used, for the salt makes the meat eat pleasanter to the palate.

Another rule that cooks should strictly attend to, is this, all beasts that are to be slaughtered should fast twenty-four hours in winter, and forty-eight in summer. There is a. great quantity of meat spoiled by killing it with a full stomach. Haunches of venison, when brought into the kitchen, should be wiped very dry, and examined very closely, to see if the flies have been about them. The keepers in general use ground ginger to preserve their venison from the fly, but I am well convinced, from experience; that pepper and salt is far superior, and that nothing else will preserve meat of any kind in the summer; for which reason I rub the inside of the haunch with it, and salt the ribs and chine of the side: they should be looked at every day. There is a kernel in the same part of a haunch of venison, as in a leg of mutton, which ought to be taken out. I strongly recommend these rules to all cooks, whether men or women; and, if they strictly adhere to them, they will seldom, or ever, have any bad meat in the hottest part of summer. A thunder storm, or lightning, will change meat sometimes; against which there is no precaution.

One more rule I wish to enforce, which is, not to have the larders overstocked with fresh meat, in the summer; one days meat beforehand is quite sufficient. It is my firm opinion that a cook ought to pay as much attention to the management of his larder, as any one branch of his business, which will gain him credit with his employer, and give satisfaction to all other parts of the family.

Here is a last minute addition to the post that I didn’t have time to clean up. So, I’m just posting the page images. It’s from A modern system of domestic cookery, or, The housekeeper’s guide: arranged on the most economical plan for private families … a complete family physician, and instructions to female servants in every situation, showing the best methods of performing their various duties … to which are added, as an appendix, some valuable instructions on the management of the kitchen and fruit gardens, by M. Radcliffe and published in 1823.

That’s all I have for now. The next blog post from London’s Adviser and Guide will be on fish.  I just need to find some interesting images of Billingsgate and fishsellers. 

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