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Elizabeth Raffald

Elizabeth Raffald was an English businesswoman, best known for her 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper.

Raffald was born Elizabeth Whitaker in 1733 in Doncaster, England. Her father, John Whittaker was a schoolteacher and because of this, Raffald and her sisters were given the rare opportunity (for girls at the time) to learn to read and write. At 15, Raffald began working as a housekeeper for a number of families and building her skills in making “confectionery,” now known as desserts. Raffald eventually earned a position at Arley Hall, in Cheshire where she worked for Sir Peter and Lady Elizabeth Warburton. She worked for Lady Elizabeth for the next fifteen years and was responsible for “preserving and pickling food and making country wines, table decorations, and the necessary cakes and tidbits suitable for tea.” While at Arley Hall, Raffald also met the man who would become her husband, John Raffald, the head gardener.

In 1763, Elizabeth and John Raffald married at a church in Great Budworth. It was common at the time for servants to leave the estate where they were employed upon marriage, and together the Raffalds moved to Manchester. John Raffald’s family owned several market gardens in Manchester, and he began working with his brothers on the family’s market stall. Raffald saw an opportunity to use her domestic skills to create a business, and in 1764 she opened a confectionary shop (would now be known as a deli) on Fennel Street in Manchester. Raffald sold hot food, cakes and table decorations as well as running a cooking school for young women and providing outside catering. Raffald also used her business and connections to establish what would have probably been the first Register Office in Manchester, as well as a Manchester Directory for potential employers to find reliable servants. In 1766, she opened a second shop in Market Place which specialised in confectionary. Two years later, she ran an ad for the store in the Manchester Mercury advertising “Plumb cakes for weddings, Creams, Possetts, Jellies, Flummery and Lemon Cheese Cakes.” for sale there.

In 1769, Raffald published “The Experienced English Housekeeper”, and dedicated it to her former employer Lady Elizabeth Warburton. The book contained original recipes including the first written recipe for a ‘bride cake’ which uses almond paste, and royal icing and the first recipe for the modern Eccles cake, where she recommended the use of flaky pastry instead of a yeast based mix. As cookbooks were frequently pirated by printers, Raffald originally offered 800 copies of her book by advanced subscription. In the title page, she states that it contained “over 800 Original Recipes most of which never appeared in print.” The book would then go through 13 authorised editions and at least 23 pirated ones and in 1773, she sold the copyright for £1400 (£150,000 today). The book was hugely successful, and Queen Victoria herself was a fan, copying small extracts from it into her diaries.

Raffald briefly ran the Bull’s head Inn in the market place, Manchester for a few months in 1769 before turning her attention to running the King’s Head Inn in Chapel Street, Salford. She established a post office in the inn, rented out carriages and arranged entertainment and catered for events, including the officers mess. The business was not ultimately successful, due in part to her husband’s alcoholism and the fact that all of her business ventures were in his name as women at the time had no legal rights.

In 1771, Raffald helped to establish “Prescott’s Journal,” Salford’s first newspaper. She also became part owner of the Manchester Mercury, the 2nd ever newspaper in Manchester. The Manchester Mercury was owned by J. Harrop, the publisher responsible for printing The Experienced English Housekeeper. A year later, she wrote and published a street directory for Manchester and Salford which was then updated and republished in 1773 and 1781. Raffald and her husband later moved on from the King’s Head Inn, and she began catering for the Kersal Moor race course. In 1781, her husband took on a licence at The Exchange coffee house and she provided catering. During this time, she continued to work on the street directory and co-wrote a book on midwifery with Charles White, a surgeon responsible for St Mary’s hospital and MRI.

Raffald died in 1781 of a ‘spasm’ at the age of 48. A blue plaque commemorating her contribution to Manchester once marked the site of the Bulls Head pub. In 2011 this was replaced with a black plaque on the Marks and Spencers Building, 7 Market Street. In 2012, Arley Hall announced that some of Raffald’s recipes would be sold at the hall’s restaurant and in 2012, Raffald was one of six women nominated for a public vote to decide the subject of a new statue in Manchester.

Sources here, here, here and here

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