Dr Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Mutton

By Pollard, Justin | History Today, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Dr Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Mutton


Pollard, Justin, History Today


Pastry cook Christopher Cat (ft. 1688) became famous for his mutton pies, which were named Kit-Cats after him. William King wrote in The Art of Cookery in 1708:

   His Glory far, like Sir Loyn's
      Knighthood flies,
   Immortal made, as Kit-cat, by
      his Pyes.

The Whig Kit-Cat Club, which flourished during the reign of Queen Anne, was named after either the man or his pies.

The naval term 'Sweet Fanny Adams' refers to Fanny Adams (1859-67), who was killed by a solicitor's clerk named Frederick Baker. Sailors at Portsmouth were, during this period, issued with tinned mutton for the first time instead of fresh or dried meat and noted sourly that the contents of the tins were cut up and unrecognisable--like Adams' body.

Mathematician Godfrey Hardy (1877-1947) disliked telephones, watches, fountain pens, God, politicians and dogs. In particular he hated roast mutton, which reminded him of his time at Winchester College.

Thomas Peacock (1785-1866) claimed to have restored the failing health of his vegetarian friend Percy Bysshe Shelley during a boating trip up the Thames to Lechlade with his prescription of 'Three mutton chops, well peppered'.

Henry Savile (1642-87), courtier and diplomat, treated his venereal disease with 'dry mutton & dyett drinke', also ruefully admitting: 'I wonder att myself and that masse of mercury that has gone downe my throate in seven monthes.' The father of forensic pioneer Sir Andrew Douglas Maclagan (1812-1900) was away serving in Portugal at the time of his son's birth and didn't see the child until 'he was eating a mutton chop'.

The painting Double Nude Portrait: the Artist and his Second Wife by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) is known as the 'leg of mutton nude' and records the strained relationship between the artist and his second wife Patricia Preece.

Eccentric scholar Jacky Barrett (1753/4-1821) spent almost his entire adult life within Trinity College, Dublin, only occasionally venturing across College Green. …

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