Purser (Josiah Miggins) writes:-
1. Variety of Cheese Purchased by the Navy.
Upon examination of the sources it turns out that the only references
which I have to the Navy Purchasing and Issuing a specific variety of
cheese (i.e. Suffolk) come from the 1745 edition of the ...’Regulations
and Instructions Relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea’,
and ‘The Seaman’s Vade Mecum’ of 1756.
According to the ‘The Wooden World’ ,p85., ...’The Navy
had always issued Suffolk Cheese, a thin, hard and durable variety, but
practically inedible. There were frequent complaints against it, and in
1758 the decision was taken to switch to Cheshire and Gloucester Cheese,
even though they were considerably more expensive and probably did not
keep so well.’
All of my later sources simply refer to ‘Cheese’ without specifying
It may be significant that the two early sources also instruct that Cheshire
Cheese be issued at two thirds the weight of Suffolk, whereas none of
the later sources mention any such provision.
It will also be of some significance when we come to consider size and
weight that Cheese was not manufactured or processed by the Victualling
Board in it’s own facilities, but Bought In, from the producers,
via Jobbers and Factors. In 1756 the Victualling Board paid 2d per Lb,
in 1815 3d per Lb.
2. Cheese Production.
In the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth centuries Cheese production
remained a ‘cottage industry’. The first Cheese Factory was
opened in 1870 in Derby.
All Cheese production in our period is small scale, farm dairy based and
seasonal. The nature of a cheese being determined by the quality of grazing
in it’s area of production, it’s name referring to the type
rather than it’s strict geographical origin. (Thus Cheshire was
produced also in Staffs, Derbys, Leics and Wales.) Whilst there were traditional
sizes and shapes for cheeses there does seem to have been quite a variation
in both size and shape of the cheeses produced, determined by the size
and shape of the cheese press cobbled together on each Farm.
Virtually all areas produced three types of Cheese; a full cream cheese,
fat and moist, of the type we are familiar with today. This is the expensive
cheese, sold to the well-to-do, and only moderately durable. The second
is ‘Flet’, made with the skimmed milk remaining after the
removal of cream for butter making. Flets are almost always a harder,
denser, more durable cheese. Cheaper than the full cream cheeses and generally
eaten by the poor. The third type are the soft cheeses made with the left
overs and bye-products of Butter and Cheese making. These ‘green’
cheeses have next to no shelf life and are generally eaten only on, or
about the Farm of origin.
By far the greatest bulk of Cheese on the market in the late eighteenth
Century was the Cheshire variety followed by the Somerset Variety (Cheddar).
(Whilst all areas produced cheese, only those areas capable of producing
a surplus would feature on the open Market.)
3. A description of the Varieties.
a) Suffolk. A ‘Flet’ Cheese made
from skimmed Cow’s milk. (Not to be confused with Essex, a ewe’s
milk cheese.) All the cream went to make vast quantities of Butter for
the adjacent London Market. Also called ‘Suffolk Bang’, and
mentioned by Pepys who complained that his Servants wouldn’t eat
it. There was a well known 18th Century saying to the effect that ...’Hunger
could break through anything except Suffolk Cheese.’ ‘Mocks
the weak effort of the bending blade, Or in the hog-trough rests in perfect
spite, Too big to swallow, and too hard to bite.’
b) Cheshire. We find no reference to a ‘Flet’
Cheshire being widely produced, but the full cream variety does turn out
relatively dry and crumbly, and slightly salty, so perhaps had reasonable
keeping qualities for a full cream cheese. In addition the two thirds
allowance for Cheshire suggests that when Cheshire was issued then it
was the full cream variety ( Being a full cream cheese it is fattier and
therefore less dense than a flet cheese. A given volume approximating
to around two thirds the weight of a flet.) By the 1790’s the price
of Cheshire had risen to between 5d and 7d per Lb., well beyond the Victualling
Board price, even with the two thirds adjustment. However, by 1815 the
price had fallen back to 3d per Lb, well within the price parameter.
c) Gloucester . Probably Single Gloucester,
a ‘Flet’ Cheese similar to Suffolk. The keeping qualities
described and price paid suggest that this is the case. ( At Banton Fair
in 1783 Single Gloucester commanded 3d per Lb., Double Gloucester was
4d per Lb.). Generally reckoned to be not quite as hard as Suffolk.
4. Size and Shape.
Whilst there were traditionally accepted standards, in practice the hand
made cheese of this period could be almost any shape or size and vary
from Farm to Farm. Examples of both circular and square or Rectangular
Cheeses are recorded with weights of up to 100 Lb.
The norm, however appears to be based on the Mediaeval measure of Cheese,
The Lead of 56 Lb. For full cream cheese: 6 cheeses to the Lead, or 9.3Lb
each. For which we find corroboration when Purser Thomas of the Victory
buys in a total of 189 Dutch Cheeses on 26th Oct. 1796, weighing, in total
1804.5 Lbs. For Suffolk, and presumably other Flet Cheeses, 4 cheeses
to the Lead, or 14 Lb each. Again, because of the difference in density,
these two standard weights should yield cheeses of approximately the same
volume, or to put it another way, they can both be made in the same press.
As for shape, Cheshire is described as being ...‘as wide is it is
high’, whilst Suffolk is described as being shaped like a Cartwheel
and Gloucester as being ...’Wide and Thin’
Based on the volume and density of the Cheddar in my Fridge, I estimate
that a 9.3 Lb Cheshire Cheese might be 7” Diameter and 7”
High. On the same basis a 6” high cheese would be 7.5” diameter
and a 4” high cheese 9” diameter.
It follows from the above that Cheese Racks onboard ship are likely to
be higher than they are wide since with relatively heavy items like these
it will be necessary to leave enough space above to insert a hand and
arm. Thus, allowing for the size variation above, a rack of say 9”
wide by 11” high would seem to be the minimum. Although I imagine
that they may have been made quite a bit bigger to accommodate the aforementioned
variation. For example: on 13th April 1797 Purser Thomas purchased 4 Cheshire
Cheeses for the Wardroom @ an average of 18.25 Lbs each, which would make
them 8.5” wide by 8.5” high
1. Shipboard Life and Organisation. Ed. Lavery. NRS.
2. The Seaman’s Vade Mecum, Mountaine
3. A New Universal Dictionary of the Marine, Falconer
4. The Sailor’s Wordbook, Smythe
5. The Wooden World, Rodger
6. Food in England, D. Hartley
7. Cheese, J.G. Davis
8. The Story of Cheese Making in Britain, V. Cheke
9. Food and Drink in Britain, C. Anne Wilson
10. The Great British Cheese Book, P. Rance