Boiled Sheep's Head and Rook Pie

Hester Harrington Tuxford, Best-Selling Cookery Writer

‘During recent years the cost of living has increased’  Miss Tuxford tells us in the preface to her ‘Cookery for the Middle Classes’. With the current inflation in food prices the recipes of Hester Tuxford, Bottesford’s best-selling cookery writer, could well become popular again. Maybe there are not so many rooks about today, but perhaps our local butcher could produce a sheep’s head or some calves’ feet on request.

Hester Harrington Tuxford was born in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in 1881. She was the daughter of a ‘Provision Dealer’ from Holbeach. Her first book seems to have been Cookery Book for the Middle Classes published in 1902, where she described herself as ‘Diplomee of the Manchester School of Cookery’. By 1911 she advertised herself as ‘Principal of the South Manchester School of Cookery’.

Cookery for the Middle Classes Eighth Edition 1925 John Heywood, Manchester

In the 1920s Miss Tuxford moved to Bottesford, to ‘Southbourne’ on Albert Street. This building behind Forge Cottage was the former Independent Salem Chapel. Originally the chapel was on the upper floor, while the ground floor was a stable, cow shed and trap house. It was sold by Mr. George Norris in 1924. In 1925 the 8th Edition of Cookery for the Middle Classes was published with the Bottesford address.

Preface to the 8th Edition


The book was designed for those aspiring to be middle class, emphasizing the respectable status of its readers, while supplying recipes that use the cheapest of ingredients, ‘recipes which ensure dainty, wholesome and nourishing dishes, which are withal modest in cost.’

We might be surprised to find rook pie and boiled sheep’s head described as ‘dainty’, but no doubt readers who lacked confidence in their social position were reassured by the inclusion of recipes with headings like ‘A La Maître, A La Colbert, A La Diane’  and found a certain glamour in tinned salmon ‘A L’Italienne’.

The book contained advertisements, which presumably helped finance the its production. Miss Tuxford personally endorses some brands, while she is careful to include the brand-names of the advertised products in her recipes.

In addition to the ‘720 succulent recipes’ there are invalid dishes and  several vegetarian recipes. The author was clearly aware of the growth of the vegetarian movement at the time.

The inclusion of Household Hints offered further opportunities for advertisements.

As well as issuing her cookery book, Miss Tuxford ran a mail-order business supplying cookery ingredients and utensils.

Her acumen is also revealed by the section on Useful Hints on Gas Stove Cooking. Perhaps the Dingleys had a gas stove installed at Southbourne, fuelled by gas from Bottesford’s gas works.

Bottesford Gas Works, circa 1950. The gas works were established in 1866.

The increasing use of gas for cooking and the expansion of the gas cooker manufacturing industry were important in her later career. In the 1930s she gave lectures and cookery demonstration for gas companies in cities in the North and South West of England.

Miss Tuxford’s book went through numerous editions and revisions.  In 1933 the retitled 13th version boasted ‘upwards of 250,000 copies sold.’ She also edited various other cookery books. Cookery for the Middle Classes was still available in 2007, a tribute to the enduring British taste for boiled sheep’s head and rook pie.

In her private life Hester was Mrs Dingley, but she retained her maiden name throughout her professional career. In the 1930s the Dingley’s main home was Westwood in Tattershall. Frederick Dingley died in 1941. He served as Food Control officer for Horncastle RDC. Hester lived on, active in the Church, local affairs and the WVS. She was awarded the British Medal (civil division) in 1949.

She died in 1957 and was buried with her husband at Holy Trinity, Tattershall. The Obituary printed in the Boston Guardian  records that ‘Mrs Dingley (who was Miss Tuxford, the popular cookery demonstrator) came to Tattershall from Bottesford about 25 years ago … and carried on her demonstrations for many years.’

Her estate was valued for probate at £11,579. She did not forget Bottesford. In her will she left £500 to the Church Council of St. Mary’s, Bottesford.

This page was added on 27/02/2023.

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