Pancake Day in the early 1800s

Tomorrow is Pancake day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, which may well feel of little consequence in light of the current situation in Ukraine, but I’ll share it anyway. Like so many, my thoughts and prayers are very much with those in Ukraine. For those who know All Things Georgian well, you will know that my comments have always remained firmly rooted in the 18th century and never write or comment on current events, so for once, I make an exception. Now back to pancake day:

The word ‘shrive’ means to give absolution after hearing a confession, so people would historically attend confession in order to prepare themselves for Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday.

The earliest English recipe for pancakes is believed to date back to about the 15th century, but today we’re going to take a quick look at what the newspapers of the early 1800s had to say about Pancake day.

To begin, I came across this variation on the origins of Pancake day in the Cumberland Pacquet 12 March 1821:

Pancake Tuesday – The custom of eating pancakes on this day is believed to have originated from the following circumstances. One, Simon Eyre, a shoemaker, being chosen Lord Mayor of London, made a pan-cake feast, on Shrove Tuesday, for all the apprentices in London; and ordered that upon ringing a bell in every parish, which is still called the pan-cake bell in the city, they should leave work for the day. In the year 1446, Mr Eyre built Leadenhall.

We have an interesting report on the Derby Mercury 19 February 1823 which reported that the type of people ate pancakes by 1823 was largely governed by social class!

The custom of eating pancakes on this day, arose from the discipline of the ancient church, which, though it allowed the people to indulge in festive amusements after their confession, did not permit them to eat flesh meat. Recourse was therefore had, to pancakes and fritters; and the custom of eating them peculiarly on this day, though the decline among the great, is still maintained by many families of the better sort; but more especially among the lower class through the Kingdom.

Was there anything those Georgians thought unacceptable?

Shrove Tuesday all the year round - a cock wot every one throws at.
Shrove Tuesday all the year round – a cock wot every one throws at. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Not only, like us today, they enjoyed pancakes, but also, they had another tradition that took place on that day – cock throwing, but it would appear that by 1803 they were society was beginning to disagree with this long established practice on Shrove Tuesdays, if this report in the True Briton, of 19 February is to be believed:

As Shrove Tuesday us approaching, we hope some steps will be taken to abolish the barbarous practice of throwing cocks.

The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser of February 1823 waxed lyrical about pancakes, although I’m not sure I like the idea of adding vinegar – it’s lemon juice for me, for sure.

Woman Baking Pancakes, Adriaan de Lelie, c. 1790 – c. 1810

Shrove Tuesday is a relic of the carnival, and is more properly called, in some parts of the country, Pancake Tuesday, the shriving, or confessions of sin, taking place in the Shrove-tide, or Lent, which follows it; it was the interval between flesh-eating and fish-eating, and so they judiciously filled up the time with pudding.

The making of the pancakes used to furnish as much amusement in the kitchen as their mastication did in the parlour – the operators piquing themselves on tossing them skilfully in the pan; but the custom is too much gone out. We see many reasons for the discontinuance of some customs – of cock fighting, for instance, which use to be the disgrace, and which is the pastime of cowards; but why we should give up our pancakes, unless we have lost our gums as well as our teeth, or are subject to heartburn we see no reason upon the table. They are of taste “not inelegant” as Milton says. They are a nice variety – their entrance is a prodigious moment for the children – they can accommodate themselves to sophisticated palates by means of lemon juice or vinegar, the rolling of one of them up, and then cutting it with a knife and fork, and dipping the slice into plenty of sugar, is a thing not be to slightly praised.

To end with, I wonder what event this child baptised on February 26, 1775, could possibly have been named after? Mary Pancake, illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Staines was baptised at Cowley, St James, Oxford.


18 thoughts on “Pancake Day in the early 1800s

    1. Sarah Murden

      I’ve done some searching and sadly I haven’t come across any pancake races during that period, the earliest reports appears to be pot 1850. Do enjoy your pancake race today though 🙂


  1. mistyfan

    I am glad the Georgians were beginning to go against the practice of throwing cocks. Poor birds.

    How did they have their pancakes anyway? Did they just eat them plain, or did they have fillings?


    1. Sarah Murden

      Thank you, yes I’d seen that one on the British Museum website and yes, that’s possible article for the future, I’ll bear it in mind 🙂


  2. Pingback: Merkwaardig (week 10) |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.