Avis Crocombe and husband Benjamin Stride, 1886
|Died||1927 (aged 89)|
Marylebone, London, England
|Known for||Head cook at Audley End House|
Benjamin Stride (m. 1884)
Avis Crocombe (1838–1927) was an English domestic servant who was the head cook during the 1880s at Audley End House, a 17th-century country house near Saffron Walden in England. She found fame nearly a century after her death thanks to being featured in a series of YouTube videos featuring her as the main character, cooking recipes from the era. These include a small selection from her own manuscript cookery book. She and other characters from the 1880s are the focus of a long-running live interpretation project at the house, started in 2008 and still ongoing in 2018.
Avis entered domestic service before her 13th birthday. She initially worked for her brother John in Devon, but by 1861 was working as a kitchenmaid for John Townshend, Viscount Sydney, one of a staff of at least 10, including a male cook and several footmen. By 1871, she was working as a cook and housekeeper in the household of Thomas Proctor Beauchamp at Langley Hall, Norfolk, one of 16 servants employed by the family. Sometime before 1881, she became cook to the family of the 5th Baron Braybrooke whose country seat was at Audley End House near Saffron Walden. As was usual for cooks, she also worked at the family's home in London at Upper Brook Street, and for them in their seaside home at Branksome Towers in Bournemouth. She replaced a male French chef (a Mons. Merer), but the family were probably cost-cutting, for Avis would have been substantially cheaper. Although staff wages are not known at Audley for 1881, in general male cooks commanded around £100-120 p.a., (the upper end if French), whereas women's salaries ranged from £40-60. Those who, like Avis, had trained under male cooks could expect higher wages than those who had not.
Avis Crocombe left Audley End in 1884 when she married Benjamin Stride, who ran a lodging house in London. He died in 1893, leaving £496.6s.8d, and she continued to run the business, along with his daughter (her step-daughter) Anna-Jane. She died in 1927, aged 89, by now a servant-keeper in her own right.
In 2008, English Heritage, a charity which cares for over 400 monuments and sites across Britain, including Audley End, undertook a multi-million pound restoration of the service wing, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. As part of the interpretation, Past Pleasures provided costumed characters, who animated the service wing portraying the servants as listed in the 1881 census. The project centred around live cookery, with the team in character, talking to the public and sharing with them recipes from the era. It was initially led by food historian Annie Gray, and then by experienced historical interpreter and educator, Kathy Hipperson. Initially, recipes were sourced from books appropriate to the era, but in 2009 Benjamin Stride's descendant Robert Stride bought tickets to see a concert at Audley End. The name sparked a memory, and he realised that he had Avis's hand-written recipe book in a drawer. He donated it to English Heritage, and the costumed team were able to integrate the recipes written by Avis into their work. The book also enabled Gray to work more closely on the sources available to Crocombe, and the style of cookery likely to have been seen at Audley in the 1880s. Crocombe copied several recipes from Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845), for example, while others were sourced from newspapers and visitors to the house.
Avis Crocombe is regularly portrayed as part of the interpretation at the house, and is played by a number of different interpreters.
English Heritage has commissioned a number of videos for their YouTube channel featuring Kathy Hipperson playing Avis. Coming under the banner of 'The Victorian Way', they are part-demonstration, part-historical showcase, and draw upon recipes from both Avis' book and many others from the period, to both engage and entertain as part of English Heritage's mission, to 'inspire and entertain', with 'authenticity, quality, imagination, responsibility and fun'. The videos were produced by Gareth Clifford of the Digital Content Team, assisted by Annie Gray, and several English Heritage staff have also appeared, including historian Andrew Hann (whose work on Avis has enabled positive identification of a photograph donated with the recipe book as Avis and Benjamin), and the current curator of Audley End, Peter Moore. In 2018 English Heritage also collaborated with James Townsend & Son., an American costumed interpretation and historic props company, with crossover videos featuring packages sent from the UK to the USA and vice versa. The Victorian Way videos had received over 12 million views as of August 2018.
- England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007
- Victorian cook's 1880s recipes inspire millions online. BBC News, 30 August 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
- Avis Crocombe England and Wales Census, 1841. Family Search. Retrieved 4 October 2018. (subscription required)
- Avis Crocombe England and Wales Census, 1881. Family Search. Retrieved 4 October 2018. (subscription required)
- 1841 England Census
- Mark Bridge. "YouTube gets a taste for Victorian values". The Times. Retrieved 3 October 2018. (subscription required)
- "Ancestry - Sign In". www.ancestry.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
- Avis Crocombe England and Wales Census, 1871. Family Search. Retrieved 4 October 2018. (subscription required)
- Laudan, Rachel (2016-05-09). "Servants in the Kitchen: Professed Cooks and Plain Cooks". Rachel Laudan. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
- 1893 Probate Calendar. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
- Meet the YouTube cook going viral - 140 years after her death. Freddie Lynne, Cambridgeshire Live, 9 September 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
- "Our vision and values". English Heritage. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
- English Heritage, A Photograph of the Real Mrs Crocombe?, retrieved 2018-12-21
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