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Amersham Soup Society records


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Amersham Soup Society was established in 1798 in England to run a soup kitchen for Amersham's poor. According to the Amersham Museum, "the years at the end of the eighteenth century were particularly hard ones for the poor [characterized by] a series of bad harvests and poor weather result[ing] in grain and bread prices reaching levels that were unaffordable for the unskilled labourers, the unemployed and poor." Faced with the fall-out of such poverty, charitable groups formed soup kitchens to provide for those who could not provide for themselves or their families.

Although little is known about this soup society in particular, it is likely that it would have been comprised of local community leaders and business men and supported by subscribers. Notes contained within the collection are written on the verso of printed material referring to Friends in Philadelphia, which indicates that leaders of the organization may have had Quaker ties. The "Rules Agreed Upon by the Soup Society of Amersham" state that the business of the society was conducted by General Committee, which included a president, a secretary, a treasurer, and members (at least ten of whom were required for a quorum). Soup was provided three times per week to persons holding tickets and was overseen by two members of the General Committee in rotation. Following dispersal of soup, members delivered the money received by the poor to the treasurer "together with an account thereof, and any observations which may have occurred in the course of their service, and which they apprehend proper to be laid before the General Committee." The soup made often consisted of beef, peas, barley, and onions - a variation of the Rumford Soup, created by Count Rumford to maximize nutritional value while minimizing cost. Beneficiaries of this kitchen were to present a ticket entitling them to soup upon arrival and pay around one penny in order to receive the soup.

Collection material indicates that the Society performed significant research before establishing their own organization and that much of their structure was based upon that of the Spitalfields Soup Society in London. The Amersham Soup Society likely closed in the early nineteenth century.

Sources consulted:

Amersham Museum. Amersham's "lost" 19th century soup kitchens. Web. 2016 November 10

This collection consists of correspondence, accounts, rules, printed matter, subscriber lists and kitchen plans relating to the Amersham Soup Society as well as "Count Rumford's Experimental Essays" and memoranda and plans for the relief of the poor. Researchers will find an account book and several loose account sheets for the Society documenting both the costs of the running of a charitable organization and also the costs of feeding the poor. The account book has accounts for indgredients including barley, beef, onions, peas, pepper, and salt; an account of quarts of soup delivered and money received; an account of contributions received, an account with Richard Parsons, the cook; and an account with William Allen of London, a druggist with whom the Society appears to have worked closely.

There is limited correspondence in the collection, but the three letters that are included discuss a person's reason for opposing the Amersham Soup Society, an opinion about a soup society's pamphlet not containing enough information on the subject of preparing the soup, and extracts of G.D.'s letters from London which provide information on setting up boilers and the establishment of the Amersham Soup Society.

The kitchen plans provide proposals for the organization of the kitchen as well as proposals for the most nutritious and cost effective soup recipes. These plans for the kitchen include sketches of layouts for the kitchen as well as a list of apparatus necessary for a soup house.

Researchers will also find the rules of the Society, as well as lists of subscribers and lists of the families likely to need soup.

Several folders indicate the planning and research of the Amersham community before the establishment of the Amersham Soup Society. The memoranda appears to be draft working documents which include "space for objections if any occur" (the objections written in different ink). These documents address issues expected to arise and plan carefully for a sustainable charity. In the printed matter, researchers will find a document from the Spitalfields Soup Society, the organization on which the Amersham Soup Society was modeled; a pamphlet providing "Suggestions offered to the consideration of the Community, for the purpose of reducing the consumption of bread corn; and relieving at the same time the labouring people, by the substitution of other cheap, wholesome, and nourishing food, and especially by means of Soup Establishments;" and a description of William Slark's steam kitchen which includes details of the steam kitchen and recipes to maximize its utility. "Count Rumford's Experimental Essays" contain several essays written by the famed physicist and inventor, Benjamin Thompson. These essays include guides for the fundamental principles for the relief of the poor, methods of feeding the poor, and improvements to chimney and fireplace designs. The handwritten extracts of Count Rumford's Experimental Essays include notes on improving the lives of the poor, particularly in Munich, but also "in all countries." Essay No. 3 is titled "On Foods, and particularly of Feeding the Poor." The notebook includes sketches, largely of chimneys for ovens, as well as recipes.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Kelin Baldridge (cataloged by Nancy Shawcross)
Finding Aid Date
2016 November 10
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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Accounts, 1800.
Box 1 Folder 2
Correspondence , 1799-1801.
Box 1 Folder 1
Extracts of "Count Rumford's Experimental Essays" relating to improving the lives of the poor, 1795-1796.
Box 1 Folder 7
Kitchen plans and sketches, undated.
Box 1 Folder 3
Memoranda and plans for the relief of the poor, undated.
Box 1 Folder 4
Printed matter, 1798-1799.
Box 1 Folder 5
Rules, 1798-1799.
Box 1 Folder 6
Subscribers and lists of those likely to need soup, 1799-1800.
Box 1 Folder 8

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