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1700s: Dining like the Burrells

Ockenden Manor
Ockenden House (Manor)

Timothy Burrell kept a set of account diaries which give a fascinating insight into the daily life of a wealthy land-owning Sussex squire in the 18th century. It’s one the most interesting diaries that are known to have been kept at the time in the county.

The Burrell family made their fortunes as iron masters and had lived in the area from the mid 1400s. Timothy was born in 1643. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, was called to the bar and practiced in London.

Clearly city life did not suit him and he returned to his home at Ockenden, Cuckfield to pursue law locally. He became known as ‘Counsellor Burrell’.

Today memorials to the Burrells can be found on the walls of Cuckfield Church, these are just cold impersonal facts recorded on stone - but Timothy’s writings bring the writer to life and you can relate to what he was thinking at the time. It’s almost as if it’s last week rather than three centuries ago.

He clearly had a great sense of humour, his account books contain many curious and cynical entries illustrated by primitive doodles. You can read the irony in extracts like:

1705. Pay'd Gosmark for making cyder 1 day, whilst John Coachman was to be drunk with the carrier's money, by agreement; and I pay'd 2d. to the glasyer for mending John's casement broken at night by him when he was drunk.

1706. 25th March. Pd. John Coachman by Ned Virgo, that he may be drunk all the Easter week, in part of his wages due, £1.

He gives us an insight into a sumptuous feast laid on by the Burrell family for 13 guests on New Year’s Day 1707:

Plumm pottage

Calves' head and bacon



Plumm pottage

Roast beef, sirloin

Veale, a loin


Plumm pottage

Boiled beef, a clod

Two baked puddings

Three dishes of minced pies

Two capons

Two dishes of tarts

Two pullets

Burrell details the making of the family’s favourite plum porridge:

Take of beef-soup made of legs of beef, 12 quarts; if you wish it to be particularly good, add a couple of tongues to be boiled therein. Put fine bread, sliced, soaked, and crumbled; raisins of the sun, currants and pruants two lbs of each; lemons, nutmegs, mace and cloves are to be boiled with it in a muslin bag; add a quart of red wine and let this be followed, after half an hour's boiling, by a pint of sack. Put it into a cool place and it will keep through Christmas.

When Burrell hosted a dinner for four friends they were served the following:

Pease pottage

2 carps, 2 tench

Capon, Pullet

Fried oysters

Baked pudding

Roast leg of mutton

Apple pudding


Tarts. Minced pies

Perhaps it’s not surprising that we learn in the diary that due to his over-indulgences he occasionally had ‘to take the waters of Ditchling’ - or to dose himself with hieræ picræ. [Ed: a purging powder made of aloes and canella bark. Neither ‘cure’ is taken medicinally today]

In 1711 he records: ‘I invited Sir John Shaw, Mr Dodson, Mr Shore and wife to dinner.’ He clearly wanted to impress - as this was the dinner he had prepared for them:

A soup taken off

Two large carps at the upper end

Pidgeon pie, salad, veal ollaves

Leg of mutton, and cutlets at the lower end


Three rosted chickens

Scotch pancakes, tarts, asparagus

Three green gees at the lower end

In the room of the chickens removed

Four-souced mackerel


Rasins in cream at the upper end

Calves' foot jelly, dried sweetmeats, calves' foot jelly

Flummery, Savoy cakes

Imperial cream at the lower end

Thurston Hopkins in the The Lure of Sussex (1931) gives us a clearer picture of the generosity of Timothy:

To the petty tradesman or the town beadle he was ‘Old Burrell’ - just that and nothing more, but to the hundreds of poor people of the countryside he was a loyal and devoted friend. The records show that he liked nothing better than to stand in the ‘bower’ by his front porch and deal out provisions to the poor and needy. Every Sunday morning it was his practice to deal out beef, beer, and wheat to all the poor people who applied to him.

The ‘bar’ of a public house perpetuates the ‘bower’ of the early manor house. Near the porch of a monastic inn or manor house a small chamber was generally reserved for the distribution of ale, wine, and bread. This compartment was known as the ‘bowre’, and it is said that it derives its name from the Norse ‘Bur’, meaning buttery.

From Burrell's journal - more at the foot of this article

Occasionally the diaries switch to Latin, so that the casual, less-educated reader would not be able to understand private observations of others and concerning himself. So on October 1709 he discretely details in his accounts his donations to the needy:

For Betty Smith of Kidlington one shilling ‘mente lapsae plane’ means ‘gone completely mad’. And:

From this time I have resolved, as long as the dearth of provisions continues, to give to the poor who apply for it at the door on Sundays, twelve pounds of beef every week, on the 11th of February 4lbs more, in all 16lbs, and a bushel of wheat and half a bushel of barley in 4 weeks.

Even routine repairs of his home were recorded in detail.
Even routine repairs of his home were recorded in detail.

Sadly, for such a sociable, well liked and fun-loving man Timothy’s personal life was not easy. He was married three times. His first two wives bore no children and the third died in the delivery of the only child - a daughter in 1696. She was to marry at 19, had a two year unhappy marriage before dying. Her passing was believed to have hastened the death of her grief-stricken father at 75 in December 1717 at his Ockenden home. His diary postings seem to end three years earlier.



‘The Lure of Sussex: A Record of Indolent Travel’, by Thurston Hopkins, published by Cecil Palmer 1931.

Sussex Archeological Society Collection Vol III 1850 P117

‘Extracts from the Journal and Account Book of Timothy Burrell, Esq., Barrister-At-Law, of Ockenden House, Cuckfield, from 1683 To 1714.’

Can be viewed: Photos: Ockenden Manor from the Sussex Archeological Society Collection Vol III

The Burrell Coat of Arms [Copyright: Creative Commons, image edited by Malcolm Davison]

From Burrell's journal (see first photo above) Did Timothy Burrell ever imagine that 300 years later future generations would have such an intimate insight into his personal life? Pauperibus ex consuetudine, means ‘exceptional payment to the poor’ and ‘mente lapsae plane’ means ‘gone completely mad’.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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