ELHAS Meeting Report - March 2014

Meeting Report - March 2014

The March meeting was an informative talk and slide show about the history of snuff making and taking. This was brought to us by Jenny Stacey, an experienced speaker who has been delivering talks and craft demonstrations for more than 40 years. Jenny explained her interest in the subject of snuff sprang from her collection of snuff boxes which she started at the age of eighteen.

She began by explaining that snuff is made from the leaves and stems of the tobacco plant and that snuff was made both commercially and domestically. The audience was intrigued by the concept of someone grinding snuff in their food processors, or pestle and mortars in the early days, but Jenny explained that the flavour of snuff was a very personal thing and different spices and products were used with ladies preferring flower scents and gents choosing ingredients such as ammonia. Whilst the use of snuff was common in other countries from the 1400's it was not much used in England until about 1800. In fact it only gained in popularity when endorsed by Queen Charlotte and her son George.

Jenny told us that snuff taking was a social exercise bound by the twelve movements for snuff taking devised by a gentleman called John Arnott. who ran the Royal Snuff Shop in the Haymarket, London. The popularity of snuff taking was shown by the many famous people such as Gainsborough and Beau Brummel who adopted the practise. As well as being a social activity Jenny explained that snuff does have some medicinal properties and was used by miners underground to keep their noses clear and protect against emphysema. We were surprised to hear that there are still 4 manufactures of snuff in the country with local firm Wilsons of Sheffield producing some 25% of the snuff taken in England. During the slide show which accompanied the talk we were able to see photographs of equipment and the factory which began business in 1737. Although most of us thought the practise of snuff taking had virtually died out we were told that a bowl of snuff is still available in the House of Commons, and even more surprised to learn that a member of the audience was a regular snuff taker .

Jenny went on to show slides of her collection of snuff boxes and had also brought some to show and handle. She told us how snuff boxes were made of many different materials with the most expensive being gold and silver, although hand painted wooden and papier-mache ones were very collectible commanding high prices. The evening ended with some of the audience trying their hand at snuff taking, an experience which proved to be somewhat surprising.

The next meeting on Monday 28th April 2014 will be a talk by Anne Batchelor entitled "Voices from the Past." The stories of a variety of people told from their letters and diaries.