Crushed bees, snake fat and crayfish eyes: Lady Sabine Winn’s curative curiosities, written by Rebecca Wall, Archive Volunteer



No, it’s not a recipe from the Halloween edition of Professional Masterchef. These are just a few of the more eccentric ingredients found in medicinal and cosmetic recipes collected by Lady Sabine Winn (1734-1798), the Swiss wife of the fifth Baronet of Nostell Priory. They all feature in the Nostell Priory/Winn Family Collection housed here at the archives in Wakefield.

Lady Winn’s bee-based compound was reputed to cure both alopecia and deafness, whilst crayfish eyes formed part of her recommended treatment for cleaning and whitening teeth and firming up gums made soft and recessive by scurvy. Snake fat was, according to Lady Winn, “one of the most excellent remedies for making hair grow back” although – if you had none to hand – a type of dock leaf would also work.

Alongside these dubious remedies is an account of an experiment conducted in Moscow in 1772 to prevent the plague “by means of fumigation” which involved exposing ten condemned prisoners to a “fumigation powder”, dressing them in clothes worn by plague victims and locking them in a plague hospital for three weeks.


A new method of preventing the plague (WYW1352/1/4/30/7)



If you want to learn more about that experiment, how the “fumigation powder” or how other recipes were made and used, please come along and have a look at the documents – the collection details are below.

This part of the Winn family collection will certainly be of interest to a wide range of people including those interested in Nostell Priory and Lady Sabine Winn; historians of medicine, consumption, the country house, gender and class; or, indeed, anyone whose interest has been piqued by this blog!

Collection and catalogue details:

  • Title of collection: Nostell Priory (Winn Family), Barons St Oswald, Family and Estate Records
  • Catalogue finding number: WYW1352/1/4/30/1-22. Sabine, Lady Winn (1734-1798), medicinal formulas-

Note: Some of the entries in the collection are in French.


Yorkshire Chemicals, a local and global giant, written by Kristian Griggs, Archive Volunteer

The Yorkshire Dyeware and Chemical Company at its peak was a truly global chemistry giant and a major local employer. The company that had humble beginnings in Yorkshire grew to a global scale over the 19th and 20th centuries. The company during its rise to prominence was headed by the Bedford family. A family who were heavily involved in Leeds society and even had one of their number as Lord mayor of Leeds during the First World War.

The actual collection was found in a peculiar set of locations from a collapsed barn to a sealed off cupboard. Spanning a period from the mid to late 18th century up till the early 21st century, it contains material from in-depth company records on chemical processes to the very early beginnings of the Bedford family’s first enterprises. The material found has a varied composition, there are First World War newspaper clippings and diaries of key Bedford family figures, even detailed company photographs from the second half of the 20th century

Not everything, however, is restricted to yellowed pages of records and forgotten letters. I have found a myriad of items that show the historical- scientific value of this collection. Items such as several colour swatches showing coloured leather, that still after over a century are just as vivid as when they were produced. Even bright yellow cloth, made from simple onion skins show, that despite synthetic advancements, organic dyes were still being produced and tested. These pieces show the development of an industry, that quite literally, added more colour to the world.


In terms of documentation, found within a bundle of paper there lay a 140 year old Chemical society journal, barley held together by its binding and missing most of its pages. Yet surviving in this centuries old periodical was an article written excitedly over the new developments in synthetic dyes produced from coal tar. A field at the time less than a decade old, that would later lead to a massive colour revolution over the next 100 years and beyond. Documents such as this help connect you to the past and appreciate those advancements now so often taken for granted.


Ultimately, this collection shows the story of a major Yorkshire company and the people behind it. It covers the large history as well as the intimate stories of those involved at all levels. It is truly a fascinating collection that is as much a social history as it is scientific.

To find out more about this collection please contact the Leeds office of the West Yorkshire Archive Service and ask for collection reference WYL2551.

#HairyArchives, a Royal Recipe, written by Debby Aspland, Archives Volunteer

Lady Sabine Winn was an 18th Century woman keen on high fashion. The West Yorkshire Archives holds not only swatches of fashionable Duncan’s Checks belonging to Lady Winn but numerous notes of where to buy all the best articles ‘in the newest fashion’. The collection contains a handwritten description of articles made and sold at Gold’s Manufactory at No 26 New Street, Convent Garden which is ‘in the greatest variety at the lowest prices’. It reads almost as a concise list of accessories sold at Gold’s that can be bought for enhancing all manner of a lady’s dress: beads, buttons, trimmings, purses, jewellery, ‘hair cane and strings ornamented with gold’.



Hair was as important to Lady Winn as the outfits she wore. Her role model appears to be Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. Through her we know that the powder used in dressing her majesty’s hair on her last birthday (and also the Princesses) was made from rose leaves and orange buds by Lewis Hendrie, perfumer, who is based in Shug Lane, Golden Square, London. We also learn that Hendrie, who is also comb-maker to the Queen, goes to great lengths to supply the upper classes with their fashion requirements when he ‘begs leave to acquaint the nobility and gentry, that he has several very large fat bears, one of which he will have killed in a few day [sic] and that such as are pleased to have any of the Grease will either call or send their servants to see it cut off the animal’.

For more information about this collection please contact the Wakefield office of the West Yorkshire Archive Service and ask for the Nostell Priory Collection.

The Yorkshire Dyeware and Chemical Company Limited: A trip to occupied Germany, written by Zoe Guilford, Archives Volunteer

The Yorkshire Dyeware and Chemical Company Limited (YDC) traded under several names throughout its life. It first began as Wood & Bedford in the mid nineteenth century producing natural dyes and tannins. In 1990, with the Bedford family now in full control, the company brought together eleven of the local leading chemical companies to form YDC. With this acquisition they transitioned from predominantly producing natural dyes and tannins to becoming world leaders of synthetic dyes. After floating on the stock market for a few years the company’s name changed again, this time to Yorkshire Chemicals plc. With the textiles industry moving to Asia, the company collapsed in 2005 having spent the previous year in administration. The collection held at WYAS Leeds contains a mix of records relating to both the company and the family, who passed down the company each generation.


A letter to Wood and Bedford containing dyed leather samples (WYL2551/2/6/3136)

In amongst the laboratory books and business records is a report written by Charles Bedford during a visit to Germany to view multiple chemical works. What is most fascinating about this report is that it is written in 1919 and the parts of Europe and Germany Charles visited were occupied by English troops and their allies. Charles writes about his journey to Germany, and includes detailed descriptions of the places he stayed and travelled through as well as the people he met along the way, and the activities of the group.

On Sunday 1st of June 1919, Charles describes the scene he saw in Cologne. He goes on to describe the interactions of the local civilians and soldiers on the streets and then lists the prices of certain items including, lemons, tea, soap and straw hats. Overall the report gives a detailed insight in to the layout and functions of each chemical work visited as well as the life during the war.

Other notable items in the YDC archive are fabric samples used as aids in sales and testing samples to test different qualities of the dyes. Here is an example of one such selling aid.


A sample of dyes used as a sale aid by the Celmons, Marshall & Cabert branch of YDC.