Who was Elizabeth Moxon?

by Sarah Cobham

When Dream Time Creative, our arts company based in Wakefield and the powerhouse behind the Forgotten Women of Wakefield Project, was approached by Pontefract Museum to put the spotlight on Pontefract’s author of the 18th century cookbook ‘English Housewifery’ we were delighted. Little did we know just how much of an enigma Elizabeth Moxon was going to be. 

Charged with raising the profile of both her and the museum through a series of community engagement workshops, talks, research and media work, we set about trying to uncover just who she was. There was scant concrete information already in existence so from October 2018  through to early February  2019, three researchers from our crack team have travelled the width and depth of the country to access never before referenced documents to try to find out more about this extraordinary woman.  

They have worked with members of Pontefract Civic Society, met with The Pontefract History Society, given talks to the public, upskilled members of the community in research techniques, created opportunities to respond creatively through poetry and prose writing as well as  engaged community members in more traditional art forms  in response to the cookbook, the recipes and an emerging picture of who Elizabeth could possibly be. Was she Elizabeth Shaw from Leeds who married William Moxon, the master baker who lived on Finkle Street? Or was she Elizabeth Hastleton from Pontefract who married William Moxon, the stone mason, also from Finkle Street? And what part did James Lister, the printer of the first edition in 1741,  play in creating what could quite possibly be a generic Elizabeth Moxon, as a ruse to sell the book with his friend James Swale the publisher? 

The art of research has its challenges and this project has certainly provided plenty of them. With a blue plaque unveiling due to take place March 15th 2019 to honour the success of the book, we know, at least, at this stage the comprehensive story of the book itself. Published 16 times, the publishers and printers stories are as fascinating but infinitely more accessible than that of ‘our’ Elizabeth’s whose own story remains elusive at this time. Dream Time Creative will be presenting those findings at the Blue Plaque unveiling where Yvette Cooper and Don Moxon, researcher and author to the forward of the latest edition of the cookbook, will be in attendance.

This article was featured in Issue 1 – February 2019.

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