Last week I bought a book entitled The Costume Of Great Britain, with text and engravings by W.H. Pyne. There are 60 large format (35 x 26cm), beautifully hand coloured engravings, depicting the different professions and events. My copy is the first edition, published in 1804 in London. I bought it on a Dutch Internet auction site and that meant that it did not attract the same attention as it would have done on an UK or US based site. I was therefore lucky enough to be able to secure it at the reserve price, which was an absolute steal! The book is sometimes broken up and the plates sold individually for between £25 and £150.
The plate below is entitled Woman Selling Salop and attracted my attention, because I had no idea what ‘salop’ was. From the engraving I could see it was a drink of sorts and after some googling I found out more. It is an infusion of ground herbs and ground orchid root, a beverage for fashionable townspeople in the 18th century. It became popular with the increase in trade from the East Indies. In most countries of the East , drinks were prepared from the dried and powdered roots of various species of orchids, and they were widely regarded as aphrodisiacs. English merchants would have encountered a sugar-sweetened version in the East Indies.
Salop powder was stirred into water until it thickened, then the liquid was sweetened and seasoned with rosewater, orange-flower water or a similar fashion to the thin sago drink. The powder could also be made up with milk. “Drink it in china cups as chocolate; it is a great sweetener of the blood” advised one recipe. At the height of its popularity (in the 1720’s) salop was served in coffee houses as an alternative to coffee or chocolate. Salop vendors, like the one in the picture below, peddled the drink in the streets, or sold it from booths.
There are a few interesting details that tell us a bit more about the drink. In the background, leaning against his booth, we can see a night watchman with a rattle hanging from his belt. The rattle was used to attract attention if he saw something untoward during his round. His appearance in the picture seems to indicate that salop was consumed in the evening or night. It probably helped against the cold.
Another detail is the chimney sweep in the bottom left, enjoying a cup of salop. This tells us that it was a drink that everybody could afford and not restricted to fashionable society.