Peter Brears was director of both York and Leeds’ City Museums, is a consultant to the National Trust, English Heritage, the Historic Royal Palaces, the winner of numerous prizes including the André Simon award for his book, Cooking and Dining in Medieval England, the standard text on the subject, and Britain’s leading authority on jelly.
Peter Brears was born in Thorpe, between Leeds and Wakefield, in 1944. Aged five he moved to the pit village of Outwood where his mother stayed at home and cooked good, plain wholesome food for the family and his father ran the pit-head baths. A scholarship to Castleford Technical High School then Leeds College of Art taught him engineering, product design, and technical drawing.
As a boy with an inquiring mind and a love of history he volunteered to work in local museums and on the Sandal Castle archeological dig. He attended extra-mural classes and for fun, hung out with the local smallholder-cum-scrap merchant, a Steptoe figure, with Brears acting as Steptoe’s son, collecting what had become by the 1960s, unwanted mahogany furniture, chaise longues and long case clocks.
His first proper job was Keeper of Folk Life for Hampshire County Council, but it wasn’t long before he was back in Yorkshire and after a brief spell at Shibden Hall in Halifax, he became live-in curator at Clarke Hall, Wakefield, a semi-derelict 17th century merchant’s house that Brears turned into a living history museum where school children in costume could learn about the domestic life of their ancestors.
He furnished it with original artefacts and furniture or else made reproductions so that the children could get a hands-on experience of what life was like 150 years ago. For the many school children who passed through Clarke Hall, it was a memorable experience, cooking, cleaning, gardening, chopping vegetables for soup in the kitchens and turning the spit for the chickens roasting in front of the open fire.
He is the author of over 27 books, the latest being Cooking & Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England, and he is at work on several new books, while giving numerous talks on food history throughout the year.