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Story of Snuff


At first tobacco was more popular in England than snuff. Snuff became more popular during the of the Wars of Spanish Succession when many English soldiers took to snuff taking while fighting in Europe.


Snuff didn't become more generally available until after an incident that happened off the coast of Spain. Admiral Sir George Rooke failed to capture the Spanish port of Cadiz,so on his way home he plundered some smaller ports nearby. On these raids he captured thousands of barrels of snuff. On returning to England the sailors were given barrels of snuff as their share of the booty. It was the first time that large quantities of prepared snuff had arrived in England. The sailors sold the snuff for about three or four pence a pound and this boosted the popularity of snuff taking in England.


The Prince Regent

The Prince Regent had one room in each of his palaces set aside for the storage of snuff. At the time of his death a huge amount of snuff had been amassed. The snuff was sold. One buyer was Lord Petersham.

Lord Petersham

Lord Petersham had a snuff box for every day of the year! He kept 3000-4000 pounds (1400-1800kg) of snuff in store. He had all his servants dressed in snuff -coloured livery.

Mary Lamb

Mary Lamb and her brother Charles are mainly known for their rewriting of the Tales fromShakespeare. She loved snuff but couldn't afford as much as she wanted. So she devised a cunning plan. Once a week she would set out to visit various lady friends to take tea. In her bag she had at least a dozen empty snuff boxes. During each visit she would take out her snuff box and feign surprise when she found it empty, her generous hostess would then insist on filling Mary's snuff box from her own store. On each visit Mary would carry out the same charade, and so by the end of the morning she had enough snuff to last her the week.

Her hostesses probably played along out of kindness.


What is snuff?

Snuff is made from the leaves of the tobacco plant. The tobacco leaves are turned into snuff in two ways.

The wet method: leaves are tightly bound in bags and left to ferment before grinding.

The dry method: the leaves are dried in a kiln(large oven) and then ground into powder.

To this powder the snuff makers added herbs and scents such as: peppermint, attar of roses, wallflower and lavender.

Some snuffs had menthol or eucalyptus oil added to relieve hay fever, catarrh and cold symptoms.

How tobacco came to Europe

Tobacco was unknown in Europe before the discovery of the New World, (America) by Christopher Columbus. A fransiscan friar Romano Pane who sailed with Columbus, told of seeing natives burning the leaves of a plant and inhaling the smoke. In the 1600s Phillip II of Spain sent Fernando Hernandez, a physcian and naturalist, to Mexico to investigate the country's natural resources. Hernandez brought back leaves and seeds of the tobacco plant.

The taking of snuff spread from Spain to Portugal, where the French Ambassador, Jean Nicot ( from whose name we get nicotine) sent some to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, to cure her migraine. We don't know if it cured her migraine but she seems to have become an addict.

And what about Sir Walter Raleigh. He may not have been the first to bring tobacco to Europe but he did much to popularise it in Queen Elizabeth's court, despite her disapproval.


From the beginning using tobacco and snuff has caused controversy.

Pope Urban XIII ordered that anyone found guilty of taking snuff in church should be excommunicated,

Tsar Michael I of Russia decreed that snuff takers should have their noses cut off.

Louis XIII of France forbade the use of snuff except as prescribed by physicians.

Queen Elizabeth I issued a decree against the misuse of tobacco.

James I wrote 'A Counterblast to Tobacco' still one of the fiercest condemnations of tobacco in all its forms.


Cardinal Richelieu taxed it!

Despite these warnings snuff became very popular.


This picture shows the kilns next to the Snuff mills in Morden Hall Park. The tobacco leaves were dried in the kiln. They were lightly dried to make paler snuff or baked for longer to make darker stronger snuff.

When snuff taking became fashionable the necessary sundries became articles of fashion in their own right. So many kinds of snuff boxes were made, some very beautifully decorated and expensive, some querky (in the shape of a shoe) and large ones for communial use made from sheep's horns and even sheep's heads!

The ones on display are Chinese snuff bottles. In many of them a small spoon is attached to the top so that the snuff can be lifted out.


Alexander Pope
The Prince Regent
Samuel Johnson
Queen Charlotte( old snuffy)
Sarah Siddons
David Garrick
Sir Joshua Reynolds
Duke of Wellington
Lord Nelson