The collection comprises four household cookery books containing recipes for food and natural remedies. Only one is dated but all appear to have been created in the 18th century and added to at various times until the late 18th or early 19th century. A number of the recipes in the volumes are annotated with the names of various Willoughby family members and members of the local gentry or aristocracy in the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area. The four books have all been rebound in the same style, possibly by their later owner J. Butler-Bowdon. Three of the books (MS 87/1-3) are described on their bindings as "Willoughby Household Books". The fourth (MS 87/4) is described as "Mrs Willoughby's book". The collection contains:
MS 87/1: A neat recipe book containing around 215 recipes written in clear handwriting with headings, probably begun in the mid to late-18th century. Food recipes appear at the front of the book; medicinal recipes at the back, with the book turned upside down. The first 55 pages of the food recipes and 45 pages of medicinal recipes are in a consistent hand, and are indexed. Subsequent pages are in other hands and have been added to on more than one occasion. None of the recipes are dated. The book may have been created by relations or friends of the Willoughby family, as some of the later recipes were supplied by Mrs E. Willoughby and Mrs A. Willoughby of Aspley (some appear to be copies of Mrs Willoughby's own recipes from MS 87/4). Other later names in the volume include Mrs Becher and Mrs Bowdon.
MS 87/2: A recipe book containing around 350 recipes written in a large number of different hands over a considerable period of time, the earliest probably dating from the early to mid-18th century. Later recipes were given by a variety of people including Mrs Alexander, Miss Helena Alexander, Mr Robert Willoughby, and 'daughter' Cass. Willoughby, suggesting that the recipe book was actively used by Mrs Margaret Willoughby in the mid to late-18th century when her children had grown up. The book predominantly contains medicinal, veterinary and household recipes, but includes some recipes for food and drink. There is an index between pages 322-345. On p. 352 is a Table of the Planetary hours for Every Day in the Week, by Elizabeth Farnsworth, dated 1752. Few of the recipes are dated, but the last dated contribution is a Cure for Gravel or Stone, taken from the Gentleman's Magazine for June 1790.
MS 87/3: A neat recipe book containing around 230 recipes, mostly in one consistent 18th-century hand, with clear writing and headings. There is an index at the front. The book was planned in two parts: recipes for food and drink start on page 5 and continue to page 85. Meanwhile, medicinal and household recipes were added to pages 86 onwards. The second section contains some food recipes, presumably added because of lack of space at the front. None of the recipes are dated, and very few names are given as contributors. Only one recipe suggests a link with the Willoughby family: a recipe by 'Mrs Bird senior' for plague water, on page 155.
MS 87/4: A book containing almost 500 food and drink, medicinal, household and veterinary recipes. It has a title page on which is written 'Margaret Willoughby', with the date '1737' added in another hand. The words 'Perused by' have also been added, and, in a third hand, 'Miss Ann Barber March the 6th 91'. Initially the book is in a neat hand with clear writing and headings, but it has been added to in a number of different hands over a considerable period of time. On the last page, page 318, is written 'Finished at Asply this 27th day of November 1776'. This page has been subsequently used for a recipe in another hand, given by 'My Father F.W.', and it is likely that other recipes were added to gaps in the book after this date. None of the individual recipes are dated. The majority of the recipes were given by named people, including family members such as 'Mother Willoughby', 'Cos. [cousin] Willoughby', 'Cos. Mundy', Mrs Alexander, 'my mother Bird', 'brother Hasert', and 'daughter Alexander'. Most of the early entries have 'P' (for 'Proved') written next to them in pencil, with occasional further comments, e.g. 'very rich' next to the recipe for Plum Pudding on page 7. There is an index at the end, drawn up in a mid to late-18th century hand and subsequently added to as more recipes were written into the book.
Full transcripts of the recipe headings are available for reference, as is a combined index of these recipes and recipes in MS 86.