Mrs. Beeton and Her Book on Household Management

Guest Blogger Corey Peterson of New Zealand, is back again with this newest post... Enjoy!

Anna Madeley as "Mrs. Beeton in the 200BBC drama, "The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton"
 The works of Mrs. Beeton are still today, some of the most famous and notable cookery and household care books. With instructions for the mistress of the house on a large range of subjects, it was something that someone like the character Mrs. Hughes of the period drama 'Downton Abbey' would use as almost a bible of sorts, when working for women who were mainly in the middle to upper middle class, right through to the aristocracy.  But who was Mrs. Beeton and how did she rise to such greatness in a time when writers such as Charles Dickens were in their prime?

Mrs. Beeton was born Isabella Mary Mayson to Benjamin and Elizabeth
Mayson in Cheapside London.  Sadly, Isabella's father died when she was a very young girl.  Subsequently, her mother remarried Henry Dorling who was a widower.  As he had children of his own, Isabella was a now step-sister.  She grew up in Epsom, Surrey, where Dorling was Clerk of the Epsom Racecourse. As her stepfather held a respectable standing in the social class, Isabella had many opportunities that many young women nowadays only dream of, was an accomplished pianist, and attended school in Heidelburg, Germany.

Isabella’s mother had kept in contact with the Beeton family of Cheapside after they had moved to Epsom, so it was no surprise that when Samuel Beeton was becoming well known in the publishing industry, Isabella’s mother tried hard to get the two together and married.  Isabella met Samuel on one occasion in London and her mother’s perseverance finally paid off.  On the 10th of July, 1856, they married at St. Martin’s Parish Church, Epsom.   In August of that same year, Mr. and Mrs. Beeton moved into their first home as a married couple; a large and lavish Italianate property on the Woodridings Estate in Hatch End, North West London.  Their first born was a son named Samuel in May of 1857, but he later died of croup in August of that year.  She went on to have another son in September of 1859; and he was also named Samuel.

Isabella Beeton
The Beeton's residence was a large and rather comfortable dwelling, and it was there that Isabella began to write articles on general household care, such as cooking and the management of domestics. These were then published in her husband’s publications. During the period of 1859-1861, she would write a monthly article to supplement her husband’s magazine, ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’ and on Christmas day of 1861, the articles were finally published together as a single volume, named ‘The Book of Household Management.’ The book contained a whole range of interesting and helpful information that was an assistance to the women of the upper middle class as well as the upper class.

Cover of Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine
The information was comprised mainly for the mistress of the household, the housekeeper, the cook, the butler, the valet and so forth. It contained etiquette for everything imaginable; 

"It is not advisable, at any time, to take favourite dogs into another lady's drawing-room, for many persons have an absolute dislike to such animals; and besides this, there is always a chance of a breakage of some article occurring, through their leaping and bounding here and there, sometimes very much to the fear and annoyance of the hostess. Her children, also, unless they are particularly well-trained and orderly, and she is on exceedingly friendly terms with the hostess, should not accompany a lady in making morning calls. Where a lady, however, pays her visits in a carriage, the children can be taken in the vehicle, and remain in it until the visit is over."

 It also contained a great deal of knowledge about illnesses of the period, personal hygiene, sanitary needs and even advice on the legal side of things and law in general.  Listed in the book, were the items needed to set up a home and the origins of many everyday items and even advice on the legal side of things and the law in general. 

The legal advice consisted mainly of the risks and benefits of purchasing and letting a house as well as the relationships between the landlord and the tenants. It states that it is “most important to both parties [tenants and landlords] and each should clearly understand his [or her] position.
In Mrs. Beeton’s opinion, the mistress of the house needed the following to set up a comfortable and reliable *kitchen:

1 tea-kettle
1 toasting-fork
1 bread-grater
1 pair of brass candlesticks
1 teapot and tray
1 bottle-jack
6 spoons
2 candlesticks
1 candle-box
6 knives and forks
2 sets of skewers
1 meat-chopper
1 cinder-sifter
1 coffee-pot
[a] colander
3 block-tin saucepans
5 iron saucepans
1 ditto and steamer
1 large boiling pot
4 iron stew-pans
1 dripping-pan and stand
1 dustpan
1 fish and egg-slice
2 fish-kettles
1 flour box
3 flat-irons
2 frying-pans
1 gridiron
1 mustard-pot
1 salt-cellar
1 pepper-box
1 pair of bellows
3 jelly-moulds
1 plate-basket
1 cheese toaster
1 coal-shovel
1 wood meat-screen

*All of the items listed above were for the kitchen only. That did not include cutlery and flatware used for dinner, nor did it include plates for both above stairs and below stairs.

In 1861, Mr. Beeton founded the magazine ‘The Queen, the Ladies’ Newspaper’.  This magazine was published weekly, much like the Women’s Weekly is nowadays, but instead it was not originally fashion orientated. Its main focus was high society and detailed social events that had taken place in London. The articles covered occupations, literature and other forms of amusements for the proper women of society; the ladies. This magazine was sold in 1862 to Mr. William Cox as the Beetons had left Hatch End in autumn of 1861.
Unfortunately, Isabella lost her only son in December of that 1861 to the horrible illness, scarlet fever whilst holidaying in Brighton. He died on New Year’s Eve. Mrs. Beeton went on to give birth to two other sons, Orchart on New Year’s Eve of 1863 and Mayson Moss in January of 1865. Orchart went on to live an affluent and wealthy life in the army and Mayson initially followed his father’s footsteps as a publisher, but when that didn’t work out, he decided to become a journalist.

A page from Mrs. Beeton's book
The most common book of Mrs. Beeton, is probably ‘Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ and it was used as a guide for new wives who were needing advice to run a Victorian household. It contained tips on fashion, childcare, animal husbandry, poisons, and the management of domestics. It also pointed out some rather liberal views for the time, with topics such as science, religion and industrialism. In the book, Mrs. Beeton points out the importance of animal welfare and very often she would complement the use of local and seasonal produce, long before the idea became the norm.

The book had a staggering 1,112 pages with over 900 recipes. It became so popular, that it became known as, ‘Mrs. Beeton’s Cookbook’ and was an extremely successful publication. Most of the included recipes had coloured and elaborate engravings and it was the first cookbook to show recipes in the format that is still widely used today. There were allegations and rumours made, that Mrs. Beeton had copied earlier writers such as Eliza Acton, but the Beeton never claimed the recipes published in the book were originals as it was intended to be a guide for the hopeful middle classes, of reliable information that could be used as a source, rather than just relying on the basic recipes handed down from mother to daughter and so forth.  Some say that Isabella Beeton was more of an editor who compiled recipes and tips, rather than an author as many of the passages are suspected to be someone else’s work as they are not in her own words.

Though Isabella lived a full life, she died very young at the age of 28, after giving birth to her son Mayson, in January of 1865. She died of puerperal fever, which is a form of septicaemia. Some say that she died of syphilis, contracted through her husband, and this may possibly have led to her death of herself as well as her two children. Her widower lived for another twelve years before he died of tuberculosis in June of 1877 at the age of 46. Both are interred at West Norwood Cemetery in the north side of London. The original stone has long been replaced as it fell into a state of disrepair and her two surviving children replaced it with a simple headstone in the thirties.

Nowadays the Hatch End home is a successful restaurant named ‘The Hatchets’. Her books are still read by many people, not just women. The sad reality though is, that by the time Beeton's were being re-released in the nineteen-sixties, the books contained little, if any trace of Mrs. Beeton’s work. 

The Beeton’s family legacy lives own. Her nephew was Ulster Unionist Party Member of Parliament, Sir Walter Smiles and her great-niece was Patricia Ford, Lady Fisher, who was also a member of the same party. Sir Walter was Lieutenant Colonel; the title was given to him when he was part of the ‘Great War,’(WWI) when he fought for his king and country.  Later, he was MP for Blackburn between the years of 1931 and 1945 as a Conservative Member of Parliament. In 1945 he decided to stand for the Down seat in Northern Ireland, at the 1945 Westminster Election. This was when he became a Unionist. In 1950 the seat was split into North and South Down. Later that year, he won the North Down seat and remained as the MP until his death in 1953. He died aboard the MV Princess Victoria, when she sank off Larne Lough in Great Storm. His daughter, Patricia succeeded him as the MP for North Down.

Bear Grylls visiting South Africa
His daughter, Patricia, later Lady Fisher, was the first woman to be a member of parliament for Northern Ireland. She originally married cricketer, Neville Montagu Ford, who was of a pedigree background. She produced two daughters, Mary Rose, who is married and has two daughters, and Sally who is married to Sir Michael Grylls. She also had two children, a daughter and a son. The son is the famous explorer, Bear Grylls. Patricia was passionate about equal pay between the sexes and even arrived at parliament in a horse-drawn carriage to bring awareness to the issue. She became known as ‘Lady Fisher’ when she divorce her husband in 1956 and married Sir Nigel Fisher. The title of ‘Lady’ was given to her as a manner of courtesy and in her marriage to Sir Nigel, she became step-mother to Mark Fisher, who was later an MP in the Labour Party.


  1. Nice work, young man! I had a revised copy of her book years ago. I found it very useful and a great window into her world.

  2. Kudos! Loved Mrs. Beeton's work. She understood what a household needed.


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