Isabella Beeton

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Isabella Beeton
Photographic portrait of Mrs Beeton, c.1860-5.
Photographic portrait of Mrs Beeton, c.1860-5.
Born Isabella Mary Mayson
(1836-03-12)12 March 1836
Cheapside, London
Died 6 February 1865(1865-02-06) (aged 28)
Occupation cook, writer
Nationality English
Notable work Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management
title page of The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, September 1861
Titlepage of Beeton's Book of Household Management

Isabella Mary Beeton (née Mayson) (12 March 1836 – 6 February 1865), also known as Mrs Beeton, was the English author of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (first published in 1861), and is one of the best-known and posthumously best-selling cookery writers of the Victorian era.


Isabella was born at 24 Milk Street, Cheapside, in London, England. Her father, Benjamin Mayson, died when she was four years old. In 1843, her mother, Elizabeth Jerram, married Henry Dorling, a widower with four children of his own. They lived in Epsom, Surrey, where Henry officiated as Clerk of Epsom Racecourse.[1] Isabella was sent to school in Heidelberg, Germany for two years, where she became an accomplished pianist; afterwards she returned to Epsom. Including her four step-siblings, she had 20 siblings, a huge family even for the Victorian times. As the oldest, she honed her abilities in babysitting and in general household management, which gave her the experience and confidence to write her famous book.

Her nephew was Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MP Sir Walter Smiles (MP from 1931 to 1953); her great-niece Patricia Ford, Lady Fisher, also served as a UUP MP (from 1953 to 1955).

Marriage and career[edit]

Isabella's husband, Samuel Orchart Beeton, was also born in Milk Street. Even after the move to Epsom their two mothers had kept in touch.[2] On a visit to London, Isabella was introduced to Samuel Beeton, who had become a publisher of books and popular magazines. When letters from Beeton to her future spouse were sold at auction in 1999 it was revealed that she signed them with the nickname "Fatty".[3]

The Beetons were married on 10 July 1856 at St Martin's Parish Church, Epsom. In August of that year they moved into their first home, a large Italianate property at 2 Chandos Villas on the Woodridings Estate in Hatch End. Their first child, Samuel Orchart, was born in May 1857 but died of croup in August of that year. In September 1859, their second son, also named Samuel Orchart, was born.

During her time in Hatch End Isabella began to write articles on cooking and household management for her husband's publications. In 1859–61, she wrote a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine. On 25 December 1861, the supplements were published as a single volume, The Book of Household Management, comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady's-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.

In 1861, Samuel Beeton founded The Queen, the Ladies' Newspaper, a weekly magazine for ladies, but not fashion-oriented at first. It focused on high society and detailed London social events. The articles covered occupations, literature, and other amusements suitable for proper ladies. In 1862, Beeton sold The Queen to William Cox.[4]

The Beetons left Hatch End in the autumn of 1861.

In December of that year their son was taken ill with scarlet fever while on holiday in Brighton. He died on New Year's Eve. Mrs. Beeton gave birth to two other sons, Orchart (on New Year's Eve in 1863) and Mayson Moss (in January 1865). Orchart went on to lead a prosperous life in the army, and Mayson initially followed in his father's footsteps as a publisher and later as a journalist. In 1904, Mayson surveyed the Exploits River in the area of what is now Grand Falls Windsor in Newfoundland, to help set up a paper mill there. A new company was born called the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company, of which he became president. With talk of war, the mill was necessary to allow the paper supply to continue uninterrupted to supply newsprint for the Daily Mail, which held the world record for daily circulation.

Their home at Hatch End was destroyed by a German bomb during an air raid in September 1940; the site is now occupied by a parade of shops. However, they are still remembered by a plaque on the site of Chandos Villas[5] and in the name of a nearby road, Beeton Close.[6]

Book of Household Management[edit]

Popularly known as Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, the book was a guide to running a Victorian household, with advice on fashion, child care, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, and industrialism. The book also highlights the importance of both animal welfare and the use of local and seasonal produce, long before such concerns became mainstream.[7][8]

Of the 1,112 pages, over 900 contained recipes, such that another popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton's Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings. It was not the first book to show recipes in a format that is still used today - Eliza Acton was responsible for this simplified design. It is said that many of the recipes were actually plagiarised from earlier writers (including Eliza Acton) and that whole passagees from other books were copied verbatim causing complete inconsistencies and conflicts of statements and ideas in the writing of the whole. [9] The Beetons never claimed that the book's contents were original. It was intended as a guide of reliable information for the aspirant middle classes. Mrs Beeton is perhaps described better as its compiler and editor than as its author, many of the passages clearly being not her own words. Cookery writer Prue Leith has noted "if she'd cooked every recipe in her massive Household Management, it would have taken her 50 years. She only lived for 28."[10]

Early death[edit]

The day after the birth of her fourth child, in January 1865, Isabella caught puerperal fever. She died a week later, aged 28. Her widower lived for another 12 years and died of tuberculosis in June 1877, aged 46.

Both are buried at West Norwood Cemetery in south London. The original memorial became dilapidated, and her children replaced it with a simple, more modern headstone in the 1930s.


Anna Madeley (right) in BBC TV's The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton (Radio Times, 14–20 October 2006)
  • The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton (2006) - a biographical drama broadcast on BBC Four television, directed by Jon Jones and starring Anna Madeley in the title role - tended to emphasise Mrs Beeton's feminist credentials as well as played on the assumption that many viewers would have been unaware of her youth when she wrote her books, and her early death. The BBC TV drama, directed by Jon Jones, also implied (as was put forth in Kathryn Hughes' biography[11]) that Isabella Beeton suffered from syphilis contracted from her husband, and that this may possibly have led to her death and those of her first two children, although there is no firm evidence for this speculation.[12][13]
  • The Marvellous Mrs. Beeton, with Sophie Dahl (29 September 2011) - a BBC2 television documentary by Sophie Dahl - suggested it was highly unlikely that Mrs Beeton would have died of syphilis at the early age of 28, although it was probable that both her husband and she contracted the disease, and that she had passed it on to their first two children who died in infancy.[14]



  1. ^ Hughes K (2005). The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton. London: Harper Perennial. ISBN 1-84115-374-5. 
  2. ^ History of Beeton family
  3. ^ "Passnotes: No 1338 Mrs Beeton". The Guardian. 1 February 1999. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  4. ^ Thomas, Pauline Weston (15 October 2007). "The Queen Magazine 1861". Antique Fashion & Costume Plates. Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  5. ^ "Isabella Beeton". 
  6. ^ 51°36′28″N 0°22′3.7″W / 51.60778°N 0.367694°W / 51.60778; -0.367694 (Beeton Close)
  7. ^ General Observations on the Common Hog.
  8. ^ Food in season in April 1861.
  9. ^ At Home: A Short History of Private Life: Bill Bryson
  10. ^ Singh, Anita (18 August 2015). "Cookery books have had their chips, says Prue Leith". The Daily Telegraph. 
  11. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (2005). The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton: The First Domestic Goddess. ISBN 1-84115-374-5. 
  12. ^ The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton. BBC4. 2006. 
  13. ^ PBS. "The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton: A biography, with recipes". Masterpiece Theatre. 
  14. ^ The Marvellous Mrs. Beeton. BBC2. September 28, 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Beetham, Margaret (1996). A Magazine of Her Own?: Domesticity and Desire in the Woman’s Magazine, 1800–1914. London. 
  • David, Elizabeth (Spring 1961). "Isabella Beeton and Her Book". Wine and Food. 
  • Freeman, Sarah (1977). Isabella and Sam: The Story of Mrs Beeton. London: Victor Gollancz. 
  • Hurd, Michael (1984). Mrs Beeton’s Book, a Music-Hall Guide to Victorian Living. London. 
  • Hyde, H. Montgomery (1951). Mr. and Mrs. Beeton. London: George S. Harrap & Co. 
  • Spain, Nancy (1948). Mrs. Beeton and her husband by her grand niece. London: Collins. 
    • Later: Spain, Nancy (1956). Beeton Story. London: Collins. 
  • Watkin, Susan Watkin (2006). Know Your Onions or Mrs Beeton’s Hinterland. Lulu Press. 

External links[edit]