Mrs Beeton, we salute you.

May 15, 2013

Today is a personal celebration and ode to a distinguished English lady, and the inspiration behind our lovely dresser, The Beeton.

Named after Isabella Beeton, an incredible woman who was a trailblazer from the Victorian era but who is still very much remembered today, even though she was only 28 when she died.

Having married a magazine publisher aged 20, she immersed herself in the world of books and magazines and began writing articles for publication.

She is best known for her ‘Book of Household Management’ – the most famous English domestic manual ever published. It was a self-help guide of the time with a straightforward, no nonsense (Victorian?) approach to running the home and was exactly what was needed for the expanding middle classes who didn’t have the first clue about hiring and firing staff, caring for sick children or how to devise a complete menu from scratch to impress whoever was cordially invited over (the layout of the recipes in the book were unlike anything done before and these formats are still used to this day).

The book’s official and complete title was: 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, edited by Mrs. Isabella Beeton, and sold more than 60,000 copies in its first year (1861), and almost two million by 1868. Figures that today’s authors and publishing houses would swoon at!

Unfortunately I don’t own a copy of the book, but I have this one. Isn’t the sleeve lovely?..that’s a hare and a pheasant hanging, if you can make it out…

Mrs Beeton's Everyday Cookery Victorian cookbook

Personally speaking, I would’ve loved to have met Isabella Beeton. She must have been such an interesting young woman. On the one hand she was a businesswoman, passionate about her beliefs and putting them out there; but on the other, a wife and mother who embraced the traditional roles of the woman as the domestic mistress and the man as master of the public role. She remained unequivocal in maintaining that the home and its management are the woman’s responsibility. Maybe she was the Nigella of her time?

One thing I find strangely unsettling is the fact that in the event of her untimely death from puerperal fever following the birth of her fourth child, her husband Samuel Beeton (and subsequent publishers) kept the news of Isabella’s death quiet, and continued to publish updates to Household Management, as well as completely new books, under her name. I guess her reach and appeal must have been too valuable for the company to give up.

So our salute to you, Isabella, may only come in a few carefully selected pieces of expertly jointed timber, glass and chalk paint, but our admiration for you and the legacy you left behind is deep and heartfelt.

(Oh, by the way, if you fancy a lovely day out and haven’t yet visited Isabella Plantation in Richmond, SW London, you really must. The Rhododendrons and Azaleas are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen.)