Many people have heard of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and everyone who has heard of the book probably has an image of Mrs. Beeton. For many she is a jolly plump middle-aged matronly woman of indefinable age wearing a flour covered apron. In fact her book was published when she was only 26.
Isabella Beeton (nee Mayson) was born on 12 March 1836, the first of four children. When her father died her mother remarried a widower with four children of his own. The pair went on to have an additional thirteen children. Isabella was the oldest girl amongst the twenty-one children. Her eccentric early life included living with some of her siblings in Epsom Grandstand, which her step-father owned, outside of the racing season.
Isabella married the publisher, Samuel Beeton, in July of 1856. In 1852, he had started publication of the English Woman’s Domestic Magazine a monthly journal costing twopence which was to become the progenitor of the middle-class woman’s magazine. Isabella’s contributions to the magazine after her marriage, including the introduction of coloured fashion plates, dramatically increased its circulation figures.
From 1859–1861, she wrote a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine In October 1861 these 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.
Samuel’s family were from Suffolk, he spent a proportion of his early life with his Suffolk relatives, and the couple visited the area many times. Their first child, Orchant, who died aged 3 months in 1857, is buried in Newmarket.
Just over two years later a second son was born and was christened Samuel Orchart . He died on New Year’s Eve, 1861, at the age of two years. The couple were to have two additional sons, Orchart who was born on New Year’s Eve 1863 and Mayson two years later in January 1865. Isabella contracted the great 19th Century scourge of childbirth, puerperal fever, after the birth of her fourth son and died a week later, aged 28.
Isabella Beeton was not a chef nor a cook but a journalist. Many of her recipes came from other publications. She never knew how well known her book became nor the subsequent use of her name on publications that she had no hand in writing. Versions of the Book of Household Management and many others with the Beeton name can still be bought today.