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Period Features: Mrs Beeton’s

My shelves are groaning with ‘best-selling’ cookery books but in Victorian England there was just one, outstanding must-have for every woman – Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Published in 18 ...

My shelves are groaning with ‘best-selling’ cookery books but in Victorian England there was just one, outstanding must-have for every woman – Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.mrs beetonshouseholdmanagement cover2

Published in 1861 it was the go-to place for authoritative and practical advice on all aspects of running a household, like how to deal with laundry,


or fold a napkin into a fleur de Lis,


and, of course, lots of recipes – some stolen from other famous cooks such as Eliza Acton, whose Modern Cookery for Private Families 1845 was also a period treasure. Interestingly the book filled a need for advice at a time when middle class women no longer lived near their mothers and  many lacked the training of their elders. It gives a real insight into the everyday manners and even peoples’ aspirations in a period of rapid social change and technical innovation. It’s possible to see parallels in our own time, although advice is no longer so gender biased. What is wonderful is that you can still easily get hold of a copy today as it has never gone out of print. Just take a look at this wonderful page of puddings.


Isabella Beeton was only twenty-five at the time she wrote Beeton’s Book of Household Management and she died shortly afterwards in 1865. For such a young woman it was quite incredible that she was able to put together so much material and give the public the impression of an expert with years of hard-earned experience.

mrs Isabella_Beeton,_by_Maull_&_Polyblank

Married to publisher Samuel Beeton, she was a working journalist herself. She began her career in 1857 by contributing three articles a month to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, one of her husband’s most popular periodicals. By 1860, she was one of the magazine’s editors, as well as its fashion correspondent. Parts of Beeton’s Book of Household Management originally appeared in The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.Explaining her reasons for expanding those separately published columns into one, comprehensive guide, the Encyclopedia of British Writers quotes Beeton as saying:

What moved me, in the first instance, to attempt a work like this, was the discomfort and suffering which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement. I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly cooked dinners and untidy ways.

If you would like to read more about this important piece of social history I recommend the following blog by Mimi Mathews, an author of historic novels, whom I thank for the quote above.



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