Author of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Isabella Beeton (Courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum)

The first Epsom Grandstand housed a child whose name would become a household word – Isabella Beeton, as she would become after her marriage to a young London publisher. The eldest daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth Mayson, Isabella came to Epsom when her widowed mother remarried Henry Dorling, the clerk of the racecourse.

After a childhood spent in the gaunt building on the Downs, she moved to the family home and business premises in Ormonde House, at the end of the High Street on the upper High Street corner. There she looked forward to fitting sessions with the dressmaker Miss Findlay – ‘if you feel at all dull she amuses you with all sorts of poetry’ – and to weekly piano lessons in London. At the age of 19 (by which time the Dorling children had reached a formidable total of seventeen) Isabella met the young, highly strung but ambitious publisher Samuel Beeton.

Sam, although related to the family, never got on with Henry Dorling, a formidable man who was now running the Derby as a national festival along with a printing business and the beginnings of local government in Epsom. So the courtship was carried on largely by letter, and the couple had few opportunities to meet. But at last they were married at St. Martin’s, Epsom, with eight bridesmaids in pale green, pale mauve or white: each of Isabella’s sisters had contributed to her bridal costume.

The Beetons moved to a villa in Pinner, and Isabella began helping out Sam with his publications. In 1856 she took on the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, and by 1859 she had begun writing The Book of Household Management, originally brought out as a part-work.

Isabella had received training in German pastry-making at finishing school in Heidelberg, and took some subsequent lessons at Barnards, the confectioners in Epsom High Street, but had never needed to do the cooking herself.

For the book, she worked out what was necessary and then went through, testing, with a new recipe each day. The recipes were highly structured in contrast to other cookbooks and were illustrated with many monochrome and colour plates. Household Management was the best-organised publication of its kind. Isabella had watched her mother cope with eighteen children and her father manage 250,000 race goers, and she knew the secrets of organisation. These were,“to get up early, moderate your feelings, understand accounts, cost and plan each item in advance, and allocate clear duties to your servants.”

Producing the book was a remarkable achievement as during the writing she went through difficult pregnancies – her first two children died in infancy – and she herself died at the age of 29 giving birth to her fourth child. The Book of Household Management only became available as a complete book in 1860 but is regarded as one of the most extensive guides on how to run a household in Victorian Britain.

Isabella Beeton is just one of the talented Surrey Women featured in Surrey Museums Month 2017. To find out  more about the event and other celebrated Surrey Women, click here.

Text kindly produced by Bourne Hall Museum