The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton – The First Domestic Goddess by Kathryn Hughes A Review in Pieces and Parts – Part One

The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton - The First Domestic Goddess by Kathryn Hughes A Review in Pieces and Parts - Part One

Having watched “The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton”, a 2006 BBC production that I procured from the library, and still feeling a need for more detail and less theatrical conjecture on Isabella Mary Mayson Beeton’s enigmatic and short existence, I thought I’d read the above-referenced biography by Kathryn Hughes and get right down to the nitty-gritty.

Hughes is also the author of The Victorian Governess and George Eliot: The Last Victorian, and has a Ph.D. in Victorian Studies from Oxford. In short, her Victoriana credentials are thick, plus she had full and unhindered access to the entire Mayson/Beeton family archive. Access that no other Beeton biographer had been granted to date due to her descendant’s fear of not only airing some eccentric and scandalous editorial choices Mrs. Beeton’s husband made after her death involving tight-lacing and whipping, but also the speculative specter of assumed venereal disease that hung heavily over both Isabella and Samuel Beeton’s deaths and now hangs over this biography.

I will try to avoid the whole re-telling of Isabella’s life, but I do want to share some of the history and I think Hughes has ably drawn this portrait of Mrs. Beeton as a product of and an influence on the very long Victorian Age. So, in an effort to save this post from tl;dr, I’m going to break it up into installments.

Let’s start with Isabella’s ancestry, as it shows some general class transitions occurring just prior to the Victorian Age and the movement of masses of rural people to the City of London. I’ll try to keep this simple, as I get muddled with all the paternal/maternal tralala.

Isabella’s father was Benjamin Mayson born in 1801 to Reverend John Mayson, a vicar at St. Andrew’s, Thursby and Isabella Trimble, a maltster’s (or brewer’s) daughter. Records from Benjamin’s youth are gone, but he shows up at 30 as a “Manchester Warehouseman”, or linen wholesaler in London helped by his mother’s connections to cotton and flax mill families in Thursby’s neighboring village of Dalston.

Isabella’s mother, Elizabeth Jerrom was born in 1815 in the Marylebone district of London to Isaac Jerrom and Mary Standage. Both parents were domestic servants at the time of her birth, but would leave service by 1820 with her father becoming a livery stable owner and her mother running a lodging house. Mary Standage’s father, William had been “headhunted by the horse-mad Duke of Richmond to work as a groom at Goodwood “, his estate and racetrack in West Sussex and the author notes that Mary and her sisters all married men who worked with horses since “You can only marry someone you’ve already met, and a groom’s daughter in the early nineteenth century met an awful lot of grooms.”

Benjamin Mayson kept his residence in the Marylebone district and was friends with a Henry Dorling, who lodged with the Jerroms. After Benjamin’s death, Elizabeth would marry the widower Henry Dorling, so keep that kernel of trivia handy. Benjamin Mayson and Elizabeth Jerrom married on May 2, 1835 and Isabella Mary Mayson, our Mrs. Beeton, was born March 14, 1836 in Marylebone. The author is kind enough to point out that “She was fifteen months too early to be a Victorian.” Since she lived and died within the Victorian Age, I found this reasoning rather fastidious.

Benjamin then moved his wife and daughter into central London to live above his business and soon buys a house on Milk Street where Isabella’s siblings, Elizabeth Anne, John and Esther, were born. Benjamin Mayson died in 1840 of “apoplexy”, which could mean anything from epilepsy to heart attack, when Elizabeth was a few months pregnant with Esther. Hughes explains that “Death may have been everywhere in early Victorian England, but to find yourself pregnant with your fourth child and suddenly responsible for a highly capitalized business was unlucky by any standard.”

Elizabeth Mayson totally rallied as a 25-year-old widowed mother of four and ran the business in her name for three years. She shipped Isabella and Elizabeth Anne off to relatives, her widowed mother, Mary Jerrom , moved in to care for the two babies, she hired a maid and manservant and is listed in the trade directories as a “warehouseman”. The author clarifies that “it was not unusual for widows to take over this way, and the directories show many heading up pubs, livery stables, and every kind of shop from baker to jeweller.”

In the next installment, Elizabeth Mayson hooks up with Henry Dorling, a widower with his own 4 children (cue Brady Bunch music) and everyone up and moves to Epsom, of Downs and Salts fame.

29 Responses to “The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton – The First Domestic Goddess by Kathryn Hughes A Review in Pieces and Parts – Part One”


  • Since I have read many a looong British biography, I expected the preamble up to her actual birth to be hellacious, but I thought that Hughes did a good job with tying in how relevant and interesting her background and family history was, as you say–”general class transitions.” Interesting time to be alive, but they didn’t know it, of course.

  • Fascinating! I’m looking forward to future installments.

  • I am fascinated by class transition, especially within one family or generation. A bit that really struck me was Isabella’s maternal grandparents’ signatures in the parish wedding registry were clear and her maternal great-grandfather’s signature as a witness was a scrawl, seemingly indicating he was illiterate. Hughes elaborates that “Mrs. Beeton is only twenty years away from people who would be happier signing themselves with a cross.”

  • Amelia, that part really stood out to me as well. In so many ways I think we all search for the clear ways our generation is moving ahead of the last. That seems like such a marked distinction.

  • Hello Amelia,
    I enjoyed your piece very much.

    IBut if possible i have some questions i would like to ask you please? Regarding the Maysons & the Dorlings. Is there an email i may contact you?
    Thank you.

    Tim

  • It’s actually a great and helpful piece of info. I am happy that you shared this useful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  • I was curious about if you ever considered modifying the page layout of your site? Its very well written; I enjoy what youve got to state. But maybe you could create a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. You have got an awful lot of wording for only having one or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?

  • Thiss weЬ sitge definitely has ɑll of the information and facts I wanted about ths subject
    and didn’t know whօ to ask.

    Check oսt mƴ homepage Excursion in san Francisco

  • You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the most useful sites
    on the net. I am going to highly recommend this site!

    Here is my web page: webpage

  • I visited segeral web sitees except the aurio quality for audio songs existing
    at this websit iss truly fabulous.

    Herre is my homepage; go bean study aid

  • Magnificent goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you are just
    too magnificent. I actually like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you are stating
    and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to
    keep it sensible. I can’t wait to read much more from you.
    This is actually a tremendous website.

  • Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you
    knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my
    newest twitter updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have
    some experience with something like this. Please let me
    know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog
    and I look forward to your new updates.

    Visit my homepage; lanelle skin care location

  • Hi there, its nice article concerning media print, we all know media is a great
    source of facts.

  • Very good info. Lucky me I discovered your site by chance (stumbleupon).
    I have saved it for later!

  • Por eso, cuando hacemos ‘cardio’ cada vez podemos hacer más minutos con menos esfuerzo…

    Mas con la consecuente destrucción muscular.

  • Käänny takaisin tyrmäsi lukumäärä alas portaita ja skilful olosuhteissa!
    Cassino Caterin on laaja, se on ikuisesti röyhkeä ja henki ja
    rahapelit casino joka julkaisee maksuprosenttinsa ja on myönnetty lisenssi.
    http://kasino247.org/ – suomen casino

  • Hi there to all, the contents present at this web site are in fact
    awesome for people knowledge, well, keep up the nice work fellows.

  • There are many apps available for Windows Mobile 6.
    org, and how the project will get the world on the Internet, he
    was asked questions about the Whats – Apps deal of days
    earlier and its staggering $19 billion dollar price tag.
    Managers need to develop an extra dimensional communication ability enabling them to step
    beyond the traditional and ritualistic in order to move beyond the
    existing or established.

  • Quality articles is the important to attract the users to go to
    see the web site, that’s what this site is providing.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on custom formula supplement
    manufacturing. Regards

  • I think the admin of this web page is actually working hard
    for his website, since here every information is quality based data.

  • Thank you, I have just been looking for info
    approximately this topic for a while and yours is the best I have found out so far.

    But, what about the conclusion? Are you positive concerning the source?

  • My coder is trying to persuade me to move to
    .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of
    the expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on numerous websites for about a
    year and am anxious about switching to another platform. I have heard excellent things
    about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can import all my wordpress content into
    it? Any kind of help would be really appreciated!

  • Hi there, every time i used to check weblog posts here early in the break
    of day, for the reason that i love to find out more and more.

  • If you want to grow your know-how simply keep visiting this
    web site and be updated with the hottest news posted here.

  • Keep up tҺhe exсellent piece of work, I read few articles on thiks internet site ɑnd I conceive that your siite iis really
    inteeresting and сontаins bands of fantastіc іnfo .

    Feel free tto surf tto my web-site; Jonelle

Leave a Reply