Mrs Beeto and housekeeping tips for the 21st Century
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Mrs Beeton and housekeeping tips for the 21st Century

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was hugely popular in Victorian times. Read our guide to which tips are and aren't suitable for the 21st century.

Isabella Beeton could be considered the original cleaning goddess, long before the likes of Kim and Aggie showed up. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was a prized possession in homes up and down the country when it was first published, and it still is in print today. It’s something that people turned to for advice and guidance for everything from cooking and cleaning to childcare and chores – but, having been published way back in 1861, how much of the book is still relevant to our household needs today? Truthfully, there are some rather unusual tips in there, but, remarkably, some of the book still rings true today. As it turns out, Mrs Beeton really knew what she was talking about.

Mrs Beeton’s Top Tips

For Mrs Beeton, household management was of the utmost importance, and her advice has undoubtedly shaped the way we care for our homes today. Some of her guidance has stuck with us through generation after generation, and there are useful tips in her book that can be applied to even the most contemporary of homes. Here are four of the best cleaning tips from the Book of Household Management:

  1. Wake Up Early

Multitasking is a skill many of us have been forced to adopt, with childcare, work commitments, socialising, and so on and so on. When we lead such busy lifestyles, it can be very easy to make excuses for why our houses are dirty – but all it takes is for us to get out of bed just 30 minutes earlier and we’d see huge changes at home. Modern cleaning products that work in just minutes mean we really can give the house a good clean in just half an hour, before the rest of the day begins. Mrs Beeton believed that ‘early rising is one of the most essential qualities’ for a good housekeeper.

  1. Prepare & Plan in Advance

Have you ever noticed that, in the evenings, just before you go to bed, your head is full of ideas and motivation? This is actually quite a normal thing – you become motivated to clean up and tidy because you know, deep down, that there’s nothing you can do at such a late hour. Come morning, of course, that motivation has jumped out the window. Mrs Beeton states that a housekeeper should ‘busy herself with the necessary preparations for the next day’s duties’ in the evening, and stick to them. Writing a list may help you follow through with your ideas.

  1. Ventilate Your Kitchen

Mrs Beeton’s advice regarding kitchen ventilation was, of course, due to the wood-burning stoves that were common in the 19th century, and because of the old Roman design of kitchens which included ‘several fireplaces, but no chimneys’. This isn’t an issue we have to deal with today, but the concept of good ventilation is still as important as ever. Good ventilation (by installing an extractor fan or opening your windows) can help prevent the growth of mould, mildew, and bacteria, which can be found in kitchens due to the amount of steam and condensation that is produced when cooking. Preventing mould is easier than treating mould.

  1. Keep Kitchen Utensils Clean

You wouldn’t eat off a dirty floor, so why eat off a dirty plate? Plates that aren’t washed properly can harbour plenty of nasty germs, and could actually make us ill. Even Mrs Beeton, back in the 1860s, recognised this, claiming (perhaps rather dramatically) that ‘not only health but life may be said to depend on the cleanliness of culinary utensils’. Fortunately, with the invention of dishwashers, and with more powerful dishwashing soaps, cleaning our cutlery and crockery is quick, simple, easy, and convenient. No excuses.

Modern Day Changes to Mrs Beeton’s Advice

Of course, not everything in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management is relevant to today’s society. Many things have changed, and we’ve utilised modern technologies to simplify our lives. Some aspects of Mrs Beeton’s book are tiring just to read, never mind execute. Here are some of Mrs Beeton’s tips that are perhaps best left in the 19th century:

  1. Overstock the Kitchen

Mrs Beeton recommended to her 19th century readers that they should ensure that their kitchen is always well-stocked with the necessary cookware essentials. She provided a list of ‘articles required for the kitchen of a family in the middle class of life’. Unlike today, when we strive to simplify our lives, Mrs Beeton’s kitchen must have been packed to the rafters. She suggests that middle class families should own one bread grater, two fish kettles, three tin saucepans, four iron stewpans, and five iron saucepans, among many other items. Can you imagine how long you’d spend washing up all these pots and pans?

  1. Wear Silk Gowns at Home

Sure, when you’ve got a housekeeper to do all the dirty jobs, and a maid to oversee all of your laundry, there’s nothing wrong with wearing silk all day every day (silks of a ‘grave hue’ for brunettes, and lighter colours for blondes, as she advises) but today this simply isn’t practical. Silk is a very delicate fabric that can easily become stained as we go about our day-to-day lives, and while detergents like Persil Silk & Wool and advanced features on washing machines mean washing silk isn’t as challenging as it once was, it’s certainly not something we want to be doing every day.

  1. Use Lead and Copper Cookware

While Mrs Beeton does recognise the dangers involved in using copper and lead cookware (she states that ‘copper utensils should never be used in the kitchen unless tinned, and the utmost care should be taken, not to let the tin be rubbed off’), these materials were widely used to produce cookware back in the 19th century. Today, if you’re using copper cookware, it’s best to use new cookware rather than vintage or antique versions, as older pots and pans may have different coatings or may have become damaged over time. Make sure to follow the directions on the label when using and when cleaning these items.

  1. Furniture Should be Polished Daily

Mrs Beeton lists a number of daily tasks for housekeepers, which includes ensuring that the ‘furniture throughout the house is well rubbed and polished’. Who has the time to polish their furniture each and every day? Yes, there are some chores that should be completed every day, such as making beds, throwing out rubbish, and wiping kitchen work surfaces, but polishing furniture? It can wait. A more modern tip for homeowners today would be to create a housekeeping checklist, dividing chores up throughout the week for a schedule that fits in better with modern, busy lifestyles.

 

While we’ve seen huge changes in technology and product availability since the Victorian age, it’s very interesting to see how the concepts and methodologies of Mrs Beeton’s days aren’t particularly different to those today. If you haven’t yet read Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, see if you can pick up a copy – you’ll be surprised at just how relevant it still is in the 21st century, and you may just learn something new.

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One of the best ideas you can steal from Mrs Beeton isn’t in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management – but did help create it. Many different people supplied the recipes for the book, which she then tested – proving that any householder can benefit from judicious use of the advice of friends.