Before Mrs. Beeton: Elizabeth Raffald, England’s Most Influential Housekeeper by Neil Buttery

Before Mrs. Beeton: Elizabeth Raffald, England’s Most Influential Housekeeper by Neil Buttery

Title:  Before Mrs. Beeton: Elizabeth Raffald, England’s Most Influential Housekeeper
Author: Neil Buttery
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Genre:  Biographies & Memoirs, History, Nonfiction (Adult)
Format:  Kindle
No. of Pages:  224
Date of UK Publication: 28 February, 2023
Date of US Publication:  28 April, 2023
My Rating:  4 Stars

My Thoughts 

I'll be the first to admit that in all the times I've perused Mrs Beeton's I've never been given to more than a passing curiosity about the author herself. When I saw this title, my interest was piqued and given the opportunity to read this before publication, I did and am glad to have done so, as I probably otherwise never learned about Ms Raffald. 

The book states that Elizabeth Raffald married an unreliable husband, but after giving birth to 15 or 16 daughters over the course of 18 years, so I suppose that there was at least one thing her husband wass reliable about. This sounds terrible to me - a woman who achieved such levels of success only to be dragged into the poorhouse with more than a dozen mouths to feed by a real bellend of a husband - it's atrocious, and I'm so glad that divorce and birth control are available and understood(ish) - we all still have much farther to go.

Though amazingly impressive, I was left feeling so badly for this woman and also impressed with all that she achieved, while also being pregnant probably every damn year or so, breastfeeding, parenting more than a dozen children. I'm exhausted just thinking about it. Reading about her - you don’t often see such drive anymore. 

I love Mrs Beeton's book, finding such joy in reading through it for the past many years and I'm glad that I was able to learn about her and her life in this one. I found it well researched, written without dryness, and very interesting. An absolutely worthy read for those more interested in learning about the woman behind Mrs. Beeton. 

Thank you to Pen & Sword History and NetGalley for the DRC.


The great Elizabeth Raffald used to be a household name, and her list of accomplishments would make even the highest of achievers feel suddenly impotent. After becoming housekeeper at Arley Hall in Cheshire at age twenty-five, she married and moved to Manchester, transforming the Manchester food scene and business community, writing the first A to Z directory and creating the first domestic servants registry office, the first temping agency if you will. Not only that, she set up a cookery school and ran a high class tavern attracting both gentry and nobility. She reputedly gave birth to sixteen daughters, wrote book on midwifery and was an effective exorciser of evil spirits.

These achievements gave her notoriety and standing in Manchester, but it all pales in comparison to her biggest achievement; her cookery book 
The Experienced English Housekeeper. Published in 1769, it ran to over twenty editions and brought her fame and fortune.

But then disaster; her fortune lost, spent by her alcoholic husband. Bankrupted twice, she spent her final years in a pokey coffeehouse in a seedy part of town.

Her book, however, lived on. Influential and often imitated (but never bettered), it became the must-have volume for any kitchen, and it helped form our notion of traditional British food as we think of it today.

To tell Elizabeth’s tumultuous rise and fall story, historian Neil Buttery doesn’t just delve into the history of food in the eighteenth century, he has to look at trade and empire, domestic service, the agricultural revolution, women’s rights, publishing and copyright law, gentlemen’s clubs and societies, the horse races, the defeminization of midwifery, and the paranormal, to name but a few.

Elizabeth Raffald should be revered, not unknown. How can this be? Perhaps we should ask Mrs Beeton…


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