Mary Beamish, Victorian Farmer

Mary Beamish. 1791 – 1876

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From her marriage in 1815 until 1836, Mary Beamish was the farmer’s wife, at Manor Farm Lillington, where her father in law had first become the Wise family’s tenant in 1805. With the help of a housemaid and a dairy maid, she was responsible for the farmhouse, an extensive building with five bedrooms and a dressing room, servants’ rooms a drawing room, a kitchen, a back kitchen, a butler’s pantry, a cellar, and across a courtyard, a scullery, a cheese parlour and a dairy.

In 1836, Mary’s husband John died, leaving Mary and their twenty year old son, also called John, to run the farm. Two years later, John died too, and Mary was left alone to manage the biggest of the three Lillington village farms. It covered 230 acres, stretched over 22 fields, from Farm Lane to the Cubbington boundary.

With her two household servants, a cowman, eight farm labourers and two boys to pick stones from the fields and scare birds, Mary ran the farm for the next forty years. She kept horses for farm work, a few cows and heifers, pigs and chickens, and a large flock of sheep and lambs. She grew the kind of crops which thrive on heavy clay soil, – peas and beans, wheat, barley, rye, clover for animal fodder, – and honeysuckle for the rent.

Mary and John Beamish had had a large family, but sadly all but two of them died in childhood or infancy. Their surviving daughter, Mary Ann, married a farmer from Wroxall and moved away, but she too died young, and when Mary’s son John died soon after his father, two of her brother’s daughters, Susannah and Mary Radford, went to live with her to help run the farm.

Christine Cluley, as Mary Beamish, Heritage Open Day 2011

Christine Cluley, as Mary Beamish, Heritage Open Day 2011

Much of Mary’s life would have been familiar to the majority of her contemporaries: losing her children one after the other, and her husband in his mid-thirties was not unknown. However, not many women would have then taken on the responsibility of ensuring the farm’s success at a time when women rarely took work outside the home, and certainly not a man’s work, as the indomitable Mary did. Clearly, Mary Beamish was no ordinary village farmer’s wife. She could write, for one thing, – she signed her name on her marriage certificate. Becoming the farmer, she rose at 5.30 am in summer, and 6 am in winter to manage the farm and supervise cheese and butter making as well as running the household. Multitasking is not new! Unlike most of her immediate family, Mary lived a very long life, dying at the age of 86.The probate inventory of her effects (valued at approximately £140,00 in today’s money) sheds a little light on the living standards of a successful nineteenth century farmer. The agricultural equipment listed included three ploughs, ladders long and short, hurdles, sheep, cattle and pig troughs, hen coops, a weighing machine, a corn mill, a cattle cake crusher. a chaff machine a Coleman cultivator and three iron rollers. Mary’s household goods would have been the envy of many: she had a stair carpet and a number of rugs, an ottoman, chests of drawers, dining chairs – and muslin curtains on poles, and a fine collection of linen. She had a huge range of kitchen and dairying equipment, a dinner service and 13 pewter plates, decanters, wineglasses and tumblers coffee pots and percolators, Mary also had an intriguing collection of cutlery: there is no mention of knives or forks in the inventory, but she owned 12 teaspoons, 6 salt spoons, 18 dessert spoons, 6 egg spoons (most probably made from horn, not metal), a sugar scoop, and a gravy spoon!

 

Margaret Rushton 2013

 

This article is based on information supplied by CDM Rhodes, from documents lodged at the County Record Office, Warwick.