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Snatched from the Flames: John Bellamy’s Account Book

Guest blog by Dr Elizabeth Hallam Smith

A volume open to show burned, scorched handwritten pages
John Bellamy’s Account Book, 1813—34 © Parliamentary Archives HC/SA/SJ/9/55

In June 2023 Parliament celebrates 250 years since the opening of the famous Bellamy’s Kitchen and Refreshment Rooms, which from 1773 to 1851 comprised Parliament's main catering outfit.  Here MPs, peers and their visitors were served with an array of pies, steaks and chops, washed down with copious supplies of wine and beer.  Founded in 1773 by John Bellamy, Commons Deputy Housekeeper, in 1811 this parliamentary watering hole was taken on by his son the younger John Bellamy, jointly with his wife Susan Maria.  Its last family proprietor, from 1842—49, was their son Edmund Bellamy, Assistant Housekeeper, House of Commons.

An engraving of a woman in an old-fashioned kitchen with a gridiron in front of her, and a male butler in the background
Frontispiece from Mary Holland, The Complete English Cook (London, 1809).

Efficient and well-organised, the Bellamys looked after their cooks and waiting staff with assiduous care.  These people were, the younger John Bellamy told a Select Committee in 1833, kept on for the whole year rather than just during sitting times, for ‘they are so valuable to me, that I do not part with them’.  In 1848, in the face of major criticisms of his services from another Select Committee, Edmund Bellamy proudly listed his team by name to them, emphasising their length of service.  He began with his butler Nicholas Keynes, in post since 1801, followed by his chief cook Elizabeth Burton, who had been with his family since 1817.  Both of these team leaders were celebrated personalities within Parliament and would have been well known to MPs.

As well as being good employers, the Bellamys were meticulous record keepers, as shown by this remarkable survival, an account book compiled for the younger John Bellamy and covering the years 1813—34.  Its pages itemise payments to his suppliers and to his team of staff year by year, ending abruptly towards the end of 1834 before all of its pages had been filled in.  This hiatus coincides precisely with the fire of 16-17 October, when Bellamy’s resident team members had to flee their premises in the Stone Building near Westminster Hall to escape the inferno.

Given that the book bears substantial scorch marks – the impact of which later expert repairs serve only to emphasise – it was presumably grabbed from the family’s office above the dining rooms, at considerable risk to whoever was its rescuer.  The resident waiting staff were not able to save their official uniforms, but none of them were physically harmed by their ordeal.  John Bellamy immediately found them temporary quarters and within weeks his emporium was up and running again in a building not far from its original location.

A handwritten page with scorch marks down the sides
Page from the burnt Account Book listing the wages of the staff in 1831--32. Included are Elizabeth Favill/Burton, Elizabeth Reeves, Emma Nunn and Nicholas Keynes. In 1834 six of Bellamy’s catering team members were resident in the old Palace of Westminster. © Parliamentary Archives HC/SA/SJ/9/55.

In 1834 the account book was clearly well worth saving from Bellamy’s point of view – and its lucky survival since then enables us to track his waiting staff by name over two decades.  A constant presence is Nicholas Keynes, butler and catering manager and the ‘face’ of Bellamy’s, who had started back in 1801.  He would go on to serve until about 1849.  Another is Elizabeth Favill, later Burton, baptised at St Nicholas, Lincoln in 1795 and who – as Edmund Bellamy later told the Select Committee – had been recruited as Bellamy’s resident chief cook in 1817, a role she that would occupy until 1851. By the 1830s her wages had risen from 16 guineas to £28 a year.

Appearing too in the document is Elizabeth’s husband from 1820, waiter Samuel Burton, who served from 1819 to 1829 before leaving Bellamy’s.  Until his death in 1839 he evidently returned only to try to extract money from her, as was his legal right.  John Bellamy’s great concern for Elizabeth’s welfare is shown in a codicil to his will, drawn up in 1837.  He singled her out under her maiden name for her ‘long and faithful service’ and left her an annuity of £20.  Bellamy pointedly stipulated that this was ‘not to be subject to the debts, control or engagements of any husband she may now have or happen to have hereafter, and for which her receipt alone shall be a sufficient discharge’.

In 1825 a lobby correspondent wrote lasciviously of the waitresses of Bellamy’s: ‘Anne’ and ‘Jane’, ‘plump and sleek and clean’, were dishing up steaks ‘better than those dispensed by the Houris in paradise, so hot and accurately dressed’, along with ‘port and sherry and Madeira, so exactly bodied for an Englishman’s palate’.  The account book suggests that – perhaps wisely – these women were allowed to use pseudonyms at work.   Elizabeth Reeves, later Haines, who served on and off during the 1820s and beyond is noted also as both an ‘Anne’ and a ‘Jane’ – although usually a ‘Jane’ - while Emma Nunn is also identified as a ‘Jane’ in 1830.

By 1835 though, after the fire, when Charles Dickens wrote his famous ‘Boz’ sketch on Commons catering, the nickname of ‘Jane’ had been passed up the line to the chief cook, Elizabeth Favill/Burton.  Famous for her insubordination and her entertaining repartee, the doings of this ‘goddess of Bellamy’s’ were widely reported by the press right up to 1851 - when Elizabeth retired from the heights of Resident Housekeeper of the Refreshment Rooms, House of Commons, and Bellamy’s kitchen was ignominiously closed down.

Elizabeth Hallam Smith

John Bellamy's Account Book was on display in the 'Necessary Women' display in the Royal Gallery, House of Lords, July - September 2023. You can view an online version of the Necessary Women display on Living Heritage.

Sources and further reading:

Parliamentary Archives HC/SA/SJ/9/55, HC/CL/CO/EA/1/1, GRE/1/5

Select Committee on Establishment of House of Commons, HC 648 (1833)

Mari Takayanagi and Elizabeth Hallam Smith, Necessary Women: the Untold Story of Parliament's Working Women (History Press, published 22 June 2023)

Paul Seaward, Bellamy's ('Reformation to Referendum: Writing a New History of Parliament' History of Parliament blog, 2020)

Elizabeth Hallam Smith, ‘Jane’ and the last days of Bellamy’s Refreshment Rooms (History of Parliament blog, 2023)

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz.

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