Edward Beetham, washing machine inventor

Having previously taken a look at clothes washing in the 18th century in ‘Washday Blues‘, I thought it was worth taking a closer look at Edward Beetham, who invented a washing machine.

Washing machines have, in one form or another been around for some considerable time. The Salisbury and Hampshire Journal, 16 October 1752, carried the following advert for a machine capable of washing clothes:

JAMES MOULTON, Cooper and Turner

The corner of Church Row, without Aldgate, London

The most useful machine or Washing Engine of various sizes, made after the completest manner, both for dispatch and strength, ease in the operation, and safety to the finest linen, being adjudged by far superior to any former projections, by the repeated experience of thousands, who are pleased to given them that character, being capable of washing more linen in twenty minutes than can be done without in two hours, being determined to spare no expenses to maintain the character they have so justly acquired, which by some unskilful makers has been prejudiced in the use of so valuable a machine. Printed directions is given with all I sell how to use them, for the benefit of the public in general, and preventing imposition my name and place of abode, which is stamped as under the top.

Captains of ships may be supplied with any quantity on giving timely notice.

N.B. They are made from 14 shillings to 24.

The same year, The Gentleman’s Magazine also provided detailed information about the ‘Yorkshire Maiden‘ which was, presumably a similar machine, even though James Moulton, claimed his invention to be the best – well he would wouldn’t he, great marketing!

However, it was Edward Beetham’s invention that appears to have regarded as the first in Britain.

Edward was born Edward Beatham and baptised 29 March 1743 and from a very well to do Westmorland family, but apparently when he met his wife to be Isabella Robinson, from a Roman Catholic, Jacobite family, he made a minor change to his surname from Beatham to Beetham, to save both families from embarrassment. The couple were believed to have eloped and married at Trimdon near Durham on 13 June 1774.

Being financially ostracised from both families the couple set off for London. Edward wanted to work in the theatre and got work at the Haymarket and Sadler’s Wells theatres, but his creative talent lay in inventions.

Isabella, on the other hand, was a talented artist and studied under the miniature portraitist John Smart. Her forte lay in the creation of painted silhouettes to be framed or miniatures that were made for jewellery. Despite working long hours, the couple also had a large family of five children to raise and of course support financially. The couple lived at 27 Fleet Street, opposite St Dunstan’s Church, where Edward would, in due course be buried. For those of you familiar with my article you will know that I am extremely fond of trade cards, especially for women and look what I’ve found:

Trade card for Isabella Beetham. British Museum
Trade card for Isabella Beetham. British Museum

Beetham discovered that he was good at inventing things, but prior to his invention  he had a variety of jobs including, according to the Hampshire Chronicle of October 1785, he was a bookseller.

Today though, we’ll look at his most famous invention – the washing machine, or, as it was known a washing mill. As you can imagine, having such a large family meant washing was plentiful.

Lewis Walpole Library. Washing Mill
Lewis Walpole Library. Washing Mill

The Northampton Mercury 7 July 1787 carried an account of a new machine for washing clothes, invented by a Mr Todd who had spent years creating a machine which could jointly wash and iron clothes much faster and better than could be one by hand. He had in fact patented the machine on 16 June 1787. The patent which can be found using this link provides the technical specification for the machine invented by Todd, but there is no sign of Beetham’s machine having been patented. Beetham’s name does however appear in the Catalogue of the Library of the Patent Office – Patent number 1744, dated 1791, so after Todd’s invention.

On 20 September 1787, the Derby Mercury advised us of Beetham’s new patented invention – the washing machine. His advert below tells us that he was in partnership with a Mr Thomas Todd, an organ builder, of St Peter’s Square, Leeds and that they had commissioned a Mr W Lomas a joiner, to manufacture the product on their behalf. It is not exactly clear from the advert though as to whether it was Beetham’s invention, joint or, given the earlier advert, actually the invention of Thomas Todd.

Derby Mercury 20 September 1787
Derby Mercury 20 September 1787

The machine could wash the finest and coarsest of items, it would reduce the workload by two thirds and reduce the amount of soap used by one third and could save the trouble of using boiling water.

It’s always interesting to know how much items cost at that time and Beetham very helpfully tells us:

One and a half feet in length £2, seven shillings

3 feet would cost £3, three shillings

3 and half feet, £3, thirteen shillings and six pence

4 feet at £4, four shillings

With a machine that was two feet in length you could wash eight shirts at once.

He even offered potential customers the facility of viewing an example of the working machine, at their convenience, of course, at the house of Mr Lomas.

In the same newspaper was an advert exactly the same as above, but viewable at Mr Saxtons house, also a joiner, in Alfreton, Derbyshire. The following week, an advert for a manufacturer in Leek, Staffordshire.

Edward Beetham, bust in profile to right in an oval, with two caricature heads in small ovals in the upper corners. MetMuseum
Edward Beetham, bust in profile to right in an oval, with two caricature heads in small ovals in the upper corners. MetMuseum

In October of the same year, he had expanded his suppliers to Mr William Lumby of Lincoln. The advert was ostensibly the same, but it was now also being recommended for use of board ships too. William and his partner were clearly ‘thinking outside the box’ for ways to expand their sales.

Tracing the adverts month by month, it would appear that by June 1791, Messrs Todd and Beetham had gone their separate ways. The advert in February 1791 appears to give us some clues, it seems that there were in fact two machines and Beetham challenged Todd:

Todd finds himself again publicly called up by Mr Beetham to accept a challenge to try the utility of each invention; he will therefore take upon himself to wash Mr Bentham with a single machine at any time, to satisfy the public that his machines are not only equal, but absolutely superior.

Beetham was now advertising his ‘Portable Washing Mills’ which he told potential byers could be viewed either at his warehouse on Fleet Street or at a whole host of outlets all around the east of England such as Colchester, Yarmouth, Diss and Ipswich.

As they had gone their separate ways Mr Todd was advertising his washing machine alone in Leeds, but with no mention of Beetham.

Edward Beetham burial 1809
Edward Beetham burial 1809

Beetham continued to trade until his death in January 1809. He left a will which was extremely short, simple and to the point:

1st part to his wife

2nd to daughter Jane

3rd to son William

4th daughter Harriett

5th to be invested

6th and 7th in trust for the three children aged under 21 – Charles Cecilia and Alfred.

Isabella continued with her creative work and outlived her husband and died at the age of 70, at the home of her son in law, on Great Smith Street, Chelsea in early August 1825.

Isabella Beetham burial 1825
Isabella Beetham burial 1825

To conclude this piece, I came across this image that I thought I’d share with you from Yale Center for British Art. This was the property of Dr Graham’s Cold Earth, and Warm Mud Bathing, and was next door to Edward and Isabella. I wonder whether they did his laundry!

Inscribed in red ink, lower left: "LsD" collector's stamp; Verso: inscribed in brown ink, center: "Doctor Graham's, Cold Earth, and Warm Mud Bathing. | Dr. Graham having had the honour of Publickly exhibiting Earth Bathing, at Bath, and at Bristol, every Day for four Months, | last Winter and Spring, and explaining the nature of it to the Nobility and Gentry, and of radically Curing by it a great number | of Persons who were inaviable by Medicine and Surgery. Presented Lists of whom will, by permission, be given Gratis, in Fleet Street, | with himself God willing, with several Patients, be Buried up to his Chiin among fresh Country Earth, broght to No. 26 Fleet Street, next | Door to Mr. Beetham's, exactly opposite St. Dunstan's Church, on Monday next May the 7th and every Day next Week; from 11. till 3. | o'Clock, Admission to this New, Curious, and Salutary sight and to the Doctors explanation of it, only One Shilling. Books of Cures | Gratis.-----Very Poor Persons who are afllicted
Inscribed in red ink, lower left: “LsD” collector’s stamp; Verso: inscribed in brown ink, center: “Doctor Graham’s, Cold Earth, and Warm Mud Bathing. | Dr. Graham having had the honour of Publickly exhibiting Earth Bathing, at Bath, and at Bristol, every Day for four Months, | last Winter and Spring, and explaining the nature of it to the Nobility and Gentry, and of radically Curing by it a great number | of Persons who were inviable by Medicine and Surgery. Presented Lists of whom will, by permission, be given Gratis, in Fleet Street, | with himself God willing, with several Patients, be Buried up to his Chin among fresh Country Earth, brought to No. 26 Fleet Street, next | Door to Mr. Beetham’s, exactly opposite St. Dunstan’s Church, on Monday next May the 7th and every Day next Week; from 11. till 3. | o’Clock, Admission to this New, Curious, and Salutary sight and to the Doctors explanation of it, only One Shilling. Books of Cures | Gratis.—–Very Poor Persons who are afflicted

Sources 

Leeds Intelligencer 7 December 1790

Leeds Intelligencer 2 February 1791

Leeds Intelligencer 1 October 1792

Featured Image

DRAFT Advertisement for Edward Beetham’s Royal Patent Washing Mill. c.1790. British Museum

11 thoughts on “Edward Beetham, washing machine inventor

    1. Sarah Murden

      Thank you so much. I must admit I was impressed by its capability. I think many were in the same situation in the 1980’s – I had a twin tub – hated, loathed and detested it and dreaded having to use it – the laundrette seemed a better option at the time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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