Fiona Joseph – Beatrice: the Cadbury Heiress who Gave Away her Fortune

(given to me by the author Feb 2012)

** STOP PRESS – this book is now available to buy in Waterstones Birmingham (both branches), Wolverhampton, Redditch and Walsall **

Fiona started off in education but has branched out into non-fiction writing and this is her new book, available in print and in a Kindle edition.

I do like a biography, and I like a local history book even more, so this was a good combination for me. We are taken all the way through Beatrice’s long life, from a privileged upbringing as one of the Cadbury family of South Birmingham (although, true to their philanthropic and Quaker roots, she was exposed to poverty, its causes and its alleviation early on), through a dawning political and social consciousness, to her marriage and espousal of more and more outlandish concepts, including attempting to give her “unearned” inheritance back to the Cadbury workers and even giving up money, for a while. In a pertinent echo of the Occupy and other social movements happening now, but in an era when such actions, especially by the upper or more wealthy classes were seen as hugely unusual, she and her husband, Kees Boeke, protested against two World Wars, were arrested and imprisoned, refused to pay their taxes, kept open house, ran a school on new educational principles, were nearly executed for helping Jewish refugees, and all the while, Beatrice was popping out child after child: eight in all.

I have to say that I particularly enjoyed the parts set in Birmingham, because I live close to the locations involved and it was lovely to read about how they were used and how the families lived in them. But it was also very interesting to see exactly what happens when you try to live by your principles, when you open your house to all and sundry; and the support of Beatrice’s family by the Boeke Committee was heartwarming and a little bit amusing to read about.

The author does not adopt a hagiographical attitude to her subject, being honest about the effect her principles had on her family. The book is meticulously researched and written in a lively fashion that really engages us with the subject and her wider family and times. I was predisposed to enjoy this book, given its subject matter. I don’t automatically like and give glowing reviews to books that are given to me by the author or publisher, having principles of my own which involve being honest – but I can honestly say that I loved this book: I will be buying another copy to share via BookCrossing, and I urge locals and non-locals who are interested in social and political principles and protest, social history or just people, to read this book.

There’s more about the book on Fiona’s web page and it will be stocked in Waterstones Birmingham soon.