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A history of the Beale family

The exterior of the arts and crafts house at Standen in West Sussex surrounded by rhododendrons in bloom
The house at Standen | © National Trust Images/Gary Coshan

Standen was built for James Beale, his wife Margaret, and their seven children. The family had relocated from Birmingham to Holland Park in London during the 1870s, so that James could manage the London office of the family firm, Beale & Co.

Who were the Beales?

The Beales were one of a number of prominent non-conformist families from Birmingham, who had prospered during the city’s manufacturing boom, and dominated the social and business life of the city.

‘…first and foremost a railway man’

James Beale was a successful solicitor. The family firm Beale & Co. specialised in railway work, becoming prosperous through its dealings with the Midland Railway. The firm handled the complex negotiations which enabled the railway to bring its main line through to St Pancras in London.

A cultured family

The Beales were intellectual and cultured, maintaining a strong interest in the arts and sciences. They travelled widely, undertaking a tour to North Africa, India and Japan in 1906, and were also fair-minded and socially progressive – some of their associates were working towards better lives for women and working people.

A house in the country

With business at Beale & Co. thriving, James Beale decided he would like to build a house in the countryside as a retreat for holidays, weekends, and eventually retirement. James wanted somewhere that he could hunt, ride and play golf, and where he and his wife Margaret could entertain their family and friends.

Choosing Philip Webb

Through their wealthy neighbours in Holland Park, the Beales were introduced to the work of Philip Webb, an architect and leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. They commissioned Webb to design Standen, an Arts and Crafts family home hidden deep in the Sussex countryside.

An idyllic family home

Standen became the centre of Beale family life and a favourite place of the grandchildren, who spent fine days exploring the vast garden, and wet afternoons playing in the ‘Little Room’ at the end of the conservatory, while the grown-ups enjoyed tennis, croquet and billiards. Margaret Beale spent much time gardening and introduced many rare and interesting plants to Webb’s terraces and walks.

Helen Beale and the First World War

The youngest daughter of the Beales, Helen went to France as a Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse (VAD) when war broke out. On her return she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and was later awarded an OBE.

Find out more about Helen Beale's life here.

Later years

When James Beale died in 1912, the Holland Park house was sold and Margaret lived at Standen with her two daughters Maggie and Helen, with other family members visiting regularly. Margaret lived well into her eighties and after her death Maggie and Helen ran the estate together, with Helen continuing to manage the dairy farm until her death in 1972. Helen bequeathed Standen to the National Trust, ensuring the house would be looked after for everyone to enjoy.

Visitors in the gardens of Standen House, West Sussex

Discover more at Standen House and Garden

Find out when Standen House and Garden is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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