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Society

The Fashionable Hour in Hyde Park

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Rotten RowHyde Park, according to Mrs. Alec-Tweedie, was the common heritage of all, the meeting ground of King and coster. As one of London’s largest parks, it was used by all manner of people for all manner of events and gatherings from the fashionable throng along Rotten Row to loud demonstrations from activists and suffragists. The park derives its name from the name of an estate acquired by Henry VII, who converted the land to a deer park. Charles I opened the park to the general public, Charles II enclosed the area and planted trees,  William III moved to Kensington Palace and laid the drive which would become Rotten Row (from Route de Roi, French for “King’s Road”), and Queen Caroline, consort of George II, formed the Serpentine.

During George II’s reign, Hyde Park became the playground of the upper classes. Riding became a passion, favorite steeds were shown off, and wagers were placed on the speed of one’s horse down the mile and a half length of Rotten Row. Cricket matches were bowled in Hyde Park, and skating on the Serpentine became a fashionable pastime after it froze over its first winter. Carriages had their own drive, laid down by the king, which ran parallel to Rotten Row. The mixture of social classes in the park happened gradually over the course of the 19th century, and the construction of The Crystal Palace for 1851’s Great Exhibition cemented Hyde Park’s new status as the “people’s park.”

The fashionable hour for riders was from around 8 am to noon, and again–with both riders on Rotten Row and carriages on the drive–between 5 pm and 7 pm, where the aristocracy mingled with politicians, artists, actors and actresses, explorers, and judges. The only people with the right to drive carriages down Rotten Row were the King and the Duke of St. Albans, as Hereditary Grand Falconer. In 1895 cyclists received permission to ride in a portion of the park, a row dubbed “Cyclists Row,” and the Ladies Mile, on the north side of the Serpentine, was the spot at which the Coaching and Four-in-Hand Clubs met during the summer. Other fashionable hours were Sundays between one and two pm for the “Church Parade,” and at that hour on “Ascot Sunday,” where ladies displayed their new summer dresses.

Crowds in Hyde Park on Women's Sunday, 21st June 1908The most use made of Hyde Park was for demonstrations. About £8000 a year was spent on police work for Hyde Park alone, and demonstrators were required to forward information about their gatherings and marches to Scotland Yard to insure the protection and watchfulness of the “bobbies in blue.” The Mud March of 1907 was the most striking of gatherings, when “smart ladies in thousand-guinea motors, costers who were forced to leave their carts outside, factory women with babies in their arms, titled dames and girls from the slums, all marched or rode or drove in that great procession.” That same year, the Church of England began conducting open-air services every Monday night under the auspices of the Bishop of London’s Evangelistical Council, where the Bishop hoped to touch the lives of London’s neglected citizens.

We turn once more to Mrs. Alec-Tweedie, who rhapsodizes over the nature in Hyde Park, exclaiming “every kind of tree is here,—the elm, the lime, the beech, the common ash, the plane, and many besides…Shrubs have been planted in endless variety, and —when the tree trunks stand out bare and bleak in winter, and the branches are leafless—give to the walks a pleasant bordering of green. The particular glory of the Park shrubs is to be found in the rhododendrons, which in the weeks when they are in full bloom are alone worth coming to London to see.

The imported gulls, ducks and geese and moorhens, which number seven or eight hundred, never wander from the Serpentine, and are always ready. to welcome pieces of bread or biscuit, have become the most domesticated, and therefore the most commonly known. The wildfowl live largely on fish, which accounts for these seldom reaching more than three ounces in weight in the Serpentine.”

She also goes on: “But, alas! the twentieth century has sounded their [carriages] knell. Those delightful meets held in the summer months at the Magazine in Hyde Park, when the Four-in-Hand and Coaching Club muster twenty or thirty coaches each time, drive round the Park, then off to Hurlingham or Ranelagh to lunch, are coming to an end. Motors are hustling coaches off the road, and already the two famous Polo Clubs outside London are instituting automobile races and shows, because the entries for the coaches have dwindled so terribly, while for the former they have gone up by bounds in a few years. Horses are already threatened.” Her lament was rather justified, for society columns remarked upon the near desertion of Hyde Park by fashionable society in 1910 because of the automobile. Thankfully, the next season saw a return to Rotten Row, but this was a harbinger of the decline of the horse.

Further Reading:
Hyde Park, Its History and Romance by Mrs. Ethel Alec-Tweedie

Society and Scandal in Edwardian England

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When we look at portraits of doughty Edwardians, read etiquette books from the period, and watch period films, it is easy to believe society of one hundred years ago was more genteel, more moral, and better behaved than today’s world. However, high society of the Edwardian era functioned because it presented the outward appearance of propriety and correctness to which the “lower orders” aspired. However, within certain social circles there existed many adages; among them numbered “Thou Shalt Not Tell” and “Never comment on a likeness”, as well as Mrs. Patrick Campbell’s famous quote, “Does it really matter what these affectionate people do — so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!”. Seeing that Mrs. Pat carried on an affair with the much younger George Cornwallis-West, the much younger husband of Lady Randolph Churchill (née Jennie Jerome), whilst starring in Lady Randolph’s play, His Borrowed Plumes, her advice definitely came from personal experience. This is not to assume all fashionable Edwardians cast all morals to the winds, but they were in a better position socially and financially to indulge in their desires, and woe to anyone who broke the rules of society by exposing their affairs to the public gaze.

Edward VII at MonacoThe Marlborough House Set, and to a lesser extent, The Souls, largely set the tone of aristocratic Edwardian society—though sticklers such as the Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury (who never followed the common practice of inviting Alice Keppel to a house party with the King) did not approve of their hi-jinks. Based on those aforementioned adages, husbands and wives were permitted to take lovers after filling their nursery with legitimate children, and society respected these extramarital bonds just as much, if not more so in some cases, as they did the couples’ legitimate marriages. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII, known as Bertie to intimates), however, was permitted much more freedom for dalliance than his subjects, and everyone knew just whom a certain lady entertained when a particular carriage dawdled at her front steps during afternoon tea (the prescribed hour for affaires d’amour).

But our Edwardian gentlemen and ladies did not enter into affairs lightly. In fact, casual affairs were quite rare, if only because of their impossibility. Not only because of the cumbersome clothing ladies wore, but because they lived under the constant surveillance of servants. They were awakened and dressed by maids, servants were constantly cleaning or attending to the family, and they played their social roles in public—riding in Rotten Row, attending dinners, dancing at balls, paying calls, etc etc—all under the eye of servants and the general public. As a result, a lady and her erstwhile lover could spend months exchanging sighs, heated glances and brief embraces, and scribbling loving letters to one another, before they could arrange a schedule for their assignations. This all appears so bloodless and correct, but human nature doesn’t respect rules, and it wasn’t uncommon for even the most circumspect people to lose themselves in a blaze of passion.

And in stepped scandal.

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Tuxedos and Tuxedo Park

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Tuxedo Park, NYLong after the fame of the exclusive Gilded Age resort faded, the semi-formal suit (presently considered formal wear in America) which was lent its name remains. Prior to the 1880s, casual wear was rarely seen. For gentlemen, attire was dictated by the hour of day and destination. They looked to the English for evening dress, and despite the great difference in climate and temperament, Gilded Age gentlemen went stiffly to dinner in tails, waistcoat, and high collar. As high society looked to emulate their European betters, they began forming resorts–Newport was one, Bar Harbor, or Lakewood, New Jersey, were others, to name a few–where they could relax and play. Tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard had other plans in mind when he sought to establish another aristocratic resort.

Where places like the aforementioned Newport, or Bar Harbor, sprang up around sleepy New England villages, and were easily accessed by the non-rich, Tuxedo Park was to be ultra-exclusive, man-made, and entirely unique. Through a combination of poker winnings and legitimate purchasing, Lorillard pieced together five thousand acres of land in the Ramapo Mountains region of Orange County, New York. At the urging of his lover, socialite-turned-actress Cora Brown Potter, he then turned the tract of land over to architect Bruce Price (the father of Emily Post) to design and build a gated community which would consist of luxurious cottages, private roads, a clubhouse, a private police station, and landscaping to mimic a rustic setting. Lorillard imported Italian and Slovak immigrants to build Tuxedo Park, and he rather thoughtlessly, but true to the period, named the shanties in which they lived “Fifth Avenue,” “Broadway,” and “Wall Street;” the workers mess hall was “Delmonico’s.”

Tuxedo Park opened in 1886, and members of the Four Hundred rushed to snap up land. However, those families who were not allotted ramapo falls tuxedoparcels on which to erect a cottage had to undergo a formal test before being allowed to buy land and build a home: first they contracted to buy land, at which point they were examined by the Tuxedo Association for admission to the club. If a prospective homeowner was denied admission to the club, their contract to buy property was simply voided. Nonresident members were permitted to stay in Tuxedo, but only for limited periods, and family members stayed in apartments on the top floors of the clubhouse, bachelors resided in a separate building, and families with children were housed in a separate building nicknamed “the baby kennels.” As Tuxedo Park was focused around the clubhouse, it was ruled with an iron fist by George Griswold, who created a set of rules and enforced them in a socially ruthless manner.

Laura Claridge describes the opening day on May 30, 1886 in Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners:

[T]hree special trains, loaded with seven hundred guests, arrived from New York City. Green-and-gold buses and wagons, branding the scene with the club’s colors, lined up at the station to transport the visitors to the park. For latecomers, there were the Tuxedo taxicabs–single-horse covered carts, locally called “jiggers”–to pick up the slack.

tuxedoThough Tuxedo Park was built as a sporting resort, its proximity to New York naturally incorporated a stay into the year-round social season–some families preferring to go there after the Newport season, instead of the Berkshires, and some even made Tuxedo their permanent residence. The year Tuxedo Park opened sparked not only the birth of the country club and modern American resort, but an item of clothing which was to change the way men dressed for formal events to this day.

There are two accounts about the origins of the tuxedo. In one account, Pierre Lorillard’s son Griswold turned up in a tail-less evening jacket at Tuxedo Park’s annual Autumn Ball and apparently, the jacket became “known as the tuxedo when a fellow asked another at the Autumn Ball, ‘Why does that man’s jacket not have coattails on it?‘ The other answered, ‘He is from Tuxedo Park.’ The first gentleman misinterpreted and told all of his friends that he saw a man wearing a jacket without coattails called a tuxedo, not from Tuxedo.”

The other account gives the provenance of the tuxedo to fellow Tuxedo Park resident James Brown Potter, who brought a Homburg jacket made at Henry Poole & Co. home from a trip to England in 1886. When Potter and his friends wore this coat to a dinner party at Delmonico’s, it created a sensation and was dubbed a “tuxedo.” Whomever originated the tuxedo, its adoption over the tailcoat was considered daring until the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor)–an ardent lover of all things American–made it acceptable for semi-formal evening dress. Though tie and tails prevailed for most, the younger generation preferred the tuxedo for its slightly informal aspect and its modernity.