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Country House Visits


View of a hunting party on The Glen estate

Disraeli, in his ” Lothair,” wrote of a visit to a country house that ” it is a series of meals mitigated by the new dresses of the ladies.”

Since his day there have been great changes in country house etiquette. In fact, the very word seems out of place, so free and easy are the manners and customs of this century in its early youth, as compared with those of the mid-Victorian period. The youth of both sexes behave with a sans-gene that would horrify their grandmothers, and would also startle their mothers if the latter were not well on the same road themselves.

However, the hostess is still allowed the privilege of inviting such guests as she may wish to have in her house, and she is still permitted to suggest the day when she can receive them, and mention that on which the visit may terminate. To such cool requests as: “Dear Mrs. Dash, – Could you put us up for a couple of nights next week, perhaps the 14th and 15th? It would be so sweet of you! ” she can find some excuse for replying in the negative. Such relief is still possible, but whether it will continue to be so for very long is another question. Things are marching at a great rate, and leaving the conventions far behind.

Modern Manners

The attitude of too many invited persons is that of conferring a favour by accepting an invitation to stay a week or so at a country house. It peeps out in the tone of the reply: “Thanks so much for your invitation. I am so sorry that I cannot accept it, but I am very busy in getting my new house shipshape. You will excuse me, I know.”

These were the exact words of a note of the kind written by a woman of good position. Not a word of thanks, and “excuse” quite in the wrong place. The regrets should have been expressed as though inability to accept the invitation was the writer’s loss. The thanks also might have been warmer. But the letter is typical of the bad manners of to-day.

The usual invitation runs as follows:

“My dear Mrs. Whyte, – Can you and Mr. Whyte spare us a few days next month? We should be so pleased if you could come to us on Monday, the 17th, and remain till the 24th. The Hunt Ball comes off on the 19th, and I know you are fond of dancing. Hoping you can come, and with kind regards to you both, believe me, very truly yours, – Constance Greene.”

The reply should not be delayed too long. The mistress of a country house has to plan out her relays of guests and fit in her friends so that all those she is anxious to have shall be included. Therefore, a delay in answering is not common politeness.

Letters Of Acceptance

In sending an acceptance it is usual, and convenient, to mention not only the day of arrival, but also the date of departure, that suggested in the invitation. This prevents any misconception on the point, such as arises occasionally from indistinct writing, the similarity between the figures 3 and 5, 7 and 9, etc.

If a refusal is sent, the regret expressed should be all for oneself, and a good reason should be given. A prior engagement is the usual one. It covers everything, and is therefore adequate. An inadequate excuse is a rudeness. It shows so clearly that the writer is declining for the simple reason that she Would rather stay away, and has trumped up some futile excuse for want of a real one.

In writing to accept any invitation the present tense, not the future, should be used.

It gives me great pleasure to accept,” not “It Will give me.” Acceptance is done in the present, though the visit itself is in the future. This is very frequently forgotten.

Apropos of the hunt ball, or any other amusement mentioned in an invitation, it would not be very polite to dwell enthusiastically upon one’s pleasant anticipation of it. To do so might suggest the idea that the invitation had been accepted rather on account of the ball than for the pleasure of staying with one’s host and hostess. This may be quite the state of the case, but good manners forbid it to be allowed to appear. Motors and Chauffeurs

On receiving an acceptance the hostess Writes again, expressing her pleasure at the news that her friends are coming, and giving them information about the trains, saying that the visitors will be met at whatever hour they may decide to arrive at the station. In wealthy circles, where many travel in their own motor, the capacity of the garage is referred to as adequate, or otherwise, to the accommodation of another. For instance:

“There will be room for your car between the dates mentioned, as the Greys leave us on the 16th, taking theirs with them.”


“I regret to say we shall not be able to put up your car. It is unfortunate, but our garage is limited in size, and the Marshes and Mallows will be here, and theirs quite fill it, added to our own. You can always have one of ours, however.”

A Wise Convention

In addition to valets and lady’s-maids, the upper-class hostess is now expected to house chauffeurs as well. Taking everything into consideration, a hostess is rather more like the manageress of a hotel than the owner of a private house during the visiting season. And the behaviour of her guests often goes far to confirm the impression. As often as not they give their address to their acquaintance without taking the trouble to mention the name of their host. Consequently replies arrive without the line “c/o So-and-so,” once considered imperatively necessary. It is an unpardonable omission, or would have been considered so not long ago, but it serves to show the trend of things. It is also a stupid omission, especially if the house should happen to be one of several grouped together. The name of the owner on the envelope ensures its punctual delivery. The name of the addressee is probably unknown in the district where he or she is only on a visit. There is a good, solid reason for many of the rules of politeness.

Breakfast at a big country house is a variable meal. Some of the guests have it in their bedrooms, and those who come downstairs for it do so at any hour they prefer. One hostess made herself very popular by putting on the little list hung in her guestrooms, among hours of letter delivery and collection:

” Breakfast before Luncheon.”

This list, by the way, is extremely useful. It gives the hours of meals, postal and telegraphic information, date of any entertainment about to take place in the neighbourhood, such as balls or theatricals, and any other items that the hostess may think likely to be useful.

A propos of this, a supply of notepaper bearing the address of the house, of blotting-paper, ink, pens, pencils, stamps, and telegram forms should be provided on a table in the bedroom.

Plans for the day are usually discussed at breakfast, and here again there is strong contrast between Victorian days and the present. The host or hostess used to suggest some plan that they had devised for giving pleasure to their visitors; but now, as often as not, the guests have mapped out their own day, and tell their entertainers what they think of doing. Sometimes it is more or less subtly suggested that the use of the motorcar for a few hours would be appreciated. There are women who know how to ” manage ” their hostess so cleverly as to make it appear that any such suggestion has come from her, not from themselves, even combating the offer when made with some appearance of vigour, though it is precisely what they had been leading up to all the time. But this ” management ” does not always make for future invitations.

Arranging the Dinner-table

The rigid rules of etiquette that once governed the allotment of places at the dinner-table are now replaced by many informal methods, except in the case of dinners to which guests are bidden in any numbers additional to the house-party. At these, and also on the first evening of a large party assembling, the rules of precedence are carefully followed. But afterwards there are many ways of varying the dinner partners. Not infrequently some of the guests themselves come to an understanding during the day as to whom they shall sit next. Sometimes lots are drawn. Sometimes the names of the men are written on slips of paper and put in a bag, and the women draw from it while it is half-closed, so that they cannot read the names; or, vice versa, the men draw the names of possible partners.

An Age of Easy Manners

The shopping plan is sometimes followed – firms with two names are chosen. The names are written separately and put in a bag. Who ever draws the name of one partner in the firm pairs off with the person who draws the other. In sporting houses the names of horses and owners are utilised after the same fashion.

A free and easy manner has become a characteristic of our highest class. The upper middle-class young man still jumps up to open the door for his hostess or any other lady, asks permission to smoke a cigarette in her presence, and conforms in other ways to the rules of ten years since.


The question of tipping servants arises at the end of a visit. Like all things, tips have increased in amount during the last fifteen years. Men-servants expect far more than in former years. There is now the host’s chauffeur, too, to reckon with, and his demands are not small. An extraordinary custom is permitted at a few country houses. On the day when a guest terminates a visit the men-servants are allowed to throw themselves in his or her way, and they have to be tipped.

On the other hand, it is the rule in some country houses to forbid tips. In such cases the hostess makes some special arrangement with her servants. Otherwise they would consider themselves ill-used, for tips amount to large sums in houses where constant relays of guests are entertained. The Tip Problem

The amount given as a tip depends on circumstances, and particularly on the position and social standing of the visitor. The following remarks apply to guests in the same set as their host, who is supposed to be a man of the wealthy upper classes. The butler will expect a sovereign for a few days’ visit. If there have been many motor-car rides, the chauffeur will expect from half a sovereign upwards. If he only meets the guest at the station and drives him back to it, five shillings or three half-crowns will do. This, too, will meet the case of a woman visitor. For a week-end visit she will give five shillings to the maid who looks after her room, half a crown to the footman or parlourmaid who carries down her luggage when she is leaving, and a similar amount to the coachman who drives her to the station. A chauffeur will expect more. If her luggage is sent on some other vehicle, she will find the driver of it waiting to be remembered.

For longer visits the tips would be in proportion to the length. A girl is not expected to give such liberal tips as her married friends. Married couples pay their tips separately, the man giving something to the butler, his wife to the parlourmaid and housemaid, sometimes to the housekeeper if she has to avail herself of her services in any way. Should a man-servant have valeted the husband, the latter should give him a tip.

At the conclusion of a ten-days’ visit to a house where there is no shooting, the money spent on tips sometimes amounts to five pounds.

Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia

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WWI Wednesday: Wartime Rationing


Don't Waste Bread!
Don’t Waste Bread! © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13354)

It must have been a great shock to the Edwardians to go from extreme lavishness in meals to extreme want during the height of the war. During the early months, food prices soared as Britons fearfully stocked up on basic necessities and other foodstuffs. However, this was quickly curbed by the newly-founded Cabinet Committee on Food Supplies, who on August 7th, fixed the maximum prices for food “such as 4½d. per lb for granulated sugar, 5d. for lump, 1s. 6d. per lb for butter, 8d. for margarine, 9½d. for Colonial cheese, and 1s. 4d. and 1s. 6d. for continental and British bacon.” Many considered these prices extravagant, what with the menus in Maud Pember Reeves’ 1913 study on poverty, Round About on a Pound a Week, averaging about 10s. for 2 oz of tea, ½lb of sugar, 4 oz of butter, and a loaf of bread per day. Ironically, just as prices were fixed and rationing set in, luxury foods fell drastically in price due to the lack of entertaining (for example, pineapples fetched only 1s.!), and the wine trade just about collapsed.

During the autumn and winter of 1914, supplies of fuel and light were curtailed, street lamps were dimmed, and no long lines of lights were permitted. In London, Mrs. C. S. Peel declared that the city had gone back twenty years as regards to lighting and “by the end of the war it was almost as dark as the Middle Ages.” New laws required that everyone put up blinds to the windows and keep them drawn at night at the risk of a fine of up to £100 or six months’ imprisonment–a precaution that became imperative once Zeppelins began dropping bombs on England at various intervals throughout the war. By early 1915, the coal shortage had shortened people’s tempers, and the suspicion of neighbors hoarding private stashes of coal or even of coal mine owners profiteering were frequent complaints. The price of coal rose steadily each month, and the coal queue became as familiar a site as the food queue. To mitigate the acute fuel shortage, newspapers filled their pages with advice on fuel-saving cookery and fuel substitutions.

In December 1916, after a bleak autumn (due to the shortages and the news of the Somme), a Food Controller was appointed and a Ministry of Food established “to promote economy and to maintain the food supply of the country”. Yet, it was not until 1917, when the Germans began their unrestricted U-boat warfare, that the British government realized how vulnerable the country was to being cut off from their imported food supplies. In April of that year, 555,000 tons of shipping alone were lost in the submarine campaign . In response, the Food Controller authorized the organization of a national kitchen, where ostensibly healthy and nourishing food was cooked and served to the masses now that most men had been called up to the Front and women had taken their places in the workforce. The Board of Agriculture also sent instructors around the country to demonstrate bottling and canning fruits and vegetables to cut back on waste, and the London County Council issued posters advising people to buy bread by weight (as the poor did) rather than by the loaf.

Months later, when the food shortage became more serious, control, or rations, grew stricter: “to throw rice at weddings became a criminal offense, the sale of luxury chocolates and sweets were stopped, the use of starch for laundering was restricted, horses and cows and even the London pigeons were rationed, no corn was allowed for cobs, hunters, carriages horses and hacks, the amount of bread or cake sold at tea shops was reduced to 2 ounces, and it became an offense to adopt and feed stray dogs.” Butchers were ordered to display price lists, and bakers, with only barley, rice, maize, beans, oatmeal and potato permitted, were forbidden to bake anything but Government regulation bread. Everyone was advised to “Eat slowly: you will need less food.” or “Keep warm: you will need less food.”, yet no explanations were given on how to keep warm with fuel rationed and an insufficiently fat diet.

The winter of 1917 saw the formation of food queues, where people in the poorer districts waited outside of shabby shops for hours, and the better-off sent their servants round to fetch what they could. This latter practice and the resentment it stirred up no doubt convinced the Government to institute compulsory rationing in 1918. After February 1918, it became impossible in London and the six home counties to buy butter, margarine, or meat without cards; by the end of April, everyone was required to register for bacon as well. Those in the country, and the aforementioned well-to-do, were a tad better off, since they had gardens and livestock, but food shortages, inflation, and rationing remained a threat to the average Briton’s meals even after the U-boat campaign ended in August 1918. Yet, rationing did have a bright side: the malnutrition documented in the poor during the Edwardian eras had all but disappeared, and no one truly starved.

How We Lived Then, 1914-1918: A Sketch of Social and Domestic Life in England During the War by Mrs. C. S. Peel
Camille DeAngelis tries two recipes from the Peel book, Savoury War-Time Pie & War-Time Soup
Rationing and Food Shortages during the First World War – Imperial War Museum
Rationing – WWI Propaganda Posters
Rationing and World War One – History Learning Site
Food rationing in Britain in the First World War – Join Me in the 1900s
From Beef and Chocolate to Daily Ration–British Rations in Transition, 1870-1918
The Home Front in World War One: Rationing of Basic Foodstuffs – BBC History

The Type-Writer Girl


Edwardian typistIt was no coincidence that with the rise in female education, female employment would also rise in prominence. Something monumental happened to English society with the passing of the Education Act of 1870, wherein schooling was provided to all children between the ages of five and twelve, with elementary school made compulsory in 1880, and free in 1891. Add to this the founding of women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, the granting of degrees to women from other colleges and universities (something Oxbridge did not do until the 20th century), as well as the fight for secondary education and the founding of girls’ public schools and high schools, and you have a veritable revolution in thought! As a result of these monumental changes, women and teenage girls of the Edwardian era were the first generation of females to be educated along the same standards as males.

And this came at the perfect time for late Victorian and Edwardian women. By the 1860s and 1870s, the “Surplus Woman Question” was the subject of countless articles, lectures, and pamphlets. Despite the age-old opinion that women were meant for marriage and motherhood, the uncomfortable reality that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of women would not wed because of poverty, age, physical appearance, lack of position, and especially a shortage of eligible men, frightened society. However, no one offered any real solutions besides devoting one’s self to one’s aging parents, or becoming a caretaker/governess for the household of one’s married brother or sister. Women of the 1880s revolted against this dreary existence and slowly, but surely, began to infiltrate the workforce as shop-girls, teachers, librarians, journalists, nurses, etc. Of course, though there was a bit of a struggle against women “de-feminizing” themselves by having a job, the rapid modernization of technology and business made their entry much easier than in the past (for example, the growth of ocean liners meant stewardesses were needed for female passengers; the growth of department stores over individual shops meant female employees were needed in certain departments, etc).

Four women in an officeOne profession which reigned king (or queen) above all was the type-writer girl, or typist. As one of the better paying and most “genteel” of positions, it was highly coveted by professional women. A woman possessing skills in typing, dictation, and shorthand could work as a private secretary, an authors’ amanuensis, a copying clerk to a solicitor, or for the Government. To equip women with the necessary skills, business schools and classes were founded, and after a stated period of time, the student was awarded a certificate, which verified to prospective employers that the applicant was trained and experienced in the aforementioned skills, as well as light book-keeping, business terms, business arithmetic, and précis (the summarizing of “a document in the fewest possible words, consistently with clearness and accuracy”).

In London, the Metropolitan School for Shorthand, in Chancery Lane, charged five guineas for a complete course of instruction until a rate of about 120 words a minute was reached by the student (a half-a-guinea could be paid weekly, with the fee reduced to 5s. if evening classes were attended). A prospective typist could also learn to use the typewriter at the chief or branch offices of the leading typewriter makers, and frequently these classes were free with purchase. The pay for a typist or secretary varied based on experience and position. A shorthand and typewriting clerk could have been paid anything from a beginner’s 15s. to £2 or £3 a week, whilst a secretary was paid from the assistant’s £50 to £250 a year. Oddly enough, though positions as copying for a solicitor or typing manuscripts were difficult to obtain, the pay was quite poor–about £5 for a novel of 100,000 words.

The most dependable and lucrative positions were found working for the Civil Service. Of the departments opened to women typists, they included the Board of Education (England), Colonial Office, Customs, Foreign Office, India Office, Inland Revenue, Office of the Secretary for Scotland, Treasury, and War Office (including Royal Army Clothing Depot). To become a typist in a Government department, a woman was required to be between the ages of 18 and 30, be unmarried or widowed, “duly qualified in respect of health and character,” a natural born or naturalized British subject, and at least five feet in height without boots or shoes. The examination for employment included “writing, spelling, English composition, copying manuscript, arithmetic (first four rules, simple and compound, including English weights and measures, and reduction), typewriting; and, if required by the department by which the candidate has been nominated, shorthand–and they were required to pass all topics.

Gwen's typwriterThough domestic service continued to dominate womens’ employment, the professional class of women were solid and formidable. For the first time, possible ever in history, women could and did find work outside of the home through which they could support themselves. Granted, the issue of imbalanced pay between male and female employees exists ’til this day, but in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, “surplus women” were no longer pathetic, mild-mannered creatures to be pitied: they were independent and resilient women who forged an individual path in spite of society’s dictates. And for women like Gwen (left), the typewriter was an instrument of dramatic social change.

Further Reading:
Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education by Jane Robinson
Girls Growing Up in Late Victorian and Edwardian England by Carol Dyhouse
The Englishwoman’s Year Book (1900 edition) ed. by Emily Janes
Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia v1 (1912)
The Type-writer Girl by Grant Allen (writing as Olive Pratt Rayner)

Interesting Articles:
The Cultural Work of the Type-writer Girl by Christopher Keep
Surplus Negro Women (1908) by Kelly Miller

Blogs of Note:
Fresh Ribbon
Life in a Typewriter Shop