Subscribe to the newsletter and get Edwardian-themed news delivered straight to your inbox!


WIP Research: The Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms


MY WIP largely takes place in the East End, and my research has taken me into surprising directions. Before now, I filtered my view of the East End through Dickens and the Jack the Ripper murders, and perhaps a few snippets from Mayhew from time to time. Needless to say, these were myopic: yes there was squalor, poverty, murder, prostitution, and what not, but there were more vibrant working-class communities than not. And the Victorian and Edwardians were big on charitable institutions! I’ve also been tearing my hair out clump by clump (terrible imagery, isn’t it?) playing research catch-up after I discovered the London County Council and its role in governing the East End.

The most interesting discovery was that of The Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms. Built in 1898 from funds provided by tea magnate and philanthropist Sir Thomas Lipton, “this restaurant offered very cheap meals to the poor working classes. Six boilers could heat 500 gallons of hot soup and a three-course meal cost 4.5d (2p) in 1898. Some 100 waitresses could serve up to 12,000 meals a day.” Arthur H. Beavan’s Imperial London (1901) took a closer look at the charity:

The Alexandra Trust dining rooms © MisterPeter!

The most sensational, as well as the most practical, effort to lessen the cost of daily sustenance to our countless toilers in the East-end, is the “Alexandra Trust.”

In August 1898, the public were surprised by a Gazette announcement to the effect that a petition had been presented to “Her Majesty in Council by Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, the Duke of Norfolk, the Right Honourable Sir Francis Jeune, Sir Francis Knollys, James Knowles, Esq, and Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, praying for the grant of a Charter of Incorporation to ‘The Alexandra Incorporated Trust,’ for the purpose of providing meals at a cheap rate for poor men and women.”

Sir Thomas Lipton, on being consulted by Her Royal Highness, saw, with the keen insight of the practical man of business, that there was every reason to anticipate that restaurants for the working-classes could be maintained upon the sound lines of honest trade, as much as tenement dwellings or the Rowton Houses, and expressed himself as ready to contribute for her gracious purpose a sum that was originally fixed at £100,000, but which has since been much increased.

The great building in which well-cooked meals are served at a cost below anything previously attempted commercially in London, is close to the important tram and omnibus junction at Old Street, and is in the midst of a crowded population of workers.

The most interesting department of the great scheme is, of course, the kitchens, which, in accordance with the latest ideas, are at the top of the building, on the fourth floor.

It is, naturally, only by working with prodigious quantities that cheap rates can be maintained, but even then, it is a little startling to be told that “those steam-chests for potatoes can cook a ton and a half an hour.”

For boiling operations, there are steam jacketed tanks, deeply fluted, in which in the natural process of expansion in cooking, the contents mark themselves off into the halfpenny portions for sale.

Thirty-two hams can be dressed simultaneously, and the roasting-ovens can contain ten and seven hundredweights respectively of viands at a time.

For soup-making, six vast boilers are provided, with an aggregate capacity of 500 gallons.

In general plan, that of the famous Volkskuche, started by Dr. Kuhn in Vienna, has been followed.

The hungry customer in want of a meal finds in the bill of fare items that start from a halfpenny.

For that sum, a cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa, a bowl of soup or porridge, a slice of bread, with butter, jam, or marmalade, a piece of cake, a portion of pastry, pudding, or vegetables or pickles, may be had.

The penny alone does not seem a much-favoured coin, and a bloater, kipper, or sardines, or mineral waters are the chief items it purchases.

With, however, an additional halfpenny, it allows of a choice of a rasher of bacon, a haddock, two sausages, a buttered tea-cake, a small steak-pudding, a pork-pie, or two boiled eggs.

Cold meat, ham, or large-sized haddock are sold for twopence a plate, and a special feature daily is boiled fish and potatoes for twopence-halfpenny.

Perhaps, however, the triumph of all is the three-course dinner for fourpence-halfpenny.

This consists of soup, a choice at will of a large steak-pudding, roast pork, roast or boiled beef, roast or boiled mutton, Irish stew, boiled pickled pork, stewed steak, or liver and bacon.

It includes two vegetables and bread, and a choice between pastry, or a mug of tea, coffee, or cocoa.

There is a staff of a hundred waitresses, in a neat uniform of black dress and white cap and apron, whose duties are primarily to remove the dirty plates and cups.

Each of the three halls can accommodate 500 people, so that 1500 meals may be simultaneously consumed, and 12,000 meals can be easily provided during the day.

The Worst Street in London


The following article, written by Frederick A. McKenzie, was published in the Daily Mail on 16 July 1901

Dorset Street, Spitalfields
Dorset Street, Spitalfields

Where our Criminals are Trained.

Dorset Street, Spitalfields, has recently sprung into undesired notoriety. Here we have a place which boasts of an attempt at murder on an average once a month, of a murder in every house, and one house at least, a murder in every room. Policemen go down it as rule in pairs. Hunger walks prowling in its alleyways, and the criminals of to-morrow are being bred there to-day.


The lodging-houses of Dorset Street and of the district around are the head centres of the shifting criminal population of London. Of course, the aristocrats of crime – the forger, the counterfeiter, and the like do not come here. In Dorset Street we find more largely the common thief, the pickpocket, the area meak, the man who robs with violence, and the unconvicted murderer. The police have a theory, it seems, that it is better to let these people congregate together in one mass where they can be easily be found than to scatter them abroad. And Dorset Street certainly serves the purpose of a police trap.

If this were all, something might be said in favour of allowing such a place to continue. But it is not all. No criminal centre is wholly criminal, and to represent even the lodging houses of Dorset Street as wholly inhabited by the utterly depraved would be wrong. There are many men in them who are simply “down on their luck.” There are many boys there whose sole desire is to lead a free life, and who have not yet known the policeman’s clatch on their shoulder. There are even a few women, though but a very few, who have not yet shared in the almost inevitable rain which comes on their sex in such a place.

Here comes the real and greatest harm that Dorset Street does. Respectable people, whose main offence is their poverty, are thrown in close and constant contact with the agents of crime. They become familiarized with law-breaking. They see the best points of the criminals around them. If they are in want, as they usually are, it often enough a thief who shares his spoils with them to give them bread. And there are those who are always ready to instruct these new-comers in the simple ways of making a dishonest living. Boy thieves are trained as regularly and systematically around Dorset Street to-day as they were in the days of Oliver Twist.


There must seem, I am well aware, an air of unreality about this to follow who read it in comfortable surburban homes or bright country houses. It seems impossible that in our new century these things should continue. But perhaps those who think it unreal will look over for their own satisfaction the indictments of any of our great criminal courts. They may notice there the number of petty thieves, and brutal assaulters, of burglars, even of murderers at every session. These men have to learn their business. You do not become a burglar without training, and even the art of the knuckle-duster requires a little practice. Where are these folks trained? Many of them are from Dorset Street.

The chief harm the common lodging-houses do is in the free association of criminals with those who have not yet learned the ways of crime. The mixed houses where men and women go together are, of course, infinitely the worse, and the authorities might well consider it worth while to secure the more rigid enforcement of elementary laws for good morality in such houses. But common lodging-houses there must be, and to close the present places without giving better accommodation in their stead would be to do more harm than good. London to-day has a sad lack of good temporary shelters for poor folks. Lord Rowton in his admirable homes has supplied a great want for some of the better class.

The County Council has made a very small endeavour, but its house, too is not for the really poor. We want in London places like the great Municipal or Burn’s Homes in Glasgow, where for 3½d. Or 4d. A night a man can secure a simple cubicle and the use of the common rooms. This experiment has been enormously successful in Glasgow. It yields fair returns on the money invested in it; it has swept away innumerable criminal dens; it is giving the poorest and the worst a chance of honestly re-starting again. But a still greater need is a good lodging-house for women. I understand that the curate of Christ Church, Spitalfields, has started in that neighbourhood a small home for respectable girls. This is admirable, but he himself would probably be the first to admit that something very much more is wanted. Those of us who know the enormous difficulties in the way of running a successful common lodging-house for women yet believe that with really good management the difficulties which have frightened so many off this thing would vanish.


The lodging-houses are bad, but they are the best side of a bad street. They at least have certain official inspection, and a certain minimum amount of sanitation and decency is there secured. But the furnished rooms so-called are infinitely worse. Farming furnished rooms is exceedingly profitable business. You take seven or eight-roomed houses at a rent of 10s. Or 11s. A week, you place on each door a padlock, and in each room you put a minimum amount of the oldest furniture to be found in the worst second-hand dealers’ in the slums. The fittings of the average furnished room are not worth more than a few shillings. Then you let the rooms out to any comers for 10d. Or 1s. A night. No questions asked. They pay the rent, you hand them the key. If by the next night they have not their 10d. or 1s. Again ready you go round and chuck them out and let a new-comer in.

But for mere want we find here “depths below the lowest deep.” There are some to whom even the common lodging-house or the penny shelter are unobtainable luxuries. In the summer months they do not mind. A seat on the Thames Embankment is in many ways to be preferred to a bed in a big dormitory in Dorset Street. But on winter nights, when well-fed and well-clothed citizens shiver over their roaring fires, then it is that the lot of these poor souls is truly pitiable. I have seen them on such nights lying on the stones of the doorways, or crouched asleep by the half-dozen on the damp brick passage-ways of the furnished houses.

They tell me it is a poor look-out for the School Board officer who pokes his nose into unwanted quarters of Dorset Street, The children are trained in the gutter, their first lessons are in oaths and crime. They learn ill as they sip at their mother’s gin, and you can see them at six and eight years’ old gambling in the gutter-ways.

The County Council showed what it could do in Boundary Street. Surely here, under such needs, it might make a special endeavour. For every pound spent in reforming this street would mean many pounds saved on our prisons and legal machinery to-morrow.


An Edwardian Breakfast


More than one’s residence, food and fashion greatly demarcates the wealth–or poverty–of the individual or family. During the Edwardian era, this was never more true, though, with the introduction of mass produced foods in America, those with less wealth could now afford to eat a bit more healthier.

Starting at the top, the upper classes or aristocrats of this time divided their meals in a bevy of sections, and breakfast was split into two as well: formal or informal.

The formal breakfast differed slightly from an early luncheon, except that the menu made up of was distinctly breakfast dishes: Toast, hot muffins, omelets and other preparations of eggs, delicate farinaceous foods, cafe au lait, etc. A formal breakfast was held at any time between 10 and 12:30. A fruit course opened the menu: melons cut in slices, pink, green and yellow; baskets of “alert apples” and “self-conscious” peaches, with “sleepy grapes” hanging heavily over the rim. and plates of pears. This was followed by either a mild hors d’oeuvre or a dish of mush and cream, and then the breakfast plates were laid.

The coffee urn was filled, and a hot breakfast was served: beefsteak or lamb/veal chops, with a salad of sliced tomatoes or lettuce, with hard-boiled eggs, or poached eggs on toast; or omelet with muffins, or “pop-overs” with butter. Fish, broiled or saute, could also be served, and sometimes deviled lobster if it was preferred. In England, steamed finnan haddie was the favorite breakfast fish, and egg dishes wee always welcomed, accompanied with mushrooms, small French peas or potatoes. For the next course, chicken, broiled or fried with rice. Dessert of frozen punch, pastry or jellies followed; and coffee, in breakfast cups, concluded the meal. Hot muffins and crisp biscuits were made available, as were waffles and syrup.

An informal breakfast was less elaborate. It began with fruit, and may be followed by ham or bacon and eggs with johnny-cake and potatoes, or a simple breakfast may be started with cereal, served with cream, and followed by broiled finnan haddie and baked potatoes. Eggs, quail or chops, and a crisp salad was another menu often adapted to the late informal breakfast. Desserts were simple, as sweets were seldom indulged in at breakfast (buns with marmalade or honey; frozen puddings). This was given at 10 or 11 am.

Further on down the scale, the upper-middle- and middle-classes ate with more discretion. According to Mrs C.S. Peel, for a family of six or more persons, an average of a pound per head a week allows luxurious living; 15s. per head for good living; 10s. for simple living; and 8s. 6d. per head for sufficient living. An advised breakfast would include porridge, haddock, bacon and fried potatoes, brown loaf, toast, and honey; an omelet, crumpets, sardines, toast and preserves; cold tongue, apples; kippers, tongue toast, hot rolls; buttered eggs, potted meat, scones.

Menus in The Queen Cook-Book included fruit, cracked wheat, cream and sugar, broiled chicken, hashed potatoes, rolls, coffee; steamed hominy, scrambled eggs, lamp chops; oat meal, boiled eggs, beef steak. And an American cookbook entitled Cooking for Two, listed such items as an orange cut in half, bacon, broiled potatoes, radishes, toasted Boston brown bread, Grape Nuts and Cream, scrambled eggs, fried potato cakes, cream toast, lamb’s liver, creamed potatoes, buttered toast, marmalade, and coffee.

The meager menus eaten by the lower- and working-classes were detailed in heart-rending, but cold, hard facts in the multitude of exposes of London’s East End and other neighborhoods of poverty in Britain and America that flooded the bookstalls following the succès de scandale of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor. In it, he details the typical Street-Irish breakfast: a dish of potatoes, coffee and a slice of bread; herring, a cheap fish and potatoes; and two slices of bread-and-butter and a cup of tea for breakfast. Coffee stalls dotting the East End supplied a warm breakfast and “Rice-milk” girls, who tramped up and down the streets with urns of boiled rice, sold the white liquid with sugar, browned with allspice.

Tramps in London who lodged at the Casual Wards, told of their breakfast of one pint of gruel and 6 oz of bread, while English Poor Law policy stated that children were not to have tea or coffee, except for supper on Sunday, but milk and 2-3 oz of bread. Aged and infirm women and men however, got tea, coffee, or cocoa, with milk and sugar, accompanied by bread and butter or bread and cheese. A little more prosperous was the American working-class, who breakfasted on ham, sausage, biscuit, coffee, sugar, butter, syrup, and cheese.

Oddly enough, some of America’s enduring cereals were created in Sanatoriums. The first was Granula (named after granules), which was in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson, operator of the Jackson Sanatorium in Dansville, New York and a staunch vegetarian. However, the cereal never became popular; it was far too inconvenient, as the heavy bran nuggets needed soaking overnight before they were tender enough to eat. Fourteen years later, in Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, another cereal was invented. To alleviate the bowel problems of his patients, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg invented a biscuit of ground wheat, oat and cornmeal and named the product “Granula,” though he was forced to rename it “Granola” after a lawsuit. It was however, after he accidentally left a batch of boiled wheat soaking overnight and then rolling it out the next morning that Kellogg created wheat flakes. His brother Will Keith Kellogg, who later invented corn flakes from a similar method, bought out his brother’s share in their business, and went on to found the Kellogg Company in 1906. With his shrewd marketing and advertising, Kellogg’s sold their one millionth case after three years.

In 1893, C.W. Post was a patient at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. After leaving, he began his own sanitarium, the La Vita Inn, and there developed his own coffee substitute, Postum in 1895. Two years later, Post invented Grape-Nuts, whose original formula called for grape sugar, which is composed mostly of glucose unlike most other sugar sources and food sweeteners which are principally sucrose. This, combined with the “nutty” flavor of the cereal inspired its name. Post immediately launched a nation-wide advertising campaign and quickly became a leader in the cereal business, with Post Toasties, a corn flake cereal to rival Kellogg’s following soon after.

Around this time, Cream of Wheat and shredded wheat cereal were invented. The former, a farina-based porridge, was invented in 1893 by wheat millers in Grand Forks, North Dakota and made its debut at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, while the latter was created by Henry Perky that same year, who founded The Natural Food Company based at Niagara Falls, NY in 1901. It became the Shredded Wheat Company in 1904.

Posted in Food | Comments Off on An Edwardian Breakfast