Belgravian houses are palaces; the fee-simple of some of them is five and twenty thousand pounds each, and they may be rented at from fifteen hundred to two thousand a year.
The Leisure Hour, 1858
WAS originally applied as a sobriquet to Belgrave and Eaton Squares and the radiating streets, but is now received as the legitimate name of this aristocratic quarter. In 1824, its site was "the Five Fields, intersected by mud-banks, and occupied by a few sheds. The clayey swamp retained so much water, that no one would build there; and the "Fields" were the terror of foot-passengers proceeding from London to Chelsea after nightfall. At length, Mr. Thomas Cubitt found the strata to consist of gravel and clay, of considerable depth: the clay he removed, and burned into bricks, and by building upon the substratum of gravel, he converted this spot from the most unhealthy to one of the most healthy, to the immense advantage of the ground-landlord and the whole metropolis. This is one of the most perfect adaptations of the means to the end to be found in the records of the building art. In 1829, the same land, consisting of about 140 acres, was nearly covered with first and second class houses, the nucleus being Belgrave-square, designed by George Basevi; the detached mansions, at the angles, by Hardwick, Kendall, and others; the area, originally a nursery garden, about ten acres. The level is low; for it has been ascertained that the ground-floor of Westbourne-terrace, Hyde Park Gardens, 70 feet above the Thames high-water mark, is on a level with the attics of Eaton and Belgrave Squares. Yet Chelsea acquired a proverbial salubrity in the last century by Doctors Arbuthnot, Sloane, Mead, and Cadogan residing there.
Mr. Thomas Cubitt, who died in 1856, was, in his nineteenth year, working as a journeyman carpenter; he then took one voyage to India and back as captain's joiner, and on his return to London with his savings, commenced business in the metropolis as a carpenter. In about six years, upon a tract of ground in Gray's Inn-road, he erected large workshops. About 1824, he engaged with the Duke of Bedford and Lord Southampton for the ground on which Tavistock-square and Gordon-square, with Woburn-place, and adjoining streets, now stand. In the same year he engaged with the Marquis of Westminster and Mr. Lowndes, to cover large portions el the Five Fields, and ground adjacent: the results are Belgrave-square, Lowndes-square, Chesham-place, and other ranges of houses. He subsequently engaged to cover the vast open district lying between Eaton-square and the Thames, now South Belgravia. His works and establishment were at Thames Bank : they were destroyed by fire, by which Mr. Cubitt lost 30,0001.; when he was apprised of the calamity, his noble reply was, "Tell the men they shall be at work within a week, and I will subscribe 600l. towards buying them new tools" His large engagements as to Belgrave-square, begun in 1825, had just been completed in the year of his death; and his own dwelling-house at Denbies, in which he died, had only been just finished, as the future residence of his family. His portrait has been painted and engraved. He had two brothers, Alderman Cubitt, twice Lord Mayor; and Lewis Cubitt, the eminent engineer, architect of the Great Northern Railway Terminus —Memoir in the Builder, 1856.
John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867
Crossing over Piccadilly at Hyde Park Corner, on a summer's afternoon, the
traveller in London finds himself suddenly, as it were, becalmed after a storm.
So great is the change from the roar and rattle, the crowd and confusion, the
stream of omnibuses and cabs and men and women that fill the length of
Piccadilly and Knightsbridge, to the quiet, stately, wealthy, aristocratic, and
somewhat dull-looking district known as Belgravia.
In this picture an attempt is made to represent a view of Belgravia about that time of the afternoon when the nearest approach to movement and liveliness takes place. Even then a certain unruffled calm seems to prevail everywhere. The sun shines oppressively, the pavement is hot, the blinds are down, the houses within have a cool, shady, deserted look. Everybody, that is the family, is out. Six-foot powdered domestics habited in the livery of the period, varied occasionally by a portly butler, sun themselves, mostly in couples, on almost every doorstep, and in attitudes more or less expressive of elegance and ease; and there is an additional air of dignity and independence, and of being in undisputed possession, as it were, of the premises, and all they survey, for the time being, from the circumstance that the inhabitants of the mansions are, for the most part, out driving in their carriages, or riding on horseback in the Park.
Ever and anon a terrific volley of apparently never-ending double knocks (where that somewhat barbarous appliance has not yet given way to the milder and more musical bell), suggestive of the idea that the person performing on the knocker has suddenly gone out of his mind, breaks upon the otherwise stillness of the scene, and indicates to the passer-by that in all human probability one lady of fashion has left her card upon another lady of fashion.
Observe the recumbent position of the ladies in the open carriage which has just driven up to the house on the left-hand side of the square. The correct thing seems to be to lie back quite flat on the back amid the multitudinous robe which rises up and spreads far and wide and overflows in every direction, and above which the chin of the fair one just emerges as it were above water, a parasol likewise rising perpendicularly like a little sail above the waves, or like a slim mushroom from the midst of a snowy mountain of I am sure I don't know what material.
You may see, if you please, the youth with the fatigued air who drives his cab so lazily that he seems to have hardly sufficient energy left to turn a corner. He would perhaps like to lie down, and let the driving be done by the tiger who swings and clings on behind.
There are parties of ladies and gentlemen on horseback quietly wending their way towards Rotten Row. There is sure to be an old dowager or two about taking a walk on the sunny side of the way. And it is almost impossible to avoid seeing at least one over-fed, ill-tempered-looking little pet dog, attended by a servant, and taking a constitutional walk.
And in the garden of the square young ladies, not yet out, are to be found, with their governesses and nursemaids, reading and walking and playing croquet and not having found their lives as yet a bore.
Richard Doyle, Bird's Eye Views of Society, 1864
HOUSEKEEPING IN BELGRAVIA.
About six or seven years ago, a gentleman of considerable
fortune, a merchant of Liverpool, paid a visit to London
after an absence of many years. He took an open carriage
one fine afternoon, and drove with a friend to those quarters
which he remembered once fields or gardens, and where
magnificent streets and princely squares and terraces are
now standing. After exploring the apparently interminable
region about Bayswater, they drove to the more fashionable
and still newer quarter called South Kensington.
Here this gentleman's astonishment was excited, not only
by the vast changes in this locality, but by the style and
importance of the dwellings, which proclaimed them to
be prepared for the wealthy only.
"The rents of these houses, you tell me," said he, turning to his friend, "range from three to seven hundred a year. Now in the north we reckon that a man's rent should not exceed the tenth of his income. If you Londoners are guided by the same rule, what a vast number of people there must be amongst you with good comfortable incomes of from three to five thousand a year!"
His friend smiled, and half shook his head, was about to speak, when his companion resumed---
"People with ten thousand a year are, after all, not numerous: one might almost count them. But where do all the occupiers of these houses come from? Tyburnia alone could swallow up the West End that I remember twenty years ago. But how is this quarter peopled?"
"Perhaps," rejoined his friend, "from your part of the world---from Liverpool and Manchester. But don't run away with false ideas of our London wealth. House-rent here is no criterion of a man's means. With you it is comparatively moderate, with us inordinately dear. And people of small or moderate incomes would get no home in London at all if they limited their rent to a tenth of their income. And yet," continued the Londoner, with something of a sigh, as the rent and cost of his own expensive abode in Tyburnia presented themselves to his thoughts, "there is no item of our expenditure that we ought to study more, or more determinately keep down than this very one of house-rent, for one's expenses in this luxurious capital are very much regulated by the style of home and quarter one lives in. For instance, the class of servants that present themselves to you are more exorbitant in their demands, more luxurious in their habits, if you live in a fashionable neighborhood, than if you occupy an equally large house elsewhere. Rather than lose a footman who had been with me some years I was obliged to turn him into an under-butler the other day, as he told me "the society he was in rendered it impossible for him to remain any longer in livery."
This anecdote brought the conversation to the subject of household expenditure in London as compared with that of the great northern towns; and the picture drawn by the Londoner of the habits and customs of the great and wealthy in the metropolis caused his friend to exclaim, with thankfulness, "It was well for him that he had to fight the battle of life elsewhere."
"Perhaps so," rejoined his friend; "but you, too, have your weak points. Whilst you are content with waitresses, you spend double on your table. I have seen an alderman's feast prepared for a party of eight, and a lady's request for a few oranges answered by a whole case arriving, &c., &c. And then, again, your wives and daughters are more costly in their dress than-----"
"True! True! But we would rather spend our money upon them than upon flunkies."
Six or seven years have done little to alter the habits of living amongst the upper classes: something, certainly, towards increasing their expense, and a great deal towards improving and embellishing their abodes in town. The ugly, plain brick house, ill-lighted by windows few and small, yet, nevertheless, well-built, and with much substantial comfort about it, is now superseded by a bright, cheerful-looking dwelling, where, if there is less space, there is more light and air; where, if though the area it covers be smaller, there is more accomodation; where, if the walls are made thinner and neighbours ignored, the convenience and comfort of all the inmates are more cared for; where, if the rent is higher, the rates are less---where, in short, the attractions and advantages are so obvious that those who are able to consider and follow their inclinations (that class of people usually so prejudiced against the very new) have thrown aside this feeling, forsworn old associations, and adopted the new quarters of the town as their own.
Shade of King James! arise and view the scene realized that filled thy acute and far-seeing eye with dismay. Acres and acres of brick and plaster compass us around; the pleasant country homes of England are despised; their occupants, great and small, brought by our iron roads into contact with the outer world, have had new impressions given, new desires inspired; the calm and quiet, the leisure of country life becomes unendurable, they exclaim, "Let us away! it is not good for man to live alone"---content to resign their prominence, even their individuality, if they may, though but as a drop to the ocean, swell the ranks of the world not inaptly named after their chief resort, Belgravia. Oh railroads! much have ye to answer for. Twenty years hence we may look in vain for the social, kindly, hospitable country life now only to be met with in remote counties, in Cornwall, in Scotland. Already have you made the "Great Houses" independent of their neighbours. Their fish and their friends come down from town together. And the squire, the small proprietor despairing of husbands for his girls or his rubber for himself, where the doors around are closed nine months in the year, leaves his acres to the care of his bailiff and takes refuge in the nearest watering-place , or yields to his wife's solicitations, and launches also into the cares and troubles of HOUSEKEEPING IN BELGRAVIA.
How much these three words combine! And yet, have we anything to say about the homes and habits of Belgravia or the upper classes of London society, that people fancy they do not know already? We will leave our reader to settle that question by-and-by, when he has visited their abodes and inspected their menage in our company.
Formerly, when one spoke of oneself as living in the West End, one gave by that single word a general idea of one's locality. In the present day it is necessary to specify the particular quarter---whether Westbournia, Tyburnia, Belgravia, &c., for people now doubt whether the Regent's Park district may be classed under that general head; and the inhabitants of the regions round about Cavendish and Portman Squares speak modestly of themselves as inhabiting an "old-fashioned part of the town." We therefore discard a term which we do not care to define, or run the risk of offending by so doing, and adopt one now generally understood to apply to all who move in a certain sphere of society, whether living on one side of Oxford Street or the other, and derived from that quarter that contains fewer of the workers of life, and offers, perhaps, more gradations of fortune, rank, or fashion than any other. There may be found the wealthy titled, and the wealthy untitled family; the fashionable without fortune, and the fashionable because of fortune; those who give a prestige to the quarter they live in, and those who derive a prestige from living there. And yet little more than thirty-five years ago Belgrave Square was not. It owes its existence to a builder's speculation, who perceived the want of well-built first-class houses, and probably foresaw the increased demand that would arise from the centralizing influence of railroads. His speculation answered, in spite of the unhealthy reputation of the ground, and a new suburb rapidly arose, provoking the emulation of other builders, who have now nearly succeeded in their intentions of enclosing Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in a labyrinth of streets and terraces. Small as Paris comparatively is, every one knows that she has distinct quarters, and that each quarter has a character and society of its own. The barriars that divide them are fast being infringed in this imperial reign. And we, who twenty or thirty years ago had less cliqueism than any other capital, are gradually merging into it, simply because the vast growth of the town has scattered one's friends so far and wide, that for sociable and friendly visiting, people are thrown upon that which they are in most frequent communication. Already there is a sort of esprit de locale (if we may so express it) amongst the inhabitants of the new quarters that the old West Ender never dreamed of. He lived in London. He never thought of fighting a battle over the respective merits of Portman or Berkeley Square. Grosvenor Square, in his eyes, was ne plus ultra. And if he did not live there himself, it was because he could not afford it; so he took the best house nearest the Park that he could get for his money, and visited around, from a judge in Russell Square to a peer in Piccadilly. "How do you like your house?" was a question often addressed. "How do you like this part of the town?" was needless to him. In the present day it is the prelude to warm discussions; and so sensituve are people now to remarks upon their district, so bitter in their objections upon other parts, that it has been proposed more than once that Tyburnia and Belgravia should settle the vexed question of superiority by an appeal to arms---or, in common language, "Meet and have it out in Hyde Park." If this feeling increases, in ten years' time each of these vast suburbs will become, as it were, distinct towns, with a character and society of their own.
Those who remain faithful to the dingy-looking streets around Portman and Cavendish Squares, pique themselves on their central position, which enables them to enjoy the advantages of every, without identifying themselves with any, meighbourhood; and it is in these quarters still that some of the best resident London society may be found---society that lays its claims to this position upon higher grounds than mere rank or fortune, yet not deficient in either, the elements that form it being varied, and brought together from all points. The remark made by a lady lately dining in Princes Gate would never have been uttered there, or in Mayfair. After listening to the conversation that was pretty general for some time, she said to her neighbour---
"I could fancy I was dining in the country, you are so very local in your conversation. I hear of nothing but the state of the roads, of meetings about them, who has taken this house, and who has bought that."
"Well," replied her neighbour, "I suppose we are. I myself hardly visit any one not living in this immediate neighbourhood."
The question arises, In what does the superiority of one district over another consist? Without entering into the reasons that induce people to prefer one to the other, we may briefly describe them as follows:---Grosvenor Square and its immediate environs as the most aristocratic, Belgravian the most fashionable, Tyburnia the most healthy, Regent's Park the quietest, Marylebone and Mayfair the most central, and Bayswater and Eccleston Square quarters as the most moderate. People's views and means may be guided, in a general manner, by these leading features. The man of small income finds he must locate himself in a region verging upon what in former years one would have called Shepherd's Bush, or in a quarter uncomfortably near Vauxhall and the river; if a family man, solicitous for the health of his children, he decides in favour of the former, where he finds a cloice of houses, from L60 a year and upwards to L200, and the rates moderate.
But, if either he or his wife are linked by ever so small a chain to the world of fashion, he chooses the latter, where, for much the same rent and rates and taxes, he finds an abode with all the modern improvements; extra story, light offices, plate glass windows, portico, white-papered drawing-rooms, &c., and deludes himself into the notion of his being in Belgravia. The man of an ample, though not large fortune, has a wider range: he may choose from all parts, for there are homes to suit his purse and his style of living in every quarter; but when his home is London---when he leaves the metropolis only, perhaps, for a three-months' tour abroad, or some sea air at Brighton---he carefully eschews the "out of the way" quarters, as he terms them; he will go no farther west than Connaught Place, scarcely to Hyde Park Square, and no further south than Grosvenor Place, and so settles finally in Mayfair or Marylebone, choosing the latter for health, the former for fashion, and finding everything else too far from his club "and the busy haunts of men." In Great Cumberland Street, one of the pleasantest and most central streets, a good small house may be had for L200 a year, a larger one from L300 to L400; in Connaught Place, where the advantages of light, air, and an open space in front (Hyde Park), are combined with a central situation, and quiet at the back, from their being no thoroughfare, the smallest house, including rates and taxes, will cost the owner L500 a year, and the larger considerably more. These houses may perhaps be considered dear, for those near the corner of the Edgware Road suffer from the noise and dust of that great line of traffic, and many of the others are ill built. In Seymour, Wimpole, Harley, and Lower Berkeley Street, the average rent of a good-sized well-built house, with stabling, is L200 a year. In the Regent's Park, in the terraces that so delight the foreigner, there is a choice of charming moderate-sized abodes at rents from L150 to L300 a year. These houses, however, in spite of the advantages they offer of greater light and cleanliness, and the attractions of gardens to look upon, and cheat oneself in summer time into the idea of being in the country, must be considered expensive, as the accomodation they afford is limited, and the terms from which they are held from the Crown involve more frequent painting and restoration than is elsewhere insisted upon.
Within the last few years a new suburb has arisen, enclosing the once countrified Primrose Hill, and throwing out arms that almost touch Hampstead and Highgate. We will not attempt to decide whether it constitutes part of the West End; it holds much the same position, in that respect as St. John's Wood; but as the class of people living there hardly come under the head Belgravia as we define the term, we shall make a long step to the more fashionable neighbourhoods of Mayfair and Park Lane, where a greater choice of houses in respect to rent and size is to be met with than in any other part of London, and where a man of good, although not large fortune, may locate himself very desirably; he must, of course, confine himself to the streets, the squares in the older parts of the West End, like Hyde Park Gardens, and the larger houses in Park Lane, Rutland or Princes Gate, facing the Park, being attainable to the wealthy only, ranging from L500 to L1000 a year. There are, it is true, a few smaller and less expensive houses in Berkeley Square; but, as a rule, if a house in a square is desired, and the rent not to exceed L300 per annum, it must be looked for in Hyde Park or Gloucester Squares, and the region beyond Portman and Belgrave Squares. Grosvenor Square and one side of Eaton Square contain first-class houses, family mansions, seldom in the market, and then chiefly for purchase, not hire. There are no two more agreeable or convenient streets in London than Upper Brook and Grosvenor Streets; and although there has been an invasion into them of brass plates, supposed to be fatal to the fashion of a street, the character of the neighbourhood is not likely to fall but rather to rise again; for the improvements projected and being carried out by the Marquis of Westminster will place Grosvenor Square so far beyond its modern rivals, that the streets in its vicinity will add to their present advantages the prestige of appertaining to it. Not only are extra stories and handsome frontages being added to these princely dwellings, but as the leases fall in, the noble owner sacrifices some of the houses in Lower Grosvenor and Lower Brook Street, to build stabling for the houses in the square. It cannot be doubted, therefore, that when a nobleman can lodge his servants and his horses as well in Grosvenor as in Belgrave Square, he will not hesitate between the two.
A great proportion of London residents, however, do not hire but buy their houses, or rather the leases, paying a ground-rent, which varies, of course, according to situation; and as land becomes more valuable every day, is higher in the new than in the old quarters of London, except of course in business quarters, and in such cases as, for instance, the Portland estate, where many leases having lately fallen in, the duke has doubled, and in some instances trebled, the ground-rent on renewing or granting a new lease, so that a small house on his property was paying L60 a year ground-rent,and one of the same dimensions in Upper Grosvenor Street only L20. Generally speaking, the ground-rents of Tyburnia are higher than those of Belgravia; whilst the new houses in South Kensington are higher still. Houses looking into Hyde Park, whether north, south, east or west, are in much the same ratio, from L70 to L150 yearly; those on a large scale even higher: one, for instance, in Princes Gate was lately to be sold at a ground-rent of L200 per annum; and fast as squares and terraces and gardens spring up (for street is now an old-fashioned word) in this magnificent quarter they are inhabited, furnished, and fitted up handsomely and luxuriously, proving that the owners who have the money to buy, have also the money to live in them; and causing even the old London resident, a being who is never astonished at anything, to inquire with a Lord Dundreary air of surprse, "Where all these rich fellahs come from?" More than one-half are supplied by the legal profession and the mercantile community. There has been quite a flight of judges and well-to-do barristers to South Kensington---long-sighted men, who saw that it would be a rising neighbourhood, and bought their houses before Fashion had given the approving nod, which instantly ran up the rents to a premium. To this class of men the drawbacks to this neighbourhood are unimportant, the distance from those parts of the town that we may term the heart of West End life, the clubs, the lounges, the libraries, the shops, &c., signify nothing to those engaged in chambers or the counting-house all day. The denizen of South Kensington has no other wish, when his day's work is over, than to get home, and to stay there. The light, the cleanliness, the airiness, and modern comforts of his house are doubly grateful to him when contrasted with his close business quarters: once in his cab or his carriage, what is a mile more or less to him? He has not the smallest intention of going to his club in the evening; and the theatre he forswore years ago. The ladies of his family find no fault with the situation; but, on the contrary, will not allow a quarter so near Hyde Park, and the fashionable morning walk by Rotten Row, to be termed out of the way. As they drive out every afternoon, they do not care to be in the way of visitors; and as the female mind is not strong upon the matter of distance, they are not troubled by the reflection of how many miles their unfortunate horses are daily doomed to perform. But then, perhaps, their horses are jobbed, and the best plan too; they are therefore often changed and rested. No single pair of horses could stand the amount of work required by a fashionable lady, living in one of the new outlying quarters of the town.
The Belgravian, of course, keeps a carriage of some kind: if rich, more than one, a close one for winter and an open one for summer, and a brougham, perhaps, for dinners and night work. If moderately well off, he is content with a brougham only; or allows his wife horses to her barouche in the season; and, although he rides his own horses, he almost always jobs his carriage horses; if a little more expensive, that plan is so much more convenient, as a man is then never without the use of his carriage, that even those who have time and inclination to look after their own stables generally adopt it; and where the head of the house is too much occupied to look after horses, it is unquestionably the best plan. For ladies living alone, the best course is to job the whole concern, horses, carriage, and coachman: there are liverymen who undertake this, and provide a handsome carriage, of the colour desired, with the crest and arms of the hirer, with the proper livery for the coachman, for about L300 a year. The horses stand at livery; and a lady is thus sure that they are well cared for, that she will have a sober and civil driver, without any of the trouble and anxiety of looking after him herself.
The usual plan with regard to the carriage in London is to have it built for you, for a term of years, generally five, at a certain annual sum; for which it is kept in repair, furnished with new wheels, relined, varnished, &c. At the end of the term the carriage remains to the builder, unless it is in such a condition as to be done up and used again, when of course a fresh arrangement is entered upon. It is scarcely possible to keep a handsome well-appointed carriage and pair under L300 a year. Before the introduction of broughams, therefore, many people, in easy circumstances even, did not attempt to do so, but contented themselves with hiring one occasionally. Now, the one-horse carriage predominates; so much less costly, so light and convenient are the broughams, that not only those who hesitated to have a carriage have adopted them, but many who had already a chariot or coach were glad to drop one horse, and come down to a brougham, when they found it was a reduction that they could effect without loss of that prestige in society so dear to the heart of the Belgravian. And, as these horses are not generally jobbed, the reduction could be effected by those who understood looking after a horse at rather less than half the cost of the pair, the job-master having had, of course, his profit to make. Another advantage of the brougham is that a groom can drive it. It does not necessarily entail that important personage---a middle-aged, sedate-looking coachman---whose dignity would never condescend to drive one horse, and who requires twice the help in the stable for his carriage horses, that the lighter, younger, more active groom does for his master's riding horse and the brougham horse also. Truly the introduction of the brougham has been a blessing to many whose means forbade a carriage otherwise, and whose habits of life and ideas made them consider one a necessary, not a luxury. The sacrifices some people make to enable them to "keep their carriage," savour sometimes of the ridiculous to those who are in the secret of their menage. Plain, substantial Mrs. Blunt, of Devonshire Street, Portland Place, was surprised when Lady Mary Fauxanfier called on her for the character of Jane Bell, her under-housemaid, the girl having informed her she was going to be her "la'ship's" own maid.
"I assure you, Lady Mary," she exclaimed, as she looked at the elegant dress of the earl's daughter, and observed the smart, well-appointed brougham that brought her to the house, "I assure you the girl is not fit for a maid; she has never even dressed me; as to hair-dressing, I should think her incapable of even brushing mine."
Lady Mary smiles, and said, "The girl is teachable, I suppose, and, you say, honest and respectable; such important points the latter, I think I shall take her. We are only in town three months of the year, and then---well, good morning."
And so Jane Bell went to Lady Mary, who had a furnished house for the season in a small street not a hundred miles from Belgrave Square, where her husband's father, Lord Belmontine, had a spendid mansion, and her own papa another; and Mrs. Blunt often wondered, when she saw Lady Mary's name at the great parties of the season, how poor Jane Bell managed to attire her elegant form, arrange her ladyship's head, and so forth. She was not surprised when the said Jane made her appearance one day in August, and said she was looking for a place again.
"Ah, Jane! I thought it would be so; I thought you could not play lady's-maid very long. How could you take a place for which you were so unfitted?"
"Unfitted, ideed, ma'am; but not as you suppose. Why, I was nothing but a general servant. I and the groom---and he was out all day with the horse and carriage---were the only servants they kept. I did all the work of the house, except what an old charwoman did for an hour or two in the morning. I fastened her la'ship's gounds, to be sure; in short, ma'm, I was maid, and housemaid, and cook, too, sometimes."
"I was just going to ask," said Mrs. Blunt, "what they did for a cook."
"Well, ma'am, they seldom or ever dined at home; always going to some grand place or t'other, and if by chance they had no dinner party, master, he went down to his club, and I cooked a chop for her la'ship with her tea."
Such was the town establishment and town life of this well-born pair, who lived the rest of the nine months of the year with their relations and their friends, spending more than half their income on the small furnished house, at ten or fifteen guineas a week, and on their brougham; sacrificing for the three months' London season the independence of the rest of their year, being in the position of always receiving and never giving. Few of their London acquaintance suspected that the neat-looking girl who opened the door when the MAN was out, was Lady Mary's sole female attendant; and those who did know it, doubtless thought it strange that, with the limited means such an arrangement bespoke, they could contrive to keep up the appearance they did. For our part, we are not sure, if the choice lay between spending one's money upon half a dozen servants, or upon one's self, we should not prefer the latter too; but then it must not be at the sacrifice of one's independence. There are certain people to whom a carriage in London is as much a matter of necessity as their dinner. The younger children, perhaps, of wealthy or noble families, they have been accustomed to the use of one all their lives; and, whilst it would be no hardship to dine upon one course only, and that of the plainest, it would be so to have to pay their visits or do their shopping on foot. These people are really not so inconsistent as they would seem; still, it must be allowed, that it is a mistake to adopt any habit of life that implies means above the actual state of the case. You lay yourself open by so doing to have things expected from you that you have no means of meeting; and often, therefore, incur the charge of being mean and stingy, when unable to comply with such claims. You place yourself also in a false position to your own servants, who, naturally associating certain luxuries with the idea of wealth, misunderstand the economy of the other household arrangements, think ill---and very likely speak ill---of you; for, if servants and masters are to go on well together, there should be a certain degree of confidence between both parties. If a servant is worth having and keeping, he should not be treated as a mere paid machine, but should have a general idea at least of his master's position, when he will feel an interest in, and in time will associate himself with the family he serves, and work with his heart as well as with his head.
But to return to our Belgravians. There are those struggling to keep up an appearance to which birth, &c., entitles them; and those struggling to attain an appearance to which nothing entitles them, if the adequate means are not theirs. With some of these the possession of a carriage is the great thing; with others a man servant is the acme of respectability, and (indeed they are to be pardoned for this last idea; for many highly estimable, worthy, substantial, good sort of people, do not deem you respectable, if you do not keep a man servant) others limit their views to a page, or "buttons;" few have the moral courage to keep to the good, clean, useful, waiting-maid, who waits without noise, and does not break a tumbler a day, as most "buttons" must do, since no family who keeps one ever has tumblers enough, although their number is constantly made up.
Some of these strugglers live nine months of the year in London, by letting their house well for the other three. Ten and fifteen guineas a week are easily got for small but well-furnished houses in the immediate neighbourhood of Belgrave Square.
House letting has of late years become so common, the peer even condescending to receive his thousand or twelve hundred guineas for the season, that people now don't take the trouble that the Honourable Mrs. A. B. always does of telling you, in answer to your inquiries about her movements, when she leaves town, &c.
"Oh, soon, I hope; I am longing to be off. I always do, you know, the moment the sun begins to shine. I can't stay in London in hot weather."
The truth being that she remains on until the house is let for the season; when she takes her six children off to some cheap sea-side lodgings, whilst the Honourable A. B., her husband, wanders about from one friend to another, preferring anything to the early dinner and cooking of the lodging-house. His exemplary wife does not murmur at this; she is rather relieved at his absence, and better endures the three months' discomfort without him than with him. She is glad, in spite of the hot weather, however, to return to London at the end of August; but it is quite unnecessary to tell everybody, as she does, that "she always prefers London at this season, when everybody is away." This assertion is needless: because every one knows that her house is empty again, and that is the reason London sees her again.
Numbers of families, like the A. B.'s, cover their rent by letting in the season. Many reduce their rent, when they have a country house also, by letting the London house through the winter. Houses that let from three to five hundred guineas for the season, may be had during the winter at from eight to twelve guineas a week.
Many families coming up to London for the season hire not only their house, but their whole establishment, horses, carriages, coachman and all. Many, even among the residents, take an additional servant for the season. Some so contrive it that they manage always to quarrel with their footman, and discharge him at the end of the season---a shabby plan, which brings its own punishment, as these people never have a good servant, and, when their practice becomes known, have no chance of ever procuring one. "Alas!" exclaims our reader perhaps, "a good servant! where is such a thing to be found in the present day by any one?"
"Ah, indeed!" rejoins Mrs. Oldview; "railroads and penny posts have ruined one's servants. In my young days, if Betty behaved ill, I told her my mind, and she took a good cry, and mended her ways. She knew well enough then, if the Squire discharged her, she might sing for a place: but now Miss Betty writes to her mother or sister, who tell her not to mind; that there are plenty of places in town, and off she goes, as pert as may be."
Mrs. Oldview is right; this easy communication, passive or active, has the effect of unsettling many a household. You have a treasure of a cook, perhaps, and, enchanted, fill your house at Christmas, easy about your entrees, humbly proud of your sweets. Well; your intimate friend's lady's-maid tells her "her talents are wasted on the desert hair ---Thomas Gray's famous 'Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard' has these well-known lines: 'Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.'," and mentions a situation that is exactly suited to her, in the metropolis, and she leaves you without a pang, by the parliamentary train. But we are not now about to bewail the housekeeping troubles of Belgravia out of town; they are in most respects greater than in London; but as far as men servants are concerned, people are better off in the country than in London. The men there, as a class, are far more respectable and better behaved. If steadily disposed, too, they have more chance of remaining so, as they are not exposed to the great temptations that beset the man servant in town. The clubs, the betting men, the bad example, sometimes, of their young masters, the bad society and temptations to drink they are constantly exposed to, when waiting by the hour for their mistress at some fashionable party; all these evil influences surround the young man, without perhaps a single good one to counteract them---without a friend or mother near, to warn, at a time of life when the passions are strongest, and principles weakest, and when from every necessary creature comfort being provided, means are given for indulgence, and habits acquired, which the same man in any other position, toiling for daily bread, would not dream of.
We do not know how it is that even the best masters and mistresses, those who do take an individual interest in their servants, seem to maintain a strict reserve towards their footmen: the very servant that most needs a special surveillance and interest has none of it. They know the family history, perhaps, of every maid in the house. They can talk to the butler, and be interested in his private affairs; but the unfortunate footmen may come and go, and as long as they are honest and clean, and do their work well, no questions are asked, no information is wanted; and John or William leaves at the end of his two years (and we think really he is right to do so), and no one is surprised: he was not expected to become attached to the family, and the family have not become attached to him. He signs a receipt for his wages, and says good-bye, without a shade of feeling being aroused upstairs, whatever there may be below. The departure of a kitchen-maid would cause more excitement, whilst that of a nurse or lady's-maid creates a disturbance, and makes a blank in the family almost as great as the absence of a relative.
And, indeed, good servants in these capacities are often as much and deservedly cherished as if really part of the family; and there are many good ones to be met with, in spite of the outcry of the day. If a lady is worth anything as a mistress at all, she does not change her nurse or maid often. These two servants will stay for years in a place where the cooks and housemaids are perpetually being changed, proving how great is the personal influence, the constant communication with a superior educated mind. The nurse, perhaps, may be retained by the tie of strong affection to the children, but the maid will not stay unless the mistress she serves has those qualities that make her respected and loved. When we see a lady perpetually changing her own maid, we are convinced the fault is all her own. With her other servants, other influences work; with her personal attendants, her own is paramount. Women-servants in London---if we except the cooks, of whom we are afraid we cannot speak so highly---are as respectable and hard-working a class of people as can be met with. For every worthless, ungrateful one, we feel satisfied we could produce two, capable of acts of devotion to their employers that their superiors in station would not dream of. Early isolated from their own families, the loving heart of woman often finds a vent for those affections which her own kindred should claim, in the family of her master and mistress. Their sorrows become her sorrows; their prosperity or adversity is hers also. She will excuse when the world condemns, and ofttimes becomes the best comforter in the hour of trial, and she will rejoice, without a shade of envy or jealousy, when fortune smiles on those whom she might deem already blessed enough. We have known the hard-earned savings of a female servant tendered, without thought of self, to her master's young son in his first trouble, or to her perhaps ill-treated mistress. Then what shall we say of the nurse? Who can contemplate the unselfish devotion of these women to their duties; their renunciation of all liberty and pleasure for themselves; their watchfulness, their self-denial, that their shillings and sixpences may buy a toy for this one, a ribbon for the other, and not be struck with admiration?
We have in our mind one, whose dying hours were embittered by the dread that the loved children might not be well cared for when she was gone. Her mistress, thinking she might like to see their young faces once more, offered to bring them. "Oh! no," she exclaimed; "I could not part again. Let me not see them. Let me not hear their voices." Oh! deep, pure love! How can we, how ought we, to run down, as a body, those amongst whom such characters are found? No, we will not. The material is good, and, as far as women-servants in London are concerned, we are certain a good mistress will make a good servant. The cooks we have excepted. We are sorry to say that their habits are bad after a certain age. Most of them drink, and few stand the temptation of making out of their place. They have much in their power---much they can legitimately dispose of. If they would but stop there, how delightful it would be! Their wages are high, too; so they have no excuse; but the fact is, that servants' code of morals, with regard to what they think they may honestly do, wants a complete revision, or, rather, a remaking. They have chosen to lay down for themselves rules for the disposal of certain portions of their master's property, without ever consulting the lawful owner, and choose to consider any departure from those rules as a breach of privilege. "There," said a gentleman one day to his father's butler---"there is a pair of boots for you."
"Thank you, sir," replied the man; "but they belong to the footman."
"Do they?" returned the gentleman. "I thought they belonged to me. Put them down again." And neither footman nor butler ever got boots from that gentleman again.
People of late years have very properly made a stand against the cook's "perquisites". Ladies have determined to dispose of their left-off clothes as they pleased, and gentlemen to pay their own bills; and servants will be better and happier when they consider as gifts what they have before looked upon as "rights." The scale of wages in the present day is high enough to place them above these considerations, in Belgravia at any rate.
To begin with female servants. Kitchenmaids and under-housemaids begin at L10 a year, and get on to L12 and L14. Upper housemaids have L16 a year, and in great houses are found, as the expression is, in tea and sugar, besides beer and washing, which are given to all servants. A plain cook in a small family, who does some housework, gets from L18 to L25 a year; whilst a cook and housekeeper, or cook, with one or two kitchenmaids under her, receives from L30 to L40 yearly. This high rate of payment places what is called a good cook out of many people's reach; consequently those who can only afford what is called a plain cook, and think the dinner they eat themselves every day, not good enough to invite their friends to, resort to the expedient of having one sent in by a Gunter or a Bridgeman, if they can manage it, or an inferior purveyor if not. The present fashion of a dinner "a' la Russe" has been a great relief to some other housekeepers. Their peace of mind is not disturbed if the jelly does fall, because it will not appear on the table; and if the capon is not well larded, who, they think, will detect the failure in the delicate slice doled out to them. They regret, it is true, the corner-dishes and epergne it cost so much to obtain, ill-replaced by a few cut-glass dishes and pots of flowers; but then the saving of being able to employ their own cook is a consolation to them, although often none to their friends.
The wages of ladies' maids and nurses are much the same, from L18 to L25 a year; whilst a young lady's attendant has L16 a year, and nursemaids from L8 to L14.
The page, or "buttons," begins with a wage of L8 and his clothes; a footman from L20 to L28, with two suits, and sometimes three suits of livery in the year, and so many hats, and so many pairs of white silk hose in "my lord's" house, and so many pairs of black in Sir John's, and so much for powder, and so much for gloves, and everything else, these high, important, and now difficult to-be-got servants, can bargain for. The 19th century considers livery a badge of servitude, or "Punch," with his "Jeames of Buckley Square," has made it ridiculous, or---but it matters little for what reasons---certain it is a man for livery is scarcer than he was, and one of height and figure may command his price, and be almost as impertinent as he pleases.
"Pray, sir," inquired one of these individuals when he was being hired---"pray, who is to carry coals up to the drawing-room?"
"Well," replied the gentleman, "I hardly know; but I don't think I do it myself."
These servants hardly ever stay more than two years in their places. It seems to be an understood thing amongst them that they are to go at the end of the time, even if they cannot get the same advantages elsewhere; and many people are so accustomed to this biennial movement of their footmen, that they look with suspicion on the man that prolongs his stay, and imagine there must be some, not good, but bad reason for his not going.
In what are called single-handed places it is still more difficult to get the man to wear livery, and many families are obliged to put up with a short, ill-looking man when, from having carriage, it becomes necessary that the man should be in livery. A man's height is not a mere matter of fancy. It is an inconvenience if the man cannot hasp the windows without a stool, and if his arms are too short to carry the tray, or put it properly on the sideboard; but, as the strong, well-made men are now off to the railroads, there is no help for it. The single-handed man likes to be out of livery, and to consider himself on the level of a butler; but he is, generally speaking, a much more humble-minded and useful individual than he whom he aspires to compete with. We can easily believe the lady of rank who declared to a friend one day that she had been better served when she had only one man and a boy than she was then, with five men in the house. She knocked at her own door one Sunday morning, unexpectedly, when they all thought she was gone to church, and had to wait more than half an hour before she was finally let in by the under housemaid! The butler was at home, but far too grand to open the door. John, who was also at home, left it to James, who was out, and so on. So, out of the five, not one was at hand. The strictness practised in some great houses, where the establishment is large, seems justified by such instances as this. No order could probably be kept if any fault was passed over.
A lady, hiring a housemaid, asked her why she left her last place. "I was discharged," she replied, "because the fire went out." This was found to be true. She had lighted the fire, but not attended to it well; it went out. The lady complained, and the housekeeper gave her warning, as it had happened once before. No doubt the lesson was not lost on the other housemaids.
If the footman leaves his place every two years, the butler's aim, when once comfortably installed, is to stay. The longer he remains in a family, the more important he becomes, or fancies he becomes, and the less, generally speaking, he contrives to do. How often have we seen this high and mighty functionary at a dinner-party limiting his duties to the handing round the champagne, or putting the claret on the table! Dickens has drawn an amusing picture of a man overawed by his awful butler; and really it is astonishing how these individuals impose upon themselves, if they do not upon others, the idea of their vast importance, and of what, as they consider, is due to themselves.
A gentleman who was in want of a butler stopped to speak to one who came after the place on his way out to his carriage. "Sir," said the man, with an air of great dignity, after a few questions had been asked, "save yourself needless discussion; your situation will not suit me, for I am not accustomed to be spoke to in the 'all." The London butler endeavors to impress upon his master that it is inconsistent with the position of a butler to ask leave to go out. Their morning walk and their evening visit to a friend, or the club, are sources of quarrel between many a master and man. Few masters would deny a man reasonable air and exercise, but all who study their own comfort should fight against any special hour being appropriated by the servant for his outing. His time belongs to his master, and ought to be subservient to his, to say nothing of the danger of a butler, who has so much in his charge, making a practice of being absent at a stated time, and thus giving the opportunity, so soon taken, for many a serious plate robbery.
A very well-known nobleman, it is said, was told the other day by a servant who was leaving him, that the reason was, "His lordship's hours did not suit with his; they were so very uncertain that he found he could not get any regular time to himself!"
Butler's wages are inordinately high, and their habits self-indulgent. The rich parvenus, the cotton lords, and great contractors, who do not mind what they pay to secure a man whom they think will, by his savoir faire, make their table outvie my lord's, have to answer for the preposterous demands of some of these men.A gentleman (and we think he ought to be ashamed of himself), who gave his butler L100 a year, was rather astonished when a man he had decided to engage stepped back and said there was one question he had forgotten to ask, which was, "What wine, besides port and sherry, he allowed."
In quiet and regular families, where a butler and footmen are kept for instance, we need not say that no wine of any description is allowed; but in the homes of many noblemen, where upper servants are very responsible, and have many under them, they have the habits and indulgences of their masters. In a certain earl's house, who died a few years ago, and was one of England's wealthiest noblemen, the table of the upper servants---the house-steward, housekeeper, butler, countess's maid, &c., was as luxurious as their master's. Four corner dishes and four sweets were put down every day before these fortunate individuals, whilst they were waited upon by a man out of livery.
In many a nobleman's home, it is true that there is greater simplicity and economy in the household arrangements than in many a commoner's; but still the habits and dress of great people's servants, on the whole, are very much out of keeping with their position, and unfortunate for themselves, as they acquire extravagant ideas, that prevent many saving for the rainy day. We must also deprecate the system of two tables; servants are but servants; and this separation at meals does not promote good fellowship, and makes them troublesome visitors, where there is but one.
When the Cornish squire, with a pedigree four times as old as his noble guest, was asked by the latter, "What his valet could do, as he found the squire had no second table for his servants?" he replied, "He really did not know, unless his lordship preferred that the man should dine with them," an alternative which settled the question.
The days are gone by when servants were looked upon as paid machines, and their food and lodging indifferently cared for; but from one extreme we are running into another; and when the enthusiastic nursemaid described her master and mistress, a wealthy stockbroker at Blackheath, as the "best people she had ever known," she founded that opinion on the fact "that their servants' comfort was their constant care." She, like many others of her class, did not stop to consider anything else, or whether Mr. and Mrs. Scrip were wise or kind to provide a table and mode of living for servants which they could not find in many other places. No; if she had been questioned, she would tell you she never meant to take a place where she could not have what she had at the Scrips'. She wouldn't go to mean people like the Hon. Mrs. Bragg, who only allowed her servants a pudding on Sundays, "not for all the gold of the Ingies," &c., &c. In this way a class of servants soon spring up of extravagant pretensions; and a class of people like the Scrips, who, with more money than wit, pique themselves on the peculiar advantages their servants enjoy, foster in them habits of self-indulgence and idleness, to which those in whom intellect is little cultivated are ever prone. Servants are, after all, very like children: overindulgence spoils them; and if we would make them good and useful members of our household, we must train them with all kindness, but in wholesome fear. We want them to think of us, to study our comfort; and not as we now perpetually see, to become in reality the first people in the house: their hours so important, their work so defined, that a master or mistress dare not venture to disarrange one of their meals, or to ask any servant to do anything not precisely stipulated for, without encountering black looks, or, "If you please ma'am, to suit yourself this day month."
But, as we have said before, the material is good, as far as women servants are concerned, and therefore the remedy is in the hands of the masters. Men servants are, doubtless, more difficult to manage; but we think here something may be done too. People are too apt to expect from their "men" what is impossible in the nineteenth century---the life of a hermit in the midst of society. He is to have no friends, no family, no failings of any kind; music is discouraged, conversation in the kitchen strictly forbidden, his newspaper is half objected to, and his bird, or his two or three plants outside the pantry window, sometimes considered a liberty. No; plate-cleaning should be his relaxation, folding his napkins his sole delight. Can one wonder that the devilled kidney for breakfast is a treat, and the buttered toast at tea a consolation to those forlorn creatures, who naturally become selfish and self-indulgent from having nobody to think about but themselves?
Why should people object so much to their men-servants being married? Most of them are; and half of them go into their places with a lie on their lips, vowing they are single. They can't help themselves; they might starve, if they spoke the truth, and those dear to them also.
Mrs. L. S. D. is so glad her son is going to be married, because marriage always steadies a man, and "dear Augustus has perhaps been just a little wild," but she won't have a married man-servant on any account, "because, then, you know, I should have his family living out of this house too."
Not if the man is honest, dear Mrs. L. S. D.; and if he is not honest he will pilfer or purloin all the same, whether he has a wife or no; for if he has not, perhaps there is something worse, for men-servants, dear lady, are no better than their betters in les affaires de coeur. If dear Augustus is steadier and better for being married, so I assure you is honest John, and more content to stay at home and save his money, and do his duty, if he is a man at all, for having ties and claims upon him that he is not ashamed to own, than when he was a single man tempted out to the servants' club at the public-house round the corner, where he lost his money at cards, and made a book for the Derby, and sometimes got himself into such straits for money that he just borrowed a few spoons and forks for a time, only a very short time, to help him on until he could get clear again,---which time sometimes never came at all, but ended in ruin to himself and serious loss to his master. Let masters and mistresses weigh well this truth, that their servants have the same passions, affections, and feelings as themselves; let them keep them well in their places, strict to their duties, and endeavour to influence them by the same motives they would employ for the guidance of their own flesh and blood, and they may then perhaps find the key to many a domestic difficulty.
Next to the troubles with one's servants come the troubles of one's tradespeople; but these are more easily overcome, for London is so large, so well supplied, and competition so great, that if discontented with A you have only to go to B, and from B to C, until you are satisfied. All this, provided you are master of your own house: if your cook or housekeeper reigns, you may find that, spite of all you say or do, you return to A, or that difficulties insurmountable prevent your dealing with M if your servant has settled to employ N. The fact is, your custom is large, and the tradesman makes it worth the while of your cook to have him retained. Of course in the end, it is you who pay the Christmas gratuity, or the odd pence which the butler, who pays your bills, always gets, and which amount to a pretty handsome sum at the end of the year. It is only the credit, or first-class tradesmen, as they call themselves, who can afford these retaining fees, and they do it by putting a higher price on their goods, which are often not so good as those of the man who sells cheaper next door, and who, having a ready-money custom and quick sale, has seldom a stale or depreciated article on hand.
All this, however, is well understood by Belgravians; and those who care to study economy pay their own bills, and choose their own tradespeople. It is no longer received as an axiom, that the dearer you pay the better you are served.
The best fishmonger in the neighbourhood of Belgrave and Eaton Squares was Charles, who has made a fortune, left the business to his son, and became a landed proprietor, by selling good fish at moderate prices. To many families he supplied fish every day, or two or three times a week, at sixpence a head; a family of eight, therefore, had an ample dish of fish for 4s., whilst two people were supplied for one shilling. At the close of the day his surplus stock was sold off at reduced prices to anybody who chose to fetch it away. His customers, therefore, were sure of always having fresh fish. We wish the greengrocers would adopt a similar plan, and sell off their stale greens, &c., at the end of the day. Still, how much less have we to complain of here than in former years: railroads and steam bring to this mighty mart of men all that is fit for food, and "good and pleasant to the eyes" also. Our grapes and plums come to us with the bloom on, spring vegetables arrive steeped in the morning dew, countries vie with each other in sending us their best products; in short, let a man travel where he will---to the east for his ease, or the south for his pleasure---if he have but Fortunatus' purse he will find there is no place in the wide world where he can make life more truly comfortable and enjoyable than when he is keeping house in Belgravia.
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W.S.Gilbert. , London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life, 1870?
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Belgravia is a rather elastic designation, covering, more or less, lathe view, at all events, of the inhabitants, the whole of Pimlico and good part of Brompton and Chelsea. Its north boundary is Knightsbridge, and its east Grosvenor-place. Its north-east portion —Knightsbridge and Grosvenor-place to Cadogan-place and Eaton, or perhaps Chester-square—vies in fashion and cost of rent with Mayfair, and from thence it gradually declines in both respects, though more in the former than in the latter. Many of the large new houses, indeed, at the farther extremity of the Cromwell-road let for £500 and £600 a-year, being taken up almost faster than they can be finished by the large and rapidly-increasing class of wealthy persons who live in town all the year round. Most of these houses vary considerably in their plan from the ordinary type of London house. Some have considerable architectural pretentions, and nearly all are built with some attention to modern requirements in the way of sanitary arrangement. The church services of the district are for the most part rather of a high type, the district including the churches of St. Paul and St. Barnabas—thirty years ago at the bead of the movement, but now rather left behind. NEAREST Railway Stats Victoria Sloane-square, South Kensington, Gloucester-road. and Earl’s Court; Omnibus Route:, Knightsbridge. Grosvenor-place, Buckingham Palace-road, and Sloane-street.
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879