HOMES AND HABITS
By MRS. C. S. PEEL
§ 1. THE HOUSE
§ 2. THE DAY
§ 3. COST OF LIVING
§ 4. NURSERY AND SCHOOLROOM
§ 5. MEALS AND PARTIES
§ 6. KITCHEN, CHEFS, AND COOKERY BOOKS.
§ 7. THE POOR
§ 8. THE DOMESTIC SERVANT
§ 1. THE HOUSE
AT the time this chapter opens, the English aristocracy was
at the height of its wealth and pride, and the union of comfort and magnificence
in the great house was proverbial throughout Europe.
As we descend in the social scale, the homes of the lesser aristocracy, the gentry, and country clergy, still reproduce in their arrangements, service, and decoration, the model of the great house. But at that point we encounter another type also traditional: the house of the yeoman or substantial farmer, and parallel with it the town or suburban home of the commercial, clerical, and lesser professional classes. Still lower comes the cottage or the house in the humble street, and lowest of all the slum or warren, sometimes of almost medieval date, sometimes newly run up by speculative builders.
But all through our period and beyond it we can trace a definite tendency to standardize the home on the lines of the great house in miniature. 'Ideas', Bulwer said, 'travel upwards, manners downwards.' The merchant left his shop and moved into a square; it was not Berkeley Square, but it was rather like it. Or he went out to the suburbs; if he had not a park he had grounds, or at the very least a garden; there was no avenue, but there was a carriage sweep and a shrubbery. The farmer gave up the gabled, half-timbered, home of his father to his labourers and built himself something in red brick and slate. The working family ran into debt to buy a large gilt mirror and a carpet for Sundays. And this process, going on all over England, at a time when the aristocracy were still objects of intense interest, and the life of the gentry an ideal to which all aspired, diffused the ways of the gentry, the arrangement of their rooms, the sort of food they ate, downwards, just as the suburban or provincial dress-maker spread the fashion of their clothes.
This standardization, to which railways and illustrated [-80-] papers contributed about equally, proceeded with unequal speed in different counties and classes, a fact which makes it difficult to write of the Victorian home as a unit. In 1850 one might still have found in the Yorkshire dales, old squires leading an eighteenth-century life of coarse and jolly plenty, keeping to the old hours, old drinks, and old amusements and speaking broad dialect, while a neighbour, recently imported from Bradford, had risen to late dinner, hot baths, and the Athenaeum weekly. In the village one might have caught a glimpse - though rarely - of breeches and buckled shoes surviving amongst the town-made clothes, and on the road the riding-cloak of many capes still made a picturesque change from the all-encroaching mackintosh. It was an age of rapid and often destructive change, but in all changes the great house set the note and with it therefore we must begin.
Of the palaces of the aristocracy, Stowe, then the seat of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, may be chosen as an example.* [* See the Illustrated Catalogue prepared for the sale which took place on Oct. 11, 12, and 13, 1922. A previous sale was held on July 1921.] This great house contained a chapel, a chaplain's room, a marble saloon 60 by 42 ft. and 56½ft. high, four drawing-rooms, a music-room, two libraries, two dining- rooms, and three small rooms known as the Shakespeare, Jewel, and Japanese closets which were entered from the Duchess's drawing-room, the Duke's sitting-room, a billiard-room, armoury and gun-room, the State bedroom occupied by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when they visited Stowe in January 1845, and a number of bedroom suites, some with accommodation for my Lady's woman, or dresser, or as by 1830 she was coming to be called, my Lady's maid, and some with a separate staircase leading to the servants' quarters.
On the estates of the aristocracy and the gentry, meat and poultry were home-killed, vegetables and fruit grown and preserved, butter churned, beer brewed, wines, cordials, and medicines concocted, eggs preserved, soap and candles made, vast quantities of linen washed, furniture made and repaired. Thus the service premises of such an establishment including stables and workshops, and the accommodation needed for grooms, gardeners, and other outside staff, constituted a settlement as large as a small village.
At Stowe, for example, the service premises consisted of [-81-] steward's room, housekeeper's room, tenants' hall and evidence room,* [*The evidence room was required at a time when a Justice of the Peace might administer justice in his own house.] servants' hall, pantry and strong room, still room, kitchen and great kitchen including one for confectionary, sculleries, larders, cold room and general storeroom, six beer and wine cellars, coal bunker, brushing room, two sitting-rooms for housemaids, butler's room and bedroom adjoining, six footmen's rooms, pages' room and (upstairs) housekeeper's bedroom, cook's room, laundry-maids' room, ladies' maids' rooms, housemaids' dormitories, and accommodation for visitors' maids and men.
Laundry and dairy were outside the house, and while the laundry maids lived in, the dairy people generally had their quarters attached to the dairy. The head men had their cottages, but the under-gardeners lived in the bothy, which was cleaned and kept in order by a woman employed for the purpose. An ice pit was placed near the house, its contents making possible the ices which were an important item of Victorian menus.
Carrying coals, making up fires, and attending to the vast number of candles and lamps required in such houses necessitated the employment of several footmen. In the early part of our period colza lamps, which needed to be wound up from time to time and made a tiresome sucking noise, were used, to be replaced by paraffin lamps - those lamps with their opaque white shades which stood upon the centre table round which the Victorian family gathered. Although little attention was then paid to labour saving, it was the custom in some establishments to use a miniature railway by which coal was conveyed from the outside coal store into the house, where it was loaded into scuttles. The house accounts of a north country mansion show that over a ton of coal a day was consumed in winter in a house containing about thirty bedrooms, hall, dining-room, library, justice's room, boudoir, and the usual offices.
Each department in these great houses was under the control of the head servant belonging to it and under the general supervision, as regards the men, of the house steward, and of the women, the housekeeper. These personages were regarded by the under-servants, shut away in their own quarters and never permitted to be seen in the front part of [-82-] the house after the family and guests had left their bedrooms, almost as kings and queens. Only the head servants, body-servants, and those in attendance on the sitting-rooms, or dining-room, would be likely even to know their employers by sight.
Prince Puckler-Muskau, a Prussian gentleman who travelled extensively in England, Ireland, and Wales in 1828 and 1829 and described his experiences to a lady in his own country,* [*His letters were published in four volumes in 1832 by Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange.] pays special attention to the servants' premises of the house which he inspects.
'The ground plan of the building', he writes of one of these, 'gave occasion to certain details, which I am glad to be able to communicate to you, because nearly all large country houses are constructed on the same plan; and because in this, as in many other things, the nice perception of the useful and commodious, the exquisite adaptation of means to ends which distinguishes the English, are conspicuous. The servants never wait in the ante-room - called the hall - which, like the overture of an opera, is designed to express the character of the whole; it is generally decorated with statues or pictures and, like the elegant staircase, and the various apartments, is appropriated to the house of the family and guests, who have the good taste to wait on themselves rather than have an attendant spirit always at their heels. The servants live in a large room in a remote part of the house, generally on the ground floor, where all, male and female, eat together, and where the bells of the whole house are placed. They are suspended in a row on the wall numbered so that it is immediately seen in what room any one has rung; a sort of pendulum is attached to each, which continues to vibrate for ten minutes after the sound has ceased to remind the sluggish of their duty. (This pendulum may be used by acute servants as a sort of thermometer or hygrometer of the patience of their respective masters and mistresses, remarks the Editor of these letters in a footnote.) The females of the establishment have also a large common room, in which, when they have nothing else to do, they sew, knit or spin. (Again the Editor intervenes; knitting is one of the conditions of female existence in Germany, which may account for this unwitting misrepresentation of the author, he explains, and might also have added that by 1830 spinning was not part of a maidservant's duty.) Close to this is a closet for washing the glass and china, which comes within their province. Each of them, as well as each of the men servants, has her separate bedchamber in the highest story. Only the housekeeper and the butler have distinct apartments below. Immediately adjoining that of the housekeeper is a room where coffee is made and the store room containing every [-83-] thing required for breakfast, which important meal, in England, belongs specially to her department.'
The room where coffee was made, that is the still-room, was
an important department of the household. Here all the valuable china was
washed, the tea, coffee and chocolate, toast and fancy breads prepared, the
dessert set out. Jam-making and preserving were done here and the home-made
wines and cordials, so much used in early Victorian days, brewed, though for the
home-brewed beer the butler was responsible.
But let our visiting Prince continue his tale:
'On the other side of this building is the washing establishment with a small courtyard attached; it consists of three rooms, the first for washing, the second for ironing, the third, which is considerably loftier and heated by steam, for drying the linen in bad weather. Near the butler's room is his pantry, a spacious fire-proof room, with closets on every side for the reception of plate, which he cleans here, and the glass and china used at dinner, which must be delivered back into his custody as soon as it is washed by the women. All these arrangements are executed with the greatest punctuality. A locked staircase leads from the pantry into the beer and wine cellar, which is likewise under the butler's jurisdiction.'
The Prince is not quite correct in all he says, for in the
town houses of the great, a porter sat in the hall and was provided with a
hooded porter's chair to protect him from draughts. At certain hours one or more
footmen were stationed there also. Again, each servant certainly did not enjoy a
separate bedroom either in the highest story or elsewhere; in many large houses
the footmen and the under maids slept in dormitories. We know that this plan was
followed in some of the royal palaces and it was not uncommon to expect servants
to sleep two in a bed.
In London houses the menservants' accommodation was what we should now consider scandalous. Footmen slept two, or three or four, in a small pantry on truckle beds, and in some of the great houses the basements needed to be almost continuously lighted by artificial means. A Victorian town mansion lately vacated which had never been modernized had the kitchen, pantry, servants' hall, housekeeper's room, and butler's and footman's bedrooms in one such cellar. Two rooms looked out on to a deep basement, two others on to a deep back basement, all others were lighted [-84-] and ventilated by panes of glass set high up against the ceiling.
In many households the sewing-room was upstairs, and needlework kept the women busy; every stitch had to be put in by hand, for the sewing-machine did not come into general use until the mid sixties. It was the invention of a French tailor named Barthélemy Thimmonier and was shown in the Exhibition of 1851, where it did not attract much attention. Its inventor died friendless and poor in 1857, after which date his invention was developed in America and then introduced into Europe. We find the Wheeler & Wilcox sewing-machine advertised in one of the early editions of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management.
Prince Pückler-Muskau mentions in his letters that the dairy of an English country house is an important part of the premises. Although little attention was paid to the question of indoor sanitation, the arrangement of the dairy seems to have been in advance of the hygiene of the house. Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort took personal interest in the dairy at Frogmore which supplied the milk to the royal nursery at Windsor, and when Balmoral was built - that palace of pitch-pine and tartan - the Prince had the dairy constructed on the latest principle. To let in the maximum amount of light it was designed in octagonal form with two rows of windows. The topmost, about 18 inches square, could be opened by means of pulleys and cords and the lower ones on the sash principle, but these generally remained closed as fresh air was brought in through ventilating pipes under the marble floor, fitted with gauze to keep out the flies. The walls and floor could be hosed down, and marble shelves were provided for the milk pans to stand on. All utensils were sterilized daily in boiling water. But in spite of the fact that so much thought was given to the equipment of the royal dairy and the English liking for cleanliness, Prince Pückler-Muskau notes that in an aviary even the birds drank out of well-washed porcelain vessels, but little attention was paid to the purity of the water used in such places or in the house itself.
Sanitation as we know it was in its infancy, and so ignorant were those responsible for drainage systems that it is no wonder that in the novels and memoirs of the day 'the fever' plays a striking part. An inconvenient character in [-85-] fiction might always die of a fever which but few people seemed to connect with dirt or bad drainage. The idea that disease might be fly-borne and that the presence of these insects accounted for putrefaction of food and consequent illness was one which certainly had not penetrated the average mind. Lady Georgiana Russell (afterwards Lady Georgiana Peel), the daughter of Lord John Russell, mentions in her Recollections that her mother died of fever and that 'in those old careless days (1837) no one thought of bad drains. . . . Indeed . . . bad drains were considered rather a joke. If they smelt, people considered it a sign of bad weather approaching and were rather pleased to have the warning.' In other and primmer circles drains were not considered a nice subject for conversation, a fact which is noted by Miss Charlotte Yonge in her novel, The Three Brides, so, what with amused apathy, niceness, and ignorance, fevers thinned the ranks of the rich and of the poor.
Water closets with overhead tanks were in use in the eighteenth century. Mr. John Howard, the prison reformer, mentions that such closets had been provided in 1791 at Guy's Hospital, the flush being worked when the door opened, but it was not until about 1830 that they came into general use. Even then they were to be found only in better-class houses, a primitive earth closet being used by country people, and privies' set over a cesspool in the back yard by the poorer town folk.
The cesspools into which the closets drained were, in the country, placed in the garden or the stable yard, or even under the house. In some cases the pits were cleaned out regularly, in others they were not, and it was common for a new pit to be dug and the old one left unemptied. As late as 1844 no less than fifty-three overflowing cesspits were discovered under Windsor Castle, and later still at a north country mansion attention was drawn to an old cesspool by the ground giving way as a carriage pulled up to the 'second front door' which led from a back hall into the stable yard on to which the service premises looked. It is true that footmen who used the pantry sink often had sore throats, but it was not until the earth opened and partly engulfed the carriage that the cause of their illness was discovered.
The water closets, or 'necessaries' as they were often called, which were used during the period of which this book [-86-] treats, frequently were defective, as the joints of the pipes were not sufficiently tight, and much illness was caused by the escape of foul air. Glazed pipes were introduced in 1842, and various patent pans and valves were experimented with. All of them, according to present-day ideas, were insanitary and the more so because the water closets were insufficiently, and in some cases entirely, unventilated.
The modern earth-closet was not known until 1860, when the Rev. Henry Moule took out a patent, but in the early part of our period a rough sort of earth-closet was used and occasionally such might be found in a small room, or even in a large unventilated cupboard adjacent to the dining-room, billiard-room, gun-room or, as it was called, the hunting parlour. Here too were kept the articles which gentlemen who drank deep and long might be expected to require. In some houses built in the eighteenth century, shelved cupboards were arranged behind the shutter recesses of the dining-room windows to house the chambers, or accommodation would be found for them in a cupboard, the door of which was made to balance that of the serving door at the opposite end of the side wall of the room.
One of the few luxuries not to be found in even the most luxurious houses was the bath-room. As early as 1812 it is said that the Common Council refused the Lord Mayor's request for a shower-bath on the time-honoured excuse that other Lord Mayors had done without a shower-bath, and if this one required such a luxury he should provide a temporary one at his own expense. By 1832, however, they had come to think that the Mansion House should contain a bath with a hot water supply, probably because Lord John Russell had a bath, an enormous dishpan affair, installed in his London house. Baths, however, did not escape the usual adverse criticism of what was new, and daily bathing, it was threatened, would produce an alarming increase in rheumatic fever, lung complaints, and other diseases. When in 1832 Sir Walter Scott stayed at 24 Sussex Place, Regent's Park, that house was much as it is to-day, but whereas there are now two bath-rooms, there were none then. The fitted bath as we know it only began to be at all common after the time at which this history ends.
The bath of our period was a tub into which hot or cold water was poured as required. In the days of the Georges [-87-] it was not unfashionable to be dirty. One of the royal dukes is said to have remarked that it was sweat that kept a man clean, and Beau Brummel did at least one good deed in preaching the gospel of cleanliness rather than of highly-scented dirtiness. The Duke of Wellington, home from India, was considered peculiar in that he took a bath daily, a habit which the fastidious adopted and the fashion for which slowly spread amongst those who could afford the fuel required to heat the water and the labour to carry water either hot or cold. By 1865 the daily bath had become usual amongst the well-to-do, but in the middle classes the daily wash and the weekly bath sufficed.
A person still living describes the Saturday night's bathing of a middle-class family of ten children, all of whom except the baby and the ex-baby, who were washed in the nursery, descended to the stone-floored back kitchen, where kettles were boiled and where in a round high tub child after child was washed by the maid of all work.
At boarding schools, even of a superior order, the daily wash and the weekly bath sufficed. Hands and face washed twice a day, feet three times a week, and a bath once a week was considered a liberal amount of ablution. Servants washed each day and bathed once a week, as did the respectable better-off poor. Those who were neither respectable nor better-off washed when and how they could, or did not wash, about which more is said in the pages devoted to the life of the poor.
As the cult of the bath spread, the lives of delicate children were made a misery to them by the icy cold baths which many of them were required to endure, and certainly until the end of our period a young man who took his bath hot would have been regarded as effeminate.
But although there were no bath-rooms in the early Victorian home, the bedrooms were well supplied with washing apparatus. On the wash-hand-stand in rooms of any importance there would be a double toilet-set consisting of two large china basins and jugs, a small jug and basin, two tooth glasses and bottles, two china receptacles for the tooth brushes, two soap dishes, and two bowls with perforated trays for the sponges. Why these double sets of washing apparatus should have been provided in the bedrooms of married couples does not seem clear, for the husband had his [-88-] dressing-room. It was only by the lower middle classes that a dressing-room was considered unnecessary.
Underneath the wash-hand-stand stood a foot-bath and a china slop-pail and on the shelves of the bed-table other indispensable china articles politely termed chambers. In addition there would probably be a commode which served two purposes for being made in the form of a short set of steps, those no longer active were enabled by its help to mount into the high feather-mattressed bed.
In the room or in some convenient place nearby there would be a Sitz or hip bath provided for each lady and for a gentleman a flat saucer-bath.
About an hour before breakfast-time one or two house-maids would knock and enter. The head housemaid would draw the curtains and blinds and if - which was then improbable, for a liking for fresh air was still unusual - the window was open, shut it and set the wash-hand-stand in order while the under-maid tidied the grate. ( 'Doing' the grate was a process which took place when the room was vacant, and when brass or steel fenders, fire-irons, and a sort of curved grid which stood upon the hearth and into which the ashes fell, needed daily polishing, it was a task which might take some time.) A bath sheet was then laid on the floor, the bath placed upon it, a can (generally painted to resemble grained wood) full of hot water placed in the bath and covered by a large towel. A jug of cold water, the soap and washing utensils were put ready together with smaller linen towels. If the lady did not employ a personal maid, the head housemaid put out the day's attire and put away the evening clothes and brought the early tea. Meanwhile the manservant, assisted by the valet, had attended to the gentleman's dressing-room.
In single rooms but a single set of wash-hand-stand ware was provided. By the time the mid-Victorian period was reached dressing-table 'sets' had come into general use. These consisted of a tray, a ring-stand, some bottles, covered bowls or jars all made in elegantly ornamented china. On the toilet-glass might hang a 'tidy', that is a receptacle for hair-combings. This, like pen-wipers, needle-books, and pin- cushions, was a gift which children, supervised by nurse or governess, would make for mamma, an embroidered case holding shaving-paper being suitable for papa.
[-89-] 'Tidies', however, were always a somewhat middle-class article and gradually sank in favour until patronized only by the working-class woman.
Before going down to breakfast, let us look at the homes of the lesser gentry. In a mansion such as might be inhabited by a well-to-do Squire there would be kitchen and scullery, still-room and store-room, a couple of larders, one for meat, the other for dairy stuff and sweet dishes, housekeeper's room, butler's pantry, servants' hall, and brushing-room; near the back door would hang a rope attached to the house- bell which rang to waken the staff and to warn the inmates of the house that meal-time approached.
In many such houses might be found on the wall near the back door a board with hooks on which hung mugs, and beneath it a cask of beer, for to refuse hospitality to any person coming to the house on business was not the custom amongst a hospitable people.
Anthony Trollope introduces us to the houses of the clergy in the middle of the century. Archdeacon Grantly considers a dining-room 16 by 15 ft. quite impossible. His companion, Mr. Arabin, suggests that it will do very well for a round table. A round table the Archdeacon considers is the most abominable article of furniture ever invented. He has always been accustomed to a goodly board. . . comfortably elongating itself according to the number of guests, nearly black with perpetual rubbing and as bright as a mirror. He connects round tables with oak, and the nasty newfangled method of leaving a cloth on a table with Dissenters and calico-printers who, he imagined, chiefly used them.
Mrs. Proudie, wife of the new Bishop of Barchester, complains that there is no gas in the house, 'there is no gas through the house, none whatever, but in the kitchen and passages. Surely the Palace should have been fitted through with pipes for gas, and hot water too. There is no hot water laid on anywhere above the ground floor; surely there should be means of getting hot water in the bedrooms without having it brought in jugs from the kitchen. . . . The Bishop had a decided opinion that there should be pipes for hot water. Hot water was very essential for the comfort of the palace. It was, indeed, a requisite in any decent gentleman's house.' If this was so, it was a requisite denied to many gentlemen until a far later date. Evidently Mrs. Proudie [-90-] introduced gas into the palace, for on the occasion of the first evening party which she gave, there were huge gas chandeliers with twelve burners hanging from the ceiling.
We have a description of life in a country vicarage in 1850 preserved in a letter written when in her old age by the daughter of the Vicar;
'In 1847 we came to live in Hertfordshire. . . The Vicarage was an attractive red-brick house, built by my father, who spent, I believe, far more than he could afford in extras not covered by the Church grant. There was a park-like field, a small flower garden and excellent kitchen garden, stables and piggery. We kept poultry but not cows. The house contained a tiled entrance lobby and oak-floored hail, dining-room, drawing-room and study, three best bedrooms and two dressing-rooms, two servants' rooms and two nurseries. These latter were in a wing approached by a baize-covered swing door, and back stairs led down to the kitchen, pantry and a small parish room, which were approached from the hail by another baize-covered swing door.
There were no bath rooms then, and all hot and cold water had to be carried from the kitchen and scullery. But we all had baths each day in spite of that. Oil lamps and candles were used for lighting. Our drawing-room was papered with a buff and gilt Fleur-de-Lys patterned paper. There were book shelves and pier glasses and wool-work ottomans and an upright grand piano with faded red silk fluted across the front and a very fine harp. The harp was a popular instrument in my mother's youth. The carpet was red with a buff pattern, and my mother had a davenport (a small writing-table) sacred to her own use. In the best bedrooms there were four-post beds with damask curtains, though brass beds were by then becoming fashionable. ... After the nurse left, our household consisted of a cook, house-parlour-maid and a girl. Their wages were £18, £16, and £6. A widow who lived in a cottage near-by came in to bake and to help when required. She always wore her bonnet and clattered about the kitchen and scullery in pattens. The family then were my father and mother and myself and two brothers who came on visits, as did later grandchildren. Our income then, I think, was about £800 a year. We kept an open carriage, called a Stanhope, which had seats for two in front which might be protected by a hood, and a seat for the groom behind, one horse and a groom-gardener, who also pumped and looked after the fowls and pigs. Extra help for the garden could be procured when necessary.'
§ 2. THE DAY
And now let us go in1to breakfast.
In a great house, when an important party is entertained, breakfast is as late as ten o'clock. The guests, who are [-91-] expected to be punctual, assemble in the drawing-room, the gentlemen smartly dressed, arming the ladies, who wear elaborate toilettes and white gloves, into the dining-room, where a grand meal is served. If ladies were not present, the men might appear in fustian and hobnailed boots.
On less formal occasions breakfast may be at nine o'clock, and if guests are unpunctual what does it matter when footmen are ever at hand to attend to late comers?
After breakfast the men - or to use the correct term of the day, the gentlemen - might engage in some form of sport, attend to estate or county business, or, if so disposed, join the ladies in the practice of archery, croquet, boating, riding, or walking.
Walking and riding were popular forms of exercise, though for ladies to go out on a wet day was considered quite out of the question, as being likely to lead to serious illness, which, indeed, might have been the case when skirts were long, petticoats many, shoes thin, and galoshes and macintoshes found no place in the wardrobe. In 1820 both Macintosh and Handcock* [*Personal Narrative of the Origin and Progress of the Caoutchouc or India Rubber Manufacture in England. Thomas Handcock, London, 1857.] were working on the problem of applying rubber to cloth, and were making, in keen competition, many kinds of rubber goods, such as diving-dresses, boots, air-beds, air-cushions, and hot-water bags, which at the breaking out of the cholera and during its prevalence were in great esteem.** [*The outbreak referred to is that of 1831-2.] Each firm held patents which were necessary to the other, with the result that in 1830, the two made a working agreement which ended in an amalgamation of the two firms under the name of Chas. Macintosh & Co.
The 'macintosh' as it was called did not, however, come into general use until later in the century. Galoshes were not introduced until about 1847, and then from America, though in one of her novels, Hopes and Fears, Miss Charlotte Yonge mentions that Phoebe wears clumsy home-made galoshes.
When riding, ladies wore habits, the full skirts of which almost touched the ground, a voluminous white petticoat, cloth trousers, a lace or lawn collar, a top hat, its masculine lines softened by a flowing lace veil, and gauntlet gloves, and carried a whip, the handle of which, probably, was adorned [-92-] by a cap of gold or silver in which was set some semiprecious jewel. This style of dress, unsuitable as it may appear to us, did not prevent its wearer from riding far and performing feats of good horsemanship. The long and full- skirted riding habit was worn throughout our period, though in the sixties, when the hair was arranged in a chignon enclosed in a chenille net, a low hat with a feather* [*See ' An incident in a hunt with the Quorn in the Merry Sixties'. Chit Chat by Lady Augusta Fane.] might be substituted for the top hat.
If left to their own society ladies had plenty of indoor occupation, for the upper-class women generally were well educated, readers of serious literature, and good linguists. Talk, reading, drawing, painting, the study of botany and of languages, music, music copying and needlework (Miss Emily Eden mentions that she had brought a piece of 'Company work'), and letter-writing, fill the hours until the luncheon bell rings, which, as she observes, 'is ever a cheerful sound'.
Writing letters was an occupation which took up a considerable amount of the time of ladies who, owing to the difficulties of transport by land and sea, might be separated from friends and relations for long periods.
Because of the cost of postage which was paid by the recipient of the letter and the severely restricted weight of letters, all of which had to be carried by horse-drawn mail-coaches, and the fact that a letter of more than one sheet was charged double, thin letter-paper was used and the lines of writing were crossed and recrossed, so that it was natural that much attention should be paid to the teaching of writing.
The cost of postage other than by local post varied according to distance from 4d. to 1s. 8d. Amongst those of the poor who could write, the habit prevailed of sending a letter which was refused by the addressee on account of the cost of postage, but as the handwriting of the sender had been recognized, it conveyed the news that he was alive. Another method of reducing the cost of postage was to give a small bribe to the guard of the coach to take the letter to its destination and there post it in the local box. Mention is made in Mrs. Gaskell's Wives and Daughters that Cynthia Kirkpatrick's cousin writes to her from London twice a [-93-] week, the postage on each letter being 11½d., while Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility makes Marianne send letters to the faithless Willoughby by the 2d. (local) post. The 2d. post continued until the inauguration of Penny Postage in 1840.
The pen then in use was the quill which needed frequent trimming, a task considered specially suitable for gentlemen, in whose pockets a penknife was ever to be found. Steel pens had been known and experimented with since 1748 and wooden penholders to hold the new pens had then made their appearance, but in 1830 a steel pen cost 1s. Not until 1850 was it in general use, and after then one with metal supports for the fingers was introduced, which ensured that children should hold their pens correctly. Ink during the first few years of our period was often home-made, the ingredients being powdered galls mixed with camphor and water, and directions for its concoction were included in cookery and household books. By 1832, however, Dr. Henry Stephens, who had been making ink for his own use and that of a few friends, began to manufacture it on a commercial scale and gradually ink-making ceased to be a domestic task. Letter writing was so favourite an occupation for leisured persons, that it followed that much attention was paid to the writing-table and its appointments.
Blotting-paper was in use in 1830 (Prince Pückler-Muskau mentions it), but although this paper was known as early as the fifteenth century, it does not seem to have been used until about 1820, when by the accidental omission of certain ingredients a batch of paper thought to be useless was produced. Some one trying to write a note on a piece of it found that the ink soaked in, and having a quick brain, saw the possibilities of the error and 'Slade's Original Hand-Made Blotting' was the result. This novelty took the popular fancy at once. In 1859 a Mr. Ford, who had married the niece of Mr. John Slade, commenced to manufacture machine-made blotting-paper. Prior to the use of this article, fine sand was dusted over letters in order to dry them quickly.
In 1830 and for some twenty years after letters were sealed or fastened by wafers, for envelopes were unknown. In 1839 Rowland Hill spoke of 'the little paper bags called envelopes', and Mr. Mulready, R.A., designed an envelope [-94-] which was put on the market at the same time as the adhesive stamp, that is when Penny Postage was introduced. These envelopes, however, did not please the public fancy, and vast quantities of them were destroyed. The few which remain have become philatelic curiosities. The first machine for making envelopes was invented in 1844 by Messrs. de la Rue & Hill, but not until 1850 did the use of envelopes become common.
Two other articles which found a place on the writing-table were the seal and the wafer-box. These were generally of elegant shape and made of costly material. To effect a seal, heat was required, and a length of thin wax taper, coiled round and round, and imprisoned in a little china or silver urn with a hole in the lid through which the end of the taper protruded, was another common object on the writing-table, as also was a small silver candlestick holding a little coloured candle. To light the taper or candle, tinder ignited by flint and steel was generally employed until about 1834, when phosphorus matches came into fashion. Matches made with chlorate of potash had been invented by a druggist named Walker at Stockton-on-Tees in 1827, and imitations of these were made in London by Sam Jones and G. F. Watts, who sold them under the name of 'Lucifers'. They were ignited by drawing them through a piece of folded sandpaper.
Some form of penwiper was included in the writing outfit. Favourite designs were an object like a small beehive with strands of black wool inside or a flat embroidered or beaded cover with two or three thicknesses of flannel inside. As Victorian families were large and every young lady could not enjoy the use of a separate writing-table, portable writing-desks were in fashion, some of which were fitted in a costly manner.
To write interesting letters and elegantly worded short notes was part of a young lady's education. Notes were sent by hand and the sheets of paper might be formed into the shape of a cocked hat or folded into a strip with one end turned over. Did not the ladies of Cranford send such notes to each other on the occasion of a card-party? And did not Queen Victoria in the haste of her wedding preparations on the great day of February 16, 1840, pause to write her Albert a little note folded in billet doux form? 'Send one [-95-] word when you, my most dear, beloved bridegroom, will be ready,' it ran.
Halfpenny cards were not introduced until after our period, and the franking of letters, which was the privilege of Peers and Members of Parliament who franked their own and their friends' letters, ended in 1840.
Luncheon puts an end to the morning, and was served at any time from one until two o'clock. In some houses, especially in the early part of our period, this meal is a cold collation to which every one helps himself, punctuality not being enforced. The children of the rich do not eat their dinner with their elders; so seldom indeed do the inmates of the schoolroom eat at their parents' table that Ude complains in the preface to his cookery book that the ladies of England are unfavourably disposed to the culinary art because they are not introduced to their parents' table until their palates have been completely benumbed by the strict diet observed in the nursery and boarding schools. Coffee was not served after luncheon until the sixties and then the innovation was coldly received. In a private letter a lady of fashion mentions that it is feared that young men would stay on after luncheon - drinking coffee with their hostess - which would be a most improper procedure.
The next item in the day's programme was to take 'carriage exercise', and when in London to pay calls and to leave cards, a solemn social duty at a period when the rules of a complicated etiquette were followed with meticulous care. Visitors may be taken to gaze at some object of interest or neighbours are visited, who in the thirties and forties or even in the fifties offer to their guests wine and cake. Or there may be an archery or croquet party or a picnic, or my lady may visit the village school or some of the village people, who receive her with respectful awe. The men and boys touch the cap or pull the forelock, the younger boys express their respect by a sweep of the hand from the chin, which catches the tip of the nose and causes it to become, for the moment, an exaggerated example of the nez retroussé. Women and girls curtsy low, and should the Quality be so condescending as to enter the house there is a great dusting of chair seats. 'Poor peopling', as Miss Florence Nightingale expresses it, was already popular in 1830 and became more so throughout the years with which this volume deals.
[- 96-] Miss Hannah More, Miss Elizabeth Gurney of Earlham (afterwards the renowned Prison Reformer, Mrs. Fry) had set the example of organizing poor schools and a great lady might support an orphanage. Such a charitable institution is described by Mrs. Gaskell in Wives and Daughters. Lady Cumnor (the Countess, as she is known locally) expects the ladies of Hollingford to visit the orphanage and rewards them once a year by inviting them to spend the day at the Towers, to walk in the gardens, gaze at the flowers and fruit in the hothouses, to listen to Lady Agnes's lecture on orchids, to partake of a cold collation, to enjoy respectfully the society of the dear Countess and the Lady Harriet, to drink coffee at four o'clock, and to be trundled home in the 'charyot' or 'charrut'.
In this institution the little girls are taught 'to sew beautifully, to be capital housemaids, pretty fair cooks, and above all to dress neatly in a kind of Charity uniform . . . ready curtseys and "please, Ma'am" being de rigueur'.
In many of the great families a traditional good feeling for the poor on their estates was displayed, and the ladies themselves or their housekeepers, together with the clergyman's wife, distributed coals, blankets, joints of meat, and garments at Christmas, and soup, wine, and other comforts to those who fell sick. Almost all the cookery-books of the age include a chapter on cooking for the poor.
Miss Milbanke (afterwards Lady Byron) in one of her letters says that thanks to the example of her father and mother,
'it seemed to her a mere matter of course that the best horse should be sent many miles for the best doctor to attend on rustics who usually are consigned to the Parish Medical Officer; that the finest claret should be taken out of the cellar to be applied to the exhausted patients in a tenant's home. I did not think that property could be possessed by any other tenure than that of being at the services of those in need. . . . My Mother put a spirit into it-she did not leave it to the servants. She saw that the execution was as good as the
Some of the country physicians and surgeons enjoyed a very
large practice and were greatly respected for their skill and fine character,
but even so, in the houses of great people I they were, if it was necessary to
offer a meal, entertained in the steward's or housekeeper's room, though not, be
it [-97-] understood, expected to eat with those worthies. Should a
renowned physician be called in, he would dine with the family and probably the
local medical man would be invited to meet him. To the apothecary still less
respect was accorded; his task, generally, being to attend to the servants. An
example of aristocratic hauteur to the medical man is given to us by a certain 'Countess of Carlisle,'
* [*Squire Osbaldeston, his Autobiography. This incident
occurred in 1807, but the hauteur of the aristocracy was not greatly diminished
throughout the early part of the Victorian era.] who, being indisposed, sent for the local doctor. The
lady felt it impossible to converse directly with so humble a person, therefore
the conversation was carried on through my lady's woman, ending eventually in
the statement: 'Inform the doctor that he may bleed the Countess of Carlisle.'
The local attorney was treated in the same manner, and the clergyman, unless, as might often be the case, a man of good family, only a little better, being permitted, accompanied by his wife, to dine at table' on the occasion of the visit of some dignitary of the Church and also on some other occasions to do honour to his cloth.
The pleasures or duties of the afternoon ended, ladies did not, in 1830, drink afternoon tea. That meal was not part of the social programme until the forties, when certain great ladies set the fashion for this refreshment. Though mammas and even papas might drink a cup of tea in the schoolroom or nursery, or an invalid might be pampered with a cup of tea, the rest of the world went tealess between breakfast and the time when the after-dinner tea-table was set out in the drawing-room.
Miss Fanny Kemble, the famous actress, writes that when staying at Belvoir (the seat of the Duke of Rutland) a coguest, the Duchess of Bedford, used to invite her to private tea-drinkings. It was the Duchess who introduced afternoon tea at her country seat, Woburn, and at her town house in Belgrave Square. The Duchess of Sutherland (Harriet) and the Paget family liked their afternoon tea, although in the case of the Pagets the old Marquess of Anglesey, of Waterloo fame, forbade his daughters to indulge in it. They continued to do so, however, hiding the tray under the sofa if his footsteps were heard in the passage.
For a considerable time afternoon tea was adopted only in [-98-]fashionable houses, but by degrees as the dinner-hour became later, tea became more and more popular and took the place of cake and wine.
Although Queen Victoria, when she first came to the throne, dined as late as eight o'clock, the dinner-hour of ordinary people might be fixed at six to seven o'clock, or during the latter part of the period at half-past seven. Until the death of Lord Holland in 1840, he and Lady Holland dined at seven o'clock, as did Lord and Lady John Russell, while the Carlyles, following more middle-class modes, dined at six. Miss Fanny Kemble when staying at The Hoo with Lady Dacre in 1842 says that dinner was at half- past seven, while Miss Charlotte Yonge in The Heir of Redclyffe mentions seven o'clock as being the hour of a dinner- party given by the Edmondstones, county people of good standing.
After dinner the family settled down to their reading, writing, music copying, round games, or fancy work. Papa, if of a domesticated nature, might read aloud while the ladies worked at cross-stitch or, as it was also called, Berlin woolwork, producing rugs, carpets, chair seats, cushions, bell-pulls, and possibly curtain borders and pelmets. Did not the young Queen work at her cross-stitch while the Prince read aloud or played double chess 'very deep'? Some of the work was beautiful in colour, some harsh and glaring. A cushion with a spaniel's head worked in cross-stitch enriched with beads was a popular piece of fancy work. Slippers and smoking-caps-round stiffened caps with a centre tassel-were worked for the gentlemen, or long bag purses were netted, fire-screens painted, and fruit and flowers modelled in wax, coloured, and then imprisoned in a glass case. To press flowers and arrange them in an elegant album with their Latin names inscribed beneath them was also a fashionable practice.
Singing and playing upon the piano, and during the thirties and forties, upon the harp and the guitar, were approved feminine accomplishments. Gentlemen also sang and duets were in high favour, but play the piano gentlemen did not, that being considered a task only fit for ladies and professional musicians. Lord Chesterfield had been firm about this, holding that if a man loved music he should pay fiddlers to play for him but never make himself appear [-99-] frivolous and contemptible by playing himself, and as it was in his day, so it was in the early Victorian era.
When guests were present there might be dancing or charades as well as music. At any time between nine and ten o'clock, the tea-table was set out, coffee having been served directly after dinner. Between ten and eleven o'clock good-nights were said, and the gentlemen lighted and handed to the ladies the bedroom candlesticks, complete with snuffers and extinguisher, ready assembled on a table in the hall. The ladies, if young, retired to the nocturnal hair-brushing conferences beloved of young females to the present day.
The frequency of references in literature of the earlier part of our period to warming-pans, which were long-handled copper pans in which live coals were placed, shows that the rubber hot-water bottle was not then generally employed, though in time it superseded the warming-pan. Those who could not afford such luxuries used stone bottles or a brick heated in the oven and wrapped in flannel.
The ladies having retired, the gentlemen donned their smoking-caps and jackets, or even complete and elaborate suits, smoked, played billiards, and drank brandy-and-water. Smoking-caps and jackets were designed to prevent the dress coats and hair of the wearers from becoming tainted by the smell of smoke. To smell of smoke would have been considered most ungentlemanly. The etiquette books of the period devote attention to the 'weed', as it is termed. In 1830 and for many years after we are told that 'a man must never smoke nor ask to smoke in the company of the "fair" '. He should never smoke in the street in daylight (Tom Hughes made himself conspicuous by smoking on the way home from the Temple about 1848), on a racecourse, or in a room frequented by ladies, and never must he offer a cigar to a clergyman above the rank of a curate. The 'dear creatures' are, however, warned that a little concession to the smoking habits of men is prudent for 'the pipe is the worst enemy of women'. If the cigar was also an enemy we are not told.
Cigarette - or, as the cigarette was first called, paper cigar smoking was not practised in England until after the Crimean War. It was introduced into this country by returned soldiers who had acquired the habit from the French [-100-] soldiers, who in turn had acquired it from the Spaniards in the early nineteenth century.
Smoking-rooms did not come into fashion until the later part of our period. Men might smoke out of doors or in the stables or possibly in the gun-room, and in the evening when the servants had gone to bed they might smoke in the steward's room or the servants' hall, or, in modest establishments, in the kitchen. In Mr. Bradshaw's first plum-coloured railway guide, published in 1840, it is noted that smoking is not allowed either in the railway stations or railway carriages. But some enterprising companies ran a Divan.
Finally the members of our family seek their beds, both gentlemen and ladies having clothed their heads in nightcaps, the men's being shaped like a cornucopia with a tasselled end, the ladies' caps varying according to taste. Victoria, roused in the early morning of June 1837 to be told that she had become Queen, appeared in a loose white nightgown, a shawl, and a nightcap which had all but fallen from her head. The typical feminine nightcap was made of fine muslin or cambric delicately embroidered or adorned with lace edged ruffles and tied under the chin. The ladies' night-dresses were made of cambric or fine linen, high to the neck and with long sleeves, prettily ruffed, while the gentlemen wore silk or linen night-shirts reaching to the ankles, with a short slit on either side, and indulged in dressing-gowns, rich both in colour and material, in which an idle bachelor would spend the whole morning.
Here is another transcript from the life of 1850, as lived by those who were gently born but not rich:
'Our meals consisted of nine o'clock breakfast, one o'clock luncheon and seven o'clock dinner. The walls of the dining-room were hung with a greyish buff paper. There was a Turkey carpet and mahogany furniture. The table-cloth was removed for dessert. We dined late on Sunday, for there was no evening church but an afternoon service was held to which women came who were kept at home by their domestic duties in the morning and at which christenings and churchings took place. The kitchen was brick-floored and had a closed range; the brick oven heated by means of wood and used for bread was in the washhouse. We had a number of visitors and we dined out at neighbouring houses, dinners being fixed when the moon was high . . . these parties were called "Moons" and at some houses "grapes," these being given at a time when the grapes were at their finest. Hot-[-101-] house fruit was a treat to people who had no green-houses, for, with the exception of oranges, one could not buy foreign fruit then. There were archery parties and in hay-time syllabub parties. Afternoon teas did not come in until later, but when visitors called cake and wine were offered. There were croquet and archery parties, and when tennis became fashionable I remember a local magnate playing tennis in a top-hat, but he, I dare say, was old-fashioned.
There were balls and the neighbouring great houses-Hatfield and The Hoo-were very hospitable. .. . I visited a good deal amongst friends, and I remember that most people of any means had men- servants, or at all events a page-boy.... When I was a young girl (in 1850) we visited in the village, taught in the Sunday School and trained the choir. There was a Harvest Festival and a Sunday School treat and Mothers' Meetings, but there were not the ceaseless services and Guilds and to-dos that there seem to be now (1912). The servants wore bonnets on Sundays and went to church and sat in their own pew. There were boxed-in pews in those days where the quality sat in state and the poor people waited to leave the Church until the gentlefolk had made their way out. The men and women of the lesser order were separated, the men sitting on one side, the women on the other. The children were in charge of the Sunday School teachers and fidgetted and sniffed and shuffled their feet in spite of all efforts to keep them quiet. The women would carry a Prayer-book, a clean handkerchief and a posy of flowers, and before oil lamps were used there were tall iron candlesticks fastened to the end of each pew. When my father was old he went to sleep while reading family prayers and my mother had to wake him, and then sometimes he began all over again, so that prayers were very long or he skipped a page so that they were very short. The parlourmaid used to bring in the large Prayer-book on a salver and say, "Prayers are on the table, Sir." It amused my brothers and they would not let my mother tell her not to do this.
It was usual to have family prayers in those days and the servants attended them. At one house where I stayed the parrot used to walk about the room while prayers were being read. He invariably turned his attention to the stout cook's ankles and chuckled obscenely when she endeavoured to kick him away. At last she refused to pray in public unless the parrot was confined to his cage. Well do I remember her white cotton stockings and elastic-sided paramatta boots with their black tabs sticking out at the back. My mother as an old lady wore a full-skirted dress, the bodice cut a little low and buttoned down the front. It had bell sleeves and lace under-sleeves and chemisette. Her cap had lappets on either side and covered all but just the front of her parted hair. I am not sure if she was old- fashioned; certainly she did not trouble much about fashions then.
I remember too that she told me that as a young girl she had [-102-] a dress allowance of £100 a year and never could make it do. I was allowed £30 a year for my clothes and could not make that do. As a grown-up girl I wore a crinoline and a little pork-pie hat. When we went to balls our admirers (if we had any) gave us bouquets, prim and round, bordered by a paper frill. We wore yards and yards of tarlatan and our shoulders came right out of our low-cut silk or satin bodices. .. . I remember when hats were re-introduced-brown straw mushroom hats-somewhere about 1856, I think, and they were considered curiosities that only a few daring spirits ventured to wear. Everyone had worn bonnets for ages before that. . .'
In Wives and Daughters vivid pictures of life in the
home of a Country Squire and of a Country Doctor are presented. The drawing-room
at Hamley, the home of Squire Hamley, is 40 feet long, has five high, long
windows, and had been fitted with yellow satin at some distant period. There are
spindle-legged chairs and Pembroke tables, cabinets full of old India china, and
a threadbare carpet of the same period as the yellow satin. There are stands of
plants-in the novels of Miss Yonge and in Almacks, a novel written by
Miss Marianne Spencer-Stanhope and published anonymously in 1826, stands of
flowers are mentioned - and great jars of flowers, and outside a garden with
brilliantly coloured geometrically-shaped beds and a sun-dial. The ladies
garden- snipping off the dead roses. . . . The dining-room is vast and the
family dine at six o'clock at a small table and are waited upon by a butler and
a footman. The white damask tablecloth is removed before dessert which is
arranged on a table polished like a looking-glass. The Squire peels an orange...
they play cribbage after dinner. . . there are family prayers; the cards are
huddled away and the men and maids troop in. At breakfast the Squire reads the Morning
Chronicle. There is a study and a library, and Molly Gibson, a guest, but
not regarded as a suitable match for either of the Squire's sons, reads The
Bride of Lammermoor.* [* The first novel the Queen ever read.]
Molly's father, Mr. Gibson, a surgeon with a good
local practice, is able to afford to keep a wife and step-daughter, his own
daughter, to employ two adult maids and a young girl. His second wife comes home
to new paint, new paper, new colours; grim servants dressed in their best and
objecting to any change-from the Master's marriage to the new oilcloth in the
hall 'which tripped 'em up, and threw em down, and was cold to the feet, and smelt
[-103-] just abominable', from which paragraph we learn that oilcloth
was a new-comer in the earlier years of our period and are reminded that the
head of the house was then and throughout our period referred to as 'the Master',
while the lady of the house was 'the Mistress'. The old servants dislike the new
Mistress; there is murmuring and grumbling. They give notice and then there are
floods of tears. Betty cannot leave Miss Molly, her erstwhile nursling, but the
new Mrs. Gibson has all but engaged a certain Maria, 'such a genteel girl! -
always brings in a letter on a salver.. . it's a pity we had not Maria before
the County families began to call'.
Mr. Gibson is so greatly respected that his county patients call, though it is not recorded that their social efforts went any further. Their morning visits are paid at the hour of the Gibsons' early dinner, giving Mrs. Gibson an excuse for dining late-at six o'clock. The cook leaves. She dislikes the trouble of late dinner and being a Methodist objects on religious grounds to trying any of Mrs. Gibson's recipes for French dishes . . . 'if she is to be set to cook heathen dishes after the fashion of the Papists she'd sooner give it all up together'.
In 1830 the interior of the home is more Georgian than Victorian. It is not until after the Queen's marriage and especially after the Exhibition of 1851 that we find the typical mid-Victorian home with its striped or trellised wallpapers, crimson, royal blue, magenta, or green rep or brocade curtains, gilt or fringed pelrnets, inner curtains of Nottingham lace, gaily patterned Brussels carpets, back to back settees, hour-glass ottomans, Berlin woolwork enriched with beads, wax flowers and fruits under glass cases, the round table and the paraffin lamp with its globe of white ground glass, the steel-mounted fire-place, the clock and mantle ornaments en suite, the woolwork bell-pulls. Sometimes the curtains have pelmets and borders of tartan, for the Queen and Prince Albert love tartan, and when Balmoral Castle is built and furnished there are tartan curtains and chair-covers and even tartan-patterned floor-coverings and pictures by Landseer, and therefore pictures by Landseer or engravings of pictures by Landseer with wide white margins in ornate gold frames find a place in the homes of the loyal subjects.
By 1865 the Victorian home is at the apex of its mode.
§ 3. COST OF LIVING
We learn something of the cost of living in the early part of our period
from the Cook's Oracle and from a new edition dated 1824 of A New
System of Practical Domestic Economy founded on Modern Discoveries and from the
Private Communications of Persons of Experience, printed for Henry Colburn,
New Burlington Street.
Both of these books were published before 1830, but the information they contain was applicable for a number of years after. The Cook's Oracle family consisted of three in the parlour, two maids, and a man, and allowance is made for a dinner-party once a month, the table of expenses being 'for people living in a small way' in a household 'where there is plenty of good provisions, but no affectation of profusion'. -
Meat . . . . . . . . £65
Fish and poultry . . . . . . £25
Bread . . . . . . . £18.
Butter and cheese . . . . . . £25
Milk . . . . . . . £7
Vegetables and fruit . . . . . 20
Tea, coffee, sugar . . . . . . £15
Table ale . . . . . . . £25
Washing . . . . . . . £20
Coals . . . . . . . . £30
Candles and soap . . . . . . £20
Sundries and forgets . . . . . £50
Deducting coals, washing, and table ale - £75 - that leaves £245, which is practically £4 15s. a week or roughly 16s. per head for food and cleaning materials.
The estimates of household expenses given in A New System are always planned for a man, his wife, and three children, and those in Part I are referred to in the pages devoted to the life of the poor.
In Part II, beginning with an income of £150 per annum, the man becomes a gentleman, and when his income rises to - £250 per annum, his 'wife' becomes his 'Lady'. On £400 a year the family enjoy the services of two maidservants, one horse, and a groom. On £700 they keep one man and three maidservants and two horses. On £1,000 they blossom out into an establishment of three female servants, a coach-man and footman, a chariot or coach, phaeton or other four-wheeled carriage and a pair of horses. On £5,000 a year the [-105-] establishment has grown to thirteen male and nine female servants, ten horses, a coach, a curricle and a Tilbury, Chaise or gig. We give in full the estimate for incomes of £250 and £1,000 a year.
Income, £250 per Annum
Family-A Gentleman, his Lady, Three Children, and a Maid Servant.
|Provisions and other Articles of Household Expense.||Weekly||Annual|
|Bread and Flour for six persons - 1s. each||6||0|
|Butter - 3½lb. at an average of 1s. per lb., 7d. each or 6d. a day||3||6|
|Cheese - ¼lb. each, 1½lb. at 10d. - 2½d. each||1||3|
|Milk - 3d. each||1||6|
|Tea, Coffee &c. - 5 oz. Tea at 8s. per lb.||2||6|
|Sugar &c. - 4½lb. at 8d. - 6d. each||3||0|
|Grocery - including Spices, Condiments, &c. 6d. each||3||0|
|Butchers Meat - 18lb.
at 7d. per lb. . . . . . 10s. 6d.
|Fish &c. (6d. per day) 3s. 6d. 2s. a day||14||0|
|Vegetables and Garden-Fruits - 6d. each||3||0|
|Beer and other Liquors - 1s. a day||7||0|
|Coals and Wood - 3¾ chaldrons of coals a year at 48s. - 91 and Wood, 15.s||3||9|
|Candles, Oil, &c. - say 6½dozen Candles a year, at 7s. per dozen - 2lb. a week||1||2|
|Soap, Starch, &c. (8 dozen Soap a year at 7s. per dozen), nearly 2lb. a week, and Starch, &c. - 2d. a day||1||2|
|Sundries - for cleaning, scowering, &c.||9|
Total for regular Household Expenses
|Extra for Entertainments, Medicine, and other Incidents||7||11||2|
Total for Household Expenses
|Clothes (Gent, £15, Lady £12, Children £10)||36||0||0|
|Rent, Taxes, &c||25||0||0|
|Education, Extra and Private Expenses||10||10||0|
|Amount of Income||250||0||0|
|Expenses of the House, weekly||£||s||d|
|Bread and Flour - for ten persons, at 1s. each||10||0|
|Butter - ¾ lb. each - 7½ lb. at an average of 1s. per lb.||7||6|
|Butcher's Meat - ¾ lb. per day each, or 52 ½ lb at 6d. per lb. (2s. 7½d. each) . . . . £1 6s. 3d.|
|Fish, Poultry, &c. (9d. a day) . . . . . . 5s 3d.|
|[-106-] Beer or ale - 1 quart each per day or 17½ gallons at 8d. (1s. 2d. each) . . . . . 11s. 9d.|
|Other Liquours - 1s. 4d. per day . . . . 9s. 4d.||1||1||0|
|Cheese - ½ lb. each per week, or 5lb. at 9d. (4½d. each)||3||9|
|Garden Fruits and Vegetables - (9d. each)||7||6|
|Grocery of all kinds (except Tea and Sugar) including Spices and Condiments (9d. each)||7||6|
|Sugar - ¾ lb. each per week or 7½ lb. average, 8d. per lb. - 6d. each||5||0|
|Tea, Coffee, &c. (Servants finding their own Tea, &c.)||5||0|
|Milk and Eggs - (4½d. each)||3||9|
Total for Provisions, weekly, being £266 10s. per annum
|Coals and Wood - Four fires - 2½ chaldrons of Coals each fire, on an average all the year round, or 10 chaldrons, at 45s. - £22 10s. - Wood at the rate of 7s. to each chaldron of Coals, or 17s. 6d. to each fire, per annum, £3 10s. - 2s. 6d. each fire per week||10||0|
|Candles, Gas, Oil, &c. - equal to 10 lb. Candles per week, on an average, all the year round, viz. 2 lb., moulds at 10d. and 8 lb. stores at 8d. - (1s. per day)||7||0|
|Soap, Starch &c. for washing - 6 lb. Soap, at 8d. - 4s. Starch, Blue, Mangling, &c. 1s. 3d. (9d. per day)||5||3|
|Sundries for Cleaning, scowering, &c. (about 4d. per day)||2||3|
Distribution of Income.
|1. Household Expenses (brought forward)-36 per cent.||360||0||0|
|2. Servants, Horses, and Carriages, 22 per cent., viz. Coach or Chariot (as per Appendix, Table II)||40||0||0|
|Two Horses (as per Appendix, Table I)||65||17||0|
|Two Male Servants, viz.|
|Footman and Groom|
|Three Female Servants, viz.|
|3. Clothes, Haberdashery, &c. 12 per cent. - viz.:|
|The Gentleman 4 per cent||40||0||0|
|Lady 5 per cent.||50||0||0|
|Three Children 2½ per cent.||25||0||0|
|Haberdashery 0½ per cent.||5||0||0|
|[-107-] 4. Rent, Taxes, and Repairs - 1 2 per cent.||120||0||0|
|5. Extra Expenses - 8 per cent.-viz.:|
|Education 4 per Cent.||40||0||0|
|Pocket Expenses 2||20||0||0|
|Private Expenses 2||20||0||0|
Total Expense, per annum
|6. Reserve, or Saving, for Contingencies, 10 per cent||100||0||0|
The cost of living for the upper classes who do not depend so
much upon bread as do the poor, did not vary very much during the thirties and
forties, but by 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, it had fallen
considerably. Beef and mutton were then 7½d. and 8½d. a lb.,
butter 1s. 2d. lb., oysters, the best natives, 7d. a dozen, and
Mrs. Beeton, who gives the average prices of her dishes, notes that in 1861,
soles were 1s. to 2s. the pair, pork 9d. lb., veal 8d. to 9½d.,
bacon 10d. to 1s. primest cuts, calves' heads 5s. 6d. to
each, large fowls 2s. 6d., rabbits 1s. to 1s. 6d., wild
duck 4s. to 5s. a couple, partridges 2s. to 4s. 6d. the brace,
pheasants 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. each, quails 1s. 3d. to
and snipe 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. each. On the other hand, the servant
problem was beginning to make itself felt. The establishments of 1830 have begun
to contract. Mrs. Beeton suggests that on an income of £1,000 a year a cook,
two housemaids, and a man servant may be kept; on £750 a cook, housemaid, and boot-boy; on £500
a cook and housemaid; on £300 a maid of all work; and on £150 up to £200 a
maid of all work or a girl for the rough work. A nursemaid may be added when the
income exceeds £350 'or an elder daughter if old enough, good enough and careful
enough may mind the young ones'.
We may put the matter thus. In early Victorian England a family in good society could live more or less comfortably on £800-£1,000 a year. About 1850 a lady with daughters writes: 'Young people of good position may marry comfortably on £500 a year and expectations, anything from £500 to £1,500 is considered a possible, sufficient or comfortable income.' Mrs. Eleanor Bold was thought to be left quite unnecessarily well off with one child and £1,200. A beneficed [-108-] clergyman with house and garden free could do on £300 to £400. In the Line an officer might start married life on £200 to £400. But it would not have been a comfortable life, and the curate or poor parson who had to do with less must have been very uncomfortable. We shall see that on £100 a year it took some contrivance to keep a working family of five.
§ 4. NURSERY AND SCHOOLROOM
It will be noticed that family budgets assume three children.
The natural rate of fertility was four or five to a marriage. In the poorer
quarters the death-rate was appalling, but in the country, and the cleaner
quarters of towns, the destruction of young life had been reduced to a more
moderate figure. Victorian families were large, not because more children were
born, but because more of those who were born, survived. But this advance in
civilization imposed in its turn a new and heavy burden on the family budget and
temper. The large family involved strict discipline and demanded much mutual
helpfulness. In any growing family, not positively rich, there was always a
mother to be nursed or helped, younger brothers or sisters to be cared for or
taught, and a father to be attended to or amused. In the large family order was
maintained by subordinating, possibly by sacrificing, the children to the
father, the girls to the boys, the mother to them all. In the great house the
problem was solved by keeping the children in a nursery quarter.
The nurseries in such households as these, where a head nurse and two or three under-nurses would be employed, and indeed, in those of lesser importance, were complete in themselves and, except for the service of footmen for tray and lamp carrying, were independent of the general staff. The schoolroom party had a housemaid, or as she came to be called later, a schoolroom maid, allotted to them, and a footman to wait at table and for 'carrying', which task might mean a journey of a quarter of a mile or so from the service premises.
But in spite of the fact that service was cheap and plentiful we find that servants disliked waiting on the nursery and that cooks were apt to be careless when cooking the nursery and schoolroom meals. In a private letter of the late forties, the writer notes that the fashion for allowing the elder [-109-] children to dine at their parents' luncheon table may be attributed partly to the ill feeling which existed between Mrs. Nurse and Mrs. Cook. Mention is made of such domestic difficulties in books on household management, and Mrs. Beeton notes that it is usual in middle-class households to carve the joint in the dining-room and dispatch portions to the nursery, and suggests that it would be better that the children should dine downstairs as waiting on the nurse may be objected to.
In the main, the diet of children was monotonous. Boiled mutton, varied by chicken and sometimes by fish, plain boiled vegetables and milk-pudding, porridge, bread and butter, and bread and milk and a limited quantity of jam or cake were nursery foods. Fresh fruit was not in great favour, and it is not surprising that children looked forward eagerly to the hour at which, after a special toilet, Mrs. So-and-so, the head nurse, attired in a black silk dress, would escort them to the dining-room for dessert, where each child might be regaled with a taste of such dainties as he desired and a sip or two of wine.
Foods other than ordinary fare were treats, and children so greedy for them that the prim story-books of the day are often concerned with the child who, when occasion offers, eats until he is sick or even steals cakes and sugar. It is also worthy of note that in addition to wine at dessert, a glass of wine at eleven o'clock might be given to a delicate child and that in cases of sickness, wine was often ordered by the doctor for his young patients.
Mrs. Nurse also had her full share of intoxicants, a fact to which Thackeray bears witness. Beer, porter, and gin were her favourite beverages, and when nurse wished to enjoy them in peace, her infant charges might be stupefied by one of the draughts which chemists sold under harmless-sounding names, such as Godfrey's Cordial, a mixture of laudanum and treacle. This habit of drugging children is also mentioned by Miss Charlotte Yonge in The Daisy Chain when Flora Rivers' little daughter is doped to death by her nurse and Daffy's Elixir is recommended to young Mrs. Bold* [* Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope] together with a coral rubbed with carrot juice to ease the tooth-cutting pangs of her infant son.
In spite of a plain diet much dosing took place in the [-110-] Victorian nursery and little trouble was taken to make the doses palatable. Brimstone and treacle, castor oil, liquorice and Gregory's powder, found a place in the nursery medicine chest. That such drastic remedies were needed may be attributed to some extent to lack of fresh air and exercise. Closed windows were the order of the day and night, rooms being aired only when the children were absent and walks forbidden if the weather were cold or damp. During our period babies were carried out of doors until far older than is now the case, for the perambulator had not then developed into the luxurious baby-carriage in which the babe may sleep as comfortably as in a cot.
As regards the dress of the nursery folk, little boys had their own fashions, but those designed for little girls were mere replicas in miniature of their mothers' modes. Babies were clothed in tight stiff binders, linen shirts, a flannel and several other petticoats and very long and elaborately- trimmed robes, and for outdoor wear, heavy, elaborate pelisses. Some of the robes-of exquisitely hand-worked cambric or India muslin-measured as much as 72 inches from shoulder to hem and were invariably made with low necks and short sleeves. Even at that stage of their being boy-babies must not be dressed like girls. When they took the air they wore a trimmed-up cap, while their sisters wore an equally trimmed-up bonnet. Even when in the house the heads of babies were covered by embroidered or lace-trimmed cambric caps.
When the child left the nursery and entered the schoolroom, boys and girls might study together for a year or two before the boy went to school. Thereafter the girl might be educated entirely at home by the governess with the help of masters for certain subjects or after a year or two sent to a boarding school.
The education of girls is dealt with elsewhere. Here it will be enough to say that the education of a girl in a good home, where the parents took an interest in their children and the governess was well chosen and well treated, was probably as good as it has ever been. Otherwise it was a poor affair. In many fashionable households, the children rarely saw their elders: the governess was a poor down-trodden creature to whom her employers and her charges were often scandalously rude; and the most esteemed text-books, Blair's Preceptor, Pin [-111-]nock's Catechisms (9d. each), Butler's Guide, and Mangnall's Questions, if they gave (to quote Mrs. Barbauld* [*Mrs. Anna Letitia Barbauld often visited at Norwich and was a friend of Mrs. John Taylor, to whose salon she added a new grace by her charming manners and learning.]) 'a general tincture of knowledge', were hardly calculated to make their victims 'agreeable companions to a man' or to awaken in them a desire for 'rational entertainment'. In such a home the schoolroom was often a dreary apartment behind baize doors, sunless and airless. The young ladies had their walking exercise at regular hours and if long hours in semi-darkness and bad air produced poking' heads, rounded shoulders, anaemia, and constipation, the shoulder yoke, the backboard - an unpadded plank tilted upwards with a hollow cut to accommodate the head - and Dr. Dose were always there to put things right.
§ 5. MEALS AND PARTIES
Any one passing from one of the exquisitely simple and
well-proportioned eighteenth-century rooms preserved in the Victoria and Albert
Museum to an average Victorian room is at once struck by the fact that
everything seems to be heavy, overloaded, and crowded. Every space has to be
filled, every surface covered. Bare is a term of severe disapproval. In
this we see two tendencies symbolized: on the one side competitive expenditure,
which some economists say is the driving force in bourgeois life; on the other
side, imitation of the surroundings of the great. At its best Victorian
decoration achieves a certain naïve and homely charm; we feel that the
inhabitants must have enjoyed it so much that we can sympathize when we cannot
admire. At its worst it is a mass of shop-made extravagance without selection or
meaning. And it was at its heaviest on the dinner-table, because the dinner was
the great occasion for the display of wealth and dignity. The plate matched the
fare and both had to be on the baronial scale.
Large families and the dinners of twenty-four, so popular, required large dishes. There were huge silver or plated soup tureens, great dishes to hold a whole salmon or a turbot garnished with fried smelts, a saddle of mutton or gargantuan sirloin of beef, and by the side of the dish might be a silver utensil full of hot water in which the gravy-spoon [-112-] was warmed. Extra gravy might be handed from a closed utensil with a spout. The épergne was a feature of every table; there were vast salvers, tea and coffee equipages' as was the term in use, urns, bread-baskets, wine-coolers and cruets. The table glass used during our period might be lavishly cut or a mixture of plain and coloured, certain wine glasses being made in red or green glass with white stems. Table-napkins were folded into intricate patterns and, at one time, placed in one of the wineglasses required for the service of four or five wines, but were not generally provided at luncheon until after 1865.
The service of dessert-plate, d'oiley and finger-bowl (which might be of white or coloured glass), dessert knives and forks with handles of silver or mother-o'-pearl-differed little from that of to-day except that in the dessert services a special dish for the pineapple was included, that fruit being an expensive and highly prized delicacy. It is said that it cost a gentleman who grew pines in his own hot-house at least £2 to produce each fruit.
The housewife prided herself upon her double damask table-cloths and napkins to match, and more than ever when, as in Mrs. Beeton's day, the habit of removing the table-cloth before dessert was less frequently observed. The china - Crown Derby, Chelsea, Rockingham, Worcester, Spode, Copeland, Wedgwood - then used was for the most part far better in design than the glass and silver. In small households the best china generally was washed and put away by the housewife, who wore, during the morning, a little apron to protect her dress and carried the keys of the store cupboard, linen-press, sideboards, and tea-caddies about with her in a little basket.
The day began with an elaborate breakfast with tea and coffee, toast and fancy bread, butter and preserves, hot and cold dishes and an ample number of boiled eggs. As an example of an admirable breakfast Prince Pückler-Muskau describes the meal set before him at a Welsh Inn: 'Smoking coffee, fresh Guinea-fowls eggs, deep yellow mountain butter, thick cream, toasted muffins and two red spotted trout just caught, all placed on a snow-white table-cloth of Irish damask.' At another inn he notes that on the breakfasttable there are a tea urn, silver tea cannisters, a slop basin, milk jug, Wedgwood plates, plenty of knives and forks, a [-113-] plate of boiled eggs, muffins on a hot-water plate, cold ham, bread, toast, butter, and a choice of green or black tea, for all of which he is charged 2s. A Holland House breakfast consisted of very good coffee, very good tea, very good eggs, butter kept in the midst of ice, and hot rolls'. In the eighteen-thirties country gentlemen sometimes adhered to an earlier fashion, and drank beer and ate cold beef at breakfast, but the practice soon became the peculiarity of the old- fashioned.
In spite of a lavish breakfast, ladies regaled themselves with a glass of wine and a biscuit in the middle of the morning.
The midday meal developed between 1830 and 1865 from a cold collation into a hot meal, and in the fifties and sixties it began to be fashionable to allow children and governess to make their dinner at the parents' luncheon table.
The next refreshment in the day's list was the cake and wine served to afternoon callers, which was superseded by afternoon tea.
Then came dinner, which, as luncheons became more solid and afternoon tea general, was served later. The Royal Victorian dinner had always taken place at a later hour than that of ordinary folk, who, if they dined late, generally ate the meal at 6 o'clock, and as the years went on at 6.30, 7, or 7.30, Royalties and the haul ton often dining as late as 8 o'clock. Coffee was served after dinner to the gentlemen in the dining-room, to the ladies in the drawing-room, and tea was dispensed from a tea-table set out in the drawing-room after the gentlemen had joined the ladies at 9, 9.30, or even 10 o'clock. At bedtime there might be some sort of night cap', brandy-and-water being the favourite masculine drink.
In middle-class and lower middle-class houses dinner was served at hours varying from noon until two o'clock, a hot supper being provided for such husbands and fathers as could not return to the mid-day meal. Two o'clock was the favourite hour for Sunday dinner, which in such families was ever a specially elaborate meal. The rich dined late on Sundays as on weekdays.
In 1830 dinner was served in two vast courses. Hayward in his Art of Dining objects to the bad waiting; the servants, of whom a large number were needed, dodging about and often colliding with one another in order to offer the dishes [-114-] first to the ladies and then to the gentlemen. He considered that they should proceed straight round the table, as became the fashion towards the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century. Guests brought their own footmen to wait at table, and in houses where the number of footmen was insufficient, coachmen and even grooms were employed and all were provided with white cotton gloves. The stable people apparently did not, like Mr. Jorrocks's Benjamin, object to performing double duty. When required to carry the urn Benjamin remonstrated, being of the opinion that 'If I'm a grum, I'm a grum, if I'm a butler, I'm a butler, but it's out of all conscience and calkilation expecting a man to be both grum and butler'. Carving took place upon the table, and to carve well was one of the gentlemanly arts. Almost every writer of a cookery-book devoted some pages to this subject, or to use the words of the author of The Housekeeper's Instructor or Universal Family Cook, a book still in use in 1830, 'The instructions here laid down by words, are materially enlivened by the representations of the respective articles described, so that the young and inexperienced may, by proper attention to the description, and reference to the plates, soon make themselves proficient in this useful and polite subject.'
Ladies, too, were expected to be able to carve, though at dinner-parties only the helping of the soup and of the sweet dishes, sometimes extremely ornamental, fell to their share. In very grand establishments the meat and the game were carved off the table by the butler.
A dinner for twelve to fourteen persons might be arranged thus:
Good Woman's Soup, dite flamande, white and thick.
Soup a la beauveau, brown and clear.
Turbot with lobster sauce.
Slices of crimped salmon, boiled, with same sauce.
Turkey a la perigeux, purée of chestnut.
Leg of mutton roasted.
[-115-] Six Entrées.
Cutlets of mutton braised with soubise sauce.
Salmi of young partridges a la Espagnole.
Vol au vent of salt fish a la maitre d'hôtel.
Casserole of rice with purée of game.
Saute of fillets of fowl a la Lucullus, with truffles.
Fillets of young rabbits a la orlies, white sharp sauce.
Three partridges roasted.
Spinach with consommé, garnished with fried bread.
Whole truffles with champaign.
Lobster salad a 1'Italienne.
Jelly of marasquino.
Buisson of gâteau a la Polonaise.
Charlotte of apples with apricot.
Removes of the Roast.
Biscuit a la crème.
For sixteen or twenty persons eight entrées must be
provided, and if one would entertain twenty-four guests there seems to be no end
to the number of dishes and kinds of food which must be served. Ude is kind
enough to suggest that 'if you have eaten too much, doubtless you will feel
inconvenienced. In that case have immediate recourse to some weak tea which will
speedily liberate your stomach from the superfluities which encumber and oppress
it.' Almost all Victorian dinners, except in the houses of very great people,
were provided entirely or in part by a professional caterer, and according to
Lady Dorothy Nevill* [*Life
and Letters of Lady Dorothy Nevill, by Ralph Nevill.] it was Mr. Disraeli who set the fashion of employing a
caterer to provide his dinners at a fixed price.
Prince Pückler-Muskau gives us a detailed description for the service of a dinner in 1828 or 1829. The table modes he describes survived in fashionable houses with but few changes up to the sixties and long after the sixties in old- fashioned houses.
The gentlemen lead the ladies into the dining-room, not as in [-116-] France, by the hand, but by the arm; and here, as there, are emancipated from the necessity of those antiquated bows, which even in some of the best society in Germany are exchanged every time one hands out a lady. On the other hand, there is a most anxious regard to rank, in the midst of all of which the strangest blunders are made as to that of foreigners.
'After the soup is removed, and the covers are taken off, every man helps the dish before him, and offers some of it to his neighbour. If he wishes for anything else, he must ask across the table or send a servant for it;- a very troublesome custom in place of which, some of the most elegant travelled gentlemen have adopted the more convenient German fashion of sending the servants round with the dishes.
'It is not usual to take wine without drinking to another person. When you raise your glass, you look fixedly at the one with whom you are drinking, bow your head, and then drink with great gravity. . . . . It is esteemed a civility to challenge anybody in this way to drink; and a messenger is often sent from one end of the table to the other to announce to B- that A- wishes to take wine with him; whereupon each, sometimes with considerable trouble, catches the other's eye, and goes through the ceremony of the prescribed nod with great formality, looking at the moment very like a Chinese mandarin.
'At the conclusion of the second course comes a sort of intermediate dessert of cheese, butter, salad, raw celery, and the like; after which ale, sometimes thirty or forty years old, and so strong that when thrown on the fire it blazes like a spirit, is handed about. The tablecloth is then removed; under it, at the best tables, is a finer, upon which the dessert is set. At the inferior ones it is placed on the bare polished table. It consists of all sorts of hot-house fruits, which are here of the finest quality, Indian and native preserved, stomatic ginger, confitures, and the like. Clean glasses are set before every guest, and, with the dessert plates and knives and forks, small fringed napkins are laid. Three decanters are usually placed before the master of the house, generally containing claret, port, and sherry or madeira. The host pushes these in stands, or in a little silver waggon on wheels, to his neighbour on the left. Every man pours out his own wine, and if a lady sits next him, also helps her; and so on until the circuit is made when the same process begins again. Glass jugs filled with water happily enable foreigners to temper the brandy which forms so large a component part of English wines. After the dessert is set on, all the servants leave the room; if more wine is wanted the bell is rung, and the butler alone brings it in. The ladies sit a quarter of an hour longer, during which time sweet wines are sometimes served, and then rise from the table. The men rise at the same time, one opens the door for them, and as soon as they are gone, draw [-117-] closer together; the host takes the place of the hostess, and the conversation turns upon subjects of local and everyday interest. . . . Every man is, however, at liberty to follow the ladies . . . who received us in a "salon" grouped around a large table on which are tea and coffee.'
In 1830 and on into the forties men drank deep after dinner. If a gentleman was not in a fit state to join the ladies, his servant loosened his neckcloth and if necessary put him to bed, or if he was a dinner guest got him into his carriage and when arrived at home into his bed, and wives were so well used to this state of affairs that they accepted it as a matter of course. Queen Victoria, however, aimed a blow at heavy after-dinner drinking when she required her gentlemen to join her in the drawing-room shortly after the ladies left the dining-room.
The tea-table which welcomed the gentlemen on their arrival in the drawing-room was presided over by the hostess or by her daughters if they had been 'introduced' or as the later expression was 'brought out', though occasionally those not yet out' were permitted to assist.
An important article of the tea equipage was the urn. The boiling water, with which it was filled, was kept hot by means of an iron heater, made red hot and dropped into a holder fixed in the centre of the urn or by a lamp filled with spirits of wine. We find that housewives complained of water which was not boiling, as in the case of the lady described by Mrs. Carlyle, 'John, John, how is this? Water in the urn not boiling.' To which John, finding the time-honoured excuse that it has boiled unavailing, admits that if not boiling it is at least 'hotter than you can drink it'.
Mrs. Beeton tells us of dinner fashions in the early sixties, mentioning amongst other items that fancy name cards were introduced in 1863. Dinner guests were now expected to arrive about half an hour before dinner, and photograph albums, crest albums and new music helped to pass the time.
How sad it is to sit and pine
The long half-hour before we dine!
Upon our watches oft we look
Then wonder at the clock and cook,
And strive to laugh in spite of fate,
she quotes. But it was not always the cook who was to blame. A guest might be late in spite of the fact that to be [-118-] late for dinner was regarded as a social crime. It is spoken of in the Cook's Oracle as the impertinent affectation of opulent upstarts and commercial mushrooms - the newly rich of the Napoleonic Wars', and no more liking for late guests was evinced in the sixties than at a previous date.
But in the sixties the fashion was turning towards greater simplicity, as some menus arranged by Mrs. Beeton bear witness.
DINNER OF TWELVE PERSONS
Soup a Ia Reine. Julienne Soup. Turbot and Lobster Sauce.
Slices of Salmon a La Genevese.
Croquettes of Leveret. Fricandeau de Veau. Vol-au-Vent. Stewed Mushrooms.
Forequarter of Lamb. Guinea Fowls. Charlotte a La Parisienne. Orange Jelly. Meringues. Ratafia Ice Pudding. Lobster Salad. Sea Kale.
Dessert and Ices.
DINNER OF SIX PERSONS
Tapioca Soup. Boiled Salmon and Lobster Sauce. Entrées.
Sweetbreads. Oyster Patties.
Haunch of Mutton. Boiled Capon and White Sauce. Tongue.
Soufflé of Rice. Lemon Cream. Charlotte a La Parisienne. Rhubarb Tart.
Dinners like these would be served in the old style, for although Service a la Russe was making its way in the fifties, when it was introduced into some important houses, it did not become general until the seventies. It resulted in still further reducing the number of dishes served, and shortening the function by accelerating the service.
The standard family meal may be disposed of in simple terms: soup or fish, meat and vegetables, pudding, cheese.
[-119-] It was not dainty, which mattered little to a middle-class who despised what they termed 'kickshaws', but it was wholesome and it was contrived to make things go as far as possible.
Here is a week of Mrs. Beeton's menus; the shortage of fresh fruit and salads is noticeable, and this, together with lack of exercise and fresh air, probably accounts for the quantity of aperients taken by the English of all classes, which surprised such foreigners as became acquainted with their domestic habits. Where their stomachs were concerned the Victorians were anything but reticent. Revalenta Arabica cured the Countess of Castlestuart of nervousness, indigestion, bile, and irritability. Perhaps the advertisement was inserted by a grateful family. Maria Jolly furnishes an even more comprehensive testimony to its virtues as her symptoms include dyspepsia, nervousness, cough, constipation, flatulence, spasms, sickness at the stomach, and vomiting. It is significant that these testimonials appear in the Athenaeum, a paper with a decidedly upper-class circulation.
Sunday. PLAIN FAMILY DINNERS
Clear Gravy Soup. Roast Haunch of Mutton. Sea Kale. Potatoes. Rhubarb Tart. Custard in Glasses.
Crimped Skate and Caper Sauce. Boiled Knuckle of Veal and Rice. Cold Mutton. Stewed Rhubarb and Baked Custard Pudding.
Vegetable Soup. Toad in the Hole, made from the remains of cold mutton. Stewed Rhubarb and Baked Plum Pudding.
Fried Soles. Dutch Sauce. Boiled Beef, carrots, suet dumplings. Lemon Pudding.
Pea Soup made from liquor that beef was boiled in. Cold Beef. Mashed Potatoes. Mutton Cutlets and Tomato Sauce. Macaroni.
Bubble and Squeak, made with remains of cold beef. Roast Shoulder of Veal, stuffed, and spinach and potatoes. Boiled Batter Pudding and Sweet Sauce.
Stewed Veal and Vegetables, made from remains of the shoulder. Broiled rumpsteaks and oyster sauce. Yeast Dumplings.
Lower middle-class and working-folk and artisans had their
favourite dishes, such as boiled leg of mutton and trimmings (carrots, turnips,
and dumplings), black puddings, pig's and sheep's trotters, sheep's head, tripe,
and faggots (finely minced and highly seasoned meat formed into cakes, fried,
and generally eaten with boiled peas or pease pudding), and then as now, certain
localities were famed for certain dishes, such as Lancashire Hot Pot, Cornish
Pasties, Yorkshire Pudding, Norfolk Dumplings, Banbury Cakes, Cornish Clotted
Cream, and many others. Another favourite food, especially of men who could not
return to dinner or afford an eating-house meal, was the Mutton Pie hawked about
London by a man known as the Flying Pieman.
Other social opportunities for eating and drinking were the Ball and Ball Supper, the Rout, the Breakfast, the Wedding, the Christening, and the Funeral.
It was at Almack's - the fashionable dance club of its day - that the waltz was introduced by Princess Lieven in 1815 or 1816, a dance which remained in favour throughout Victoria's reign. It was at first considered shocking, although 'practiced of a morning in private houses with unparalleled assiduity', and that in spite of the verdict of a gentleman who objected to it because it 'disordered the stomach and made people look ridiculous'.
About the same time Lady Jersey sponsored the quadrille while the polka was introduced in the early forties, one of the first houses at which it was danced being that of Lady Elizabeth Spencer-Stanhope, where people stood up on the rout seats to watch the performance. Refreshments offered at Routs, Crushes, Drums, or Assemblies, and Soirees, as evening parties were termed at various times, might be more or less elaborate according to the taste and purse of the host and hostess. The ball-suppers were even more elaborate than dinners, as we see from the menus of well-known chefs. Mrs. Beeton considers that for sixty dancers there should be sixty-two dishes on the table and three separate épergnes with fruit. Ices, wafers, biscuits, tea, coffee, wine, liqueurs, and if possible Punch a la Romaine should be served in addition. She does not suggest floral decorations, but fresh flowers and also artificial flowers and fruit were used more or less throughout the period. Jeaffreson in his Book about the Table notes that under the Regency, and after the Regent's [-121-] example, fashionable folk called the gardener to the aid of the cook and brightened their tables with the choicest flowers from the conservatory.
At the evening parties of the small folk dancing might take place, interrupted at intervals when some young lady could be persuaded to sing, meantime the elders played cards and snuffed the candles between the deals. Evening gatherings for cards and other games, such as Commerce, Speculation, Vingt-et-un, Pope Joan, and Limited Loo, when counters of bone or mother-of-pearl might take the place of money or represent it until the time for settlement arrived, were also popular. At even smaller gatherings what was termed the Supper Tray-gracefully shaped dishes which fitted on to a wooden tray generally circular in shape-was brought into the drawing-room at 8.30 or 9 o'clock. At all such entertainments a popular beverage was negus, which was made of port or sherry and hot water, sweetened and spiced.
The breakfast might range from the simple meals given by Lady Holland or Rogers, where the talk was the chief attraction, to the elaborate functions, half breakfast, half lunch, given by D'Orsay and Lady Blessington at Kensington Gore. The wedding breakfast was a special variety of these entertainments. To be married in church was now the rule and the party returned to drink champagne, consume solid refreshments, including the iced cake decorated with artificial flowers and silver leaves, and listen to speeches. A christening furnished an equally good occasion for food, oratory, sentiment, and display.
In one direction the universal imitation of the Great assumed a really horrible form. The Victorian funeral derives from the pageantry of Tudor times, when the mourners were marshalled by the Heralds and the banner was borne by a squire. The herald was now the undertaker. His prices were high: £60 to £100 for an upper tradesman, £250 for a gentleman, £1,000 to £1,500 for a nobleman. Four black horses with black plumes drew the hearse enriched with gilded skulls and lacquered cherubs: the family provided carriage accommodation for the funeral party, whose empty coaches trailed behind: mutes and mourners, hired from the same establishment, walked at the side. Undertakers' men were commonly of the lowest class and character: sometimes they returned in the hearse because they could no longer [-122-] walk beside it. The procession dragged its way along crowded streets to one of the new cemeteries, Kensal Green, Highgate, or Abney Park, where portentous monuments advertised the grief of the family and the wealth of the deceased. Some of the companies kept a clergyman, Episcopal or other: sometimes an attendant would slip on a surplice and read whatever service was required, and the rite not uncommonly ended with the grave-digger, half drunk already, pursuing the mourners to the gate with demands for more. In humbler circles the funeral carriage had a boot under the driver for the coffin and the party tumbled in behind. An official estimate reckoned that £5,000,000 a year was spent on funerals, of which £4,000,000 went on 'silk scarves and brass nails, feathers for the horses, gin for the mutes, and satin for the worms.'
§ 6. KITCHEN, CHEFS, AND COOKERY BOOKSIn spite of Soyer's gas kitchen at the Reform Club, which was one of the sights of the thirties, the Victorian cook would have none of such newfangled notions. She cooked by means of coal and roasted her prime English joints before an open fire in front of which stood the meat screen, and did a great deal of basting with the help of a long-handled ladle. She had a hot plate for boiling and ovens for baking, though she might bake bread in a brick oven in the scullery or outhouse.
§ 7. THE POOR
The same difficulty that we had in dealing with the middle
classes recurs with double force when we come to the poor - rapid change and
local variation. On the same wage, and in the same trade, one man might be
comfortably housed and well fed, another wretchedly housed and half-starved. A
street which was putting money by in 1830 might be existing on poor relief in
1840, bursting with prosperity in 1850, and kept alive by charity in the Cotton
Famine. On the whole, for the town worker, things had decidedly improved between
1830 and 1865; for the rural worker, not. But both in town and country between
1830 and 1865 lay the deep trough of the later thirties and the hungry forties.
To fill in this outline is the problem. The people themselves, except when their voices cry to us direct as witnesses before Royal Commissions, are for the most part inarticulate. What we know of them is conveyed at second hand, mostly by reformers and novelists. Reformers must prove their point; novelists must interest their public. We have domestic budgets, but unfortunately with the exception of Le Play's in 1855 they are almost invariably made not by the poor but for the poor. And, as every social student knows, a family budget tells only half the tale. Yet, such as they are, with the family budget we must begin.
As a datum we will take from A System of Practical Domestic Economy (1824) the family budget of a household living on [-127-] 48s. a week. The family, as usual, consists of man, wife, and three children.
|Bread and Flour for five persons, 24 lb. at 2¼d. per lb.||4||6|
|Butter-2 lb. at 1s.||2||0|
|Cheese - ¾ lb. at 10d.||7½|
|Milk - 1½d. per day||10½|
|Tea or Coffee - say ¼ lb. Tea, at 7s.||1||9|
|Sugar - 3 lb. at 8d.||2||0|
|Grocery, including Fruits, Spices, Condiments, &c.||1||0|
|Butcher's meat, Fish, &c., say 12 lb. at 6d.||6||0|
|Vegetables and garden-fruits - say 3d. a day||1||9|
|Beer, Ale, &c. - 6d. per day||3||6|
|Coals - 2½ Chaldrons of Coals a year, say 48s. per chaldron, £6 and Wood 10s. a year||2||6|
|Candles - 1 lb. a week on an average||7|
|Soap, Starch, &c. for washing||7|
|Sundries, for scowering and cleaning - 1d. a day||7|
Total for Household Expenses
|Clothes (Man, 3s. 6d., Wife, 2s. 6d., Children, 2s.)||8||0|
|Extra (including Schooling)||1||9|
|Amount of Income||2||8||0|
'This man and wife arrange their affairs thus: he rents a neat
little house, of six rooms, in the vicinity of London, the rent of which, with
the taxes &c. costs him about £35 10s. a year; out of which he
receives £20 a year for the first floor and the occasional use of the kitchen;
he consequently stands at about £15 10s. a year, or 6s. a week for rent. His
wife, knowing that a small income will not admit of any irregularity or
inadvertency, purchases all the unperishable articles of necessary
consumption, in quantities, at wholesale prices, and as she knows how long they
ought to last, she manages them accordingly. Candles and soap are laid in for the year, in
summer time, when cheapest; and these articles, when kept in a dry place, become
harder, fitter for use, and go further. By getting a neighbour to join in the
purchase of coals, they lay in a year's stock, that is, five chaldrons, about
August, when they are cheapest; and thus they get the ingain, or three sacks
over, upon that quantity. Half a ton of potatoes laid in in October, and kept in
a dry place, properly secured from the frost, serves the family come next year.
Traces of onions are bought in October, and hung up in a dry place serve the
winter. A firkin of good table beer at 7s. serves the family, as their
beverage at meals for about a month, besides the parents occasionally drink
porter. All the lesser branches of domestic arrangement are
[-128-] managed with the same steady view to regularity and economy;
thus they live happily and are well respected.'
We begin with this, not because it is typical, but because it is ideal. This man is in regular employment, in a responsible position. He is a Ten-pound householder with a vote. The children will probably go to an Endowed school or a British Day. There will be occasional jaunts to Gravesend or Margate: sound boots, Sunday best. The inner suburbs are ringed with the homes of these people, little houses with little gardens. 'They live happily, and are well respected.' Incidentally, they are much better oft than the average curate or schoolmaster. They keep themselves to themselves: at an election it is their votes that tell: they are not at all Radical, and they have not much sympathy with the class below. They are the solid substratum of the middle classes. To a working man, success means a life like theirs. They are the lowest class which feels the attractive power of gentility.
Our next stopping-place shall be the skilled mechanic in good work at 33s. a week. He manages his affairs thus:
|Bread and Flour for five persons, 24 lb.||3||9|
|Butter - 3 lb. at 9d.||1||6|
|Cheese - ½ lb. at 10d.||5|
|Tea - ¼ lb. at 5s. 4d.||1||4|
|Sugar - 2¾ lb. at 6d.||1||4½|
|Grocery, &c., as before||9½|
|Meat, fish, &c., say Meat 7 lb. at 6d.||3||6|
|Vegetables - including 35 lb. Potatoes||1||4|
|Beer, or Table Ale||2||3|
|Coals, &c. - nearly 1½ Bushel on an average, at 1s. 4d. per bushel and wood||2||1|
|Soap, &c. - for washing||4½|
|Sundries - for cleaning, scowering, &c.||3|
Total of Household Expenses
|Clothes, Haberdashery, &c.||5||6|
|Amount of Income, weekly||1||13||0|
|[-129-] 30s. per week for man, wife and three children (London)||s.||d.|
|5 4lb. loaves at 8½d. ; 1 quartern flour, 9½d.|
|14 lb. meat, at 6d.|
|7 quarts porter, at 4d.|
|1 cwt. coals|
|28 lb. potatoes|
|¼ lb. tea at 5s. ; 1½lb. sugar, at 7d.|
|1½lb. butter at 1s.|
|1 lb. candles, 6½d.; 1lb. soap, 6½d.|
|Rent, 4s.; schooling 6d.|
|Clothes and sundries|
Then we come to the guinea a week family. When he was forming the London police, Sir Robert Peel found that a guinea brought him all the recruits he wanted. It may therefore be taken as being, in London, an attractive wage for a single man and especially one who might have other sources of gain, but the family must have been very poorly off indeed.
|Bread and Flour, for five persons - 24 lb. at 1¾ d.||3||6|
|Butter, Cheese, and Milk . . .||1||9|
|Sugar and Treacle . . . . .||9|
|Rice, Oatmeal, Salt, &c. . . . .||6|
|Butcher's-Meat, or Fish - say Meat, 6 lb. at 4½d.||2||3|
|Vegetables - (including a ¼ cwt. of Potatoes, or 4 lb. a day, at
3s. 6d. per cwt.) - 2d. a day . . .
|Table beer-1 quart a day, at 2d.||1||2|
|Coals - 1¼ bushel per week, on an average all the year round, at
1s. 4d. - 1s. 8d. and Wood 1d.
|Candles - on an average all the year round, ½ lb. per week, at 7d.||3½|
|Soap, Starch, Blue, &c.-for washing . .||3½|
|Sundries-for cleaning, scouring, &c. . .||1|
Total for Household Expenses
|Clothes, Haberdashery, &c||3||6|
|Amount of Income||1||1||0|
'We give this and other low Estimates because we are aware
that there are many families in the country, and in retired situations whose
incomes are even less than is here premised, to whose circumstances these
statements may be applied. They may also serve for a numerous class of
industrious mechanics and others, in manufacturing towns and districts, to whom
it may be as advantageous to know how to save, as how to get money;
which knowledge, when habitually practised, must infallibly tend to the
improvement of their morals, as well as to their future advancement in life. We
understand that this Estimate is considered as too low, and it may appear
to be so [-130-] to the majority of that class of the community into whose
hands this work is most likely to come; but we are anxious to be of use to all,
particularly to those whose means are small, and who wish to live honestly
independent, and must live within bounds.
'We are now, however, in possession of several documents which prove the practicability of this Estimate, of these we shall mention two: one of them is from a mechanic in Bristol, who follows our plan literally, but as coals are cheap here, they use them unsparingly, it affords the family some little extra aids, and "now and then a Dobbin of Ale for himself;" the other is from a servant in a brewhouse at Norwich who has a wife and three young children, whose account corresponds almost verbatim with our own items, and out of twenty shillings, he contrives to save something, because, as he says, he is determined to save.
'Respecting Bread, which is the principal article of consumption, we have founded our calculation on the price of sound household bread in London - namely, from seven farthings to two-pence halfpenny per pound, which is a trifle higher than the price given in our last edition; but this is more than the average price in the country; there, too, barley, rye, or oaten bread, is generally eaten in such families, many of whom, also, bake their own bread, which is a considerable saving; so that our Estimates may be too high for the country, which, however, is an error on the right side. But respecting this and other articles of food, we have made it a point to be as correct, and as generally applicable, as it is possible to be. As to the quantity of bread stated, we consider it as correct. The two adults will eat six pounds each, per week, and we consider the three children as consuming as much as their two parents - that is, twelve pounds more; but this, we are told, is too much for the children: yet, as bread and flour for puddings, &c., constitute the chief part of children's food, and present appearances indicate no immediate reduction in the price, we conceive that we cannot with propriety, reduce the quantity. Should not this in any case be enough - as the income will not afford more - recourse must be had to potatoes, rice, oatmeal, and other wholesome and nutritive articles of food for the children, which will save bread, and should be constantly given to them, as proper and economical substitutes for this and other expensive articles of diet.
'It is better to buy large loaves than small ones; and bread should not be eaten till it is one day old.
'The quantity of butcher's meat given here is very low, and it is necessarily so; but at all places on or near the sea-coast, fish may be bought at a cheap rate, to supply its place; even in London, very frequently, mackerel, herrings, cod, flounders, and other kinds of fish, may be had cheaper than butcher's-meat. The price of good beef and mutton is now from five-pence to seven-pence per pound;- for common joints, the average is about six-pence. But much may be [-131-] saved by the mode of cooking: meat roasted, baked, or broiled loses fully one-third of its nutritive qualities; if boiled fast, it loses nearly as much, but stewed gently, it loses least, and what it does lose the liquor acquires, and this is thickened with a little meal, ground rice, Scotch barley or pease, and vegetables, affords a most wholesome food, and the family gets nourishment of the whole meat at the least possible expense.
'The prices of coals vary much, according to local situation, and other circumstances. Generally, where coals are dear, coke, wood, turf, or peat, is reasonable; and for six months in the year, but little will be required for either coals or candles. To save expense, oil is frequently used instead of candles in families of this description.
'Nothing is given in this Estimate for tea and sugar; and if these must be had, when the income is so small, the amount must be saved out of more necessary articles.
'We have, in this Estimate, taken the expense of each child at one shilling and nine-pence per week; and though a child in arms will not cost so much, yet the expense of lying-in will be fully equivalent. After the third child, the wife will naturally cause the oldest to attend to the youngest, and by that means gain time for other purposes; and the mind that is bent on frugality and economy will learn to surmount little difficulties. Besides, in manufacturing neighbourhoods, children are taught at an early age to earn something towards their own support. These, and similar circumstances, will tend to counterbalance such dilemmas as may arise, that would otherwise be disheartening.'
Very disheartening, indeed.
This seems to have struck Mr. James Lubbock, whose Hints for Practical Economy appeared in 1834. He will only allow a family of four, and even so he seems doubtful whether it can be done.
|Another suggested budget for the 21s. family||£||s||d|
|Rent per week||2||0|
|Eatables, 4d. per day each||9||4|
|Clothing, Man, including shoes||1||9|
|Ditto, Woman, ditto||1||3|
|Ditto, Children, 9d. each||1||6|
|Wear and tear||1||3|
|5 4-lb. loaves, at 8½d.||3||6½|
|5lb. meat at 5d.||2||1|
|7 pints porter at 2d.||1||2|
|½ cwt. coals||9½|
|40 lb. potatoes||1||4|
|3 oz. tea, at 5s.; 1lb. sugar, at 7d.||1||6|
|1 lb. butter||9|
|½ lb. soap; ½ lb. candles||6½|
|Rent, 2s. 6d. ; schooling, 4d.||2||10|
This family is apparently clothed by charity. Or if there are more than the standard five-in-family? Again Bosanquet answers the question - or shows that it is unanswerable-with a budget for man, wife, and five children.
|2 oz. tea||8|
|7 oz. coffee||10½|
|3 lb. sugar||1||9|
|1 cwt. coals||1||8|
|½ bushel coke and wood||7|
|12 loaves, at 8d.||8||0|
|18 lb. potatoes||9|
|1½ lb. butter||1||6|
|1 lb. soap, ½ lb. soda||7|
|Blue and starch||2|
|Greens or turnips, onions &c.||6|
|Pepper, salt, and mustard||3|
|To this ought to be added about 6d. a day for butcher's meat||3||6|
As the author points out:
'The wages of a man earning 30s. a week are wholly expended, leaving 10½d. for clothes, beer, medicine, tools and other accidents and contingencies.'
Here it will be observed that the bread ration has been cut down and clothes must be found at the expense of other food.
[-133-] With these data in mind let us examine some of the actual budgets collected by Le Play in 1855. Our first is a working cutler living in Whitefriars Street. The house, which has one room on each floor, is less insanitary than most, but damp and sunless. It has water laid on in the cellar and 'latrines'. The four children play in the street or in Temple Gardens. Grandmother helps in the house and the wife carries her husband's work to and from the master's shop in Oxford Street. They live thus:
|Coal and Light||2||10|| There are two umbrellas, a wardrobe (£5), a mirror
(£2), a carpet (£1).
put down on Sunday. The family are in debt.
But the Londoner is worse off than other townsmen because
rent and prices are higher, and he rarely has a garden. A working cutler in
Sheffield has five children, one of whom supports herself as a dressmaker. For
3s. 4d. he has a small house with parlour, kitchen and two bedrooms, with
a garden where he keeps fowls, pigs, pigeons, and canaries, and his wife
dispenses ginger-pop made of water, sugar, cream of tartar, barm, white of egg,
lemon and pepper.
Their expenses are:
|Coal and candles||1||5|
|Coal and light||1||6|
[-134-] Here the earnings are only 28s. a week. But the man is
ambitious. He puts a shilling a week in the offertory: he has saved £40 through
a Building Society, and is making much of his own furniture. The explanation is
simple: he has only one child.
A foundryman in Derbyshire with four children, with 27s. 8d. a week and garden, also enjoys some comfort. They spend 14s. a week on their food and they live thus:
Breakfast at 7: Parents, tea or coffee, with milk and sugar; bread and butter and cold meat. Children, bread and milk.
Dinner at noon: Meat, bread, potatoes, vegetables: fruit or cheese.
Tea at 4: tea, sugar, bread and butter.
Supper at 8: remains of dinner.
He works twelve hours a day for 355 days a year at 4s a day, for a good employer who supports the sick club and the school.
Finally, let us compare an actual budget of 1859 from Manchester, with the estimated budget of the 33s. mechanic of 1834.
|Coal and light||2||5½||1||6|
The differences are not very great. The most important is that the cheapness of coal and clothing enables the 1859
family to eat more. In '34. the bread ration was 24 lb.; in '59 it was 32 lb., besides half a peck of meal.
This brings us to the vital point in the domestic economy of our period. What made all the difference, what gave significance to the Chartist and free-trade movements, was the price of bread. The cost of the 24-lb. bread ration in London was:
in 1830 . . . . 5 3
in 1835 . . . . 3 6
in 1840 . . . . 5 0
in 1845 . . . . 3 9
in 1850 . . . . 3 5
in 1855 . . . . 5 5
in 186o . . . . 4 5
in 1865 . . . . 3 6
[-135-] The high prices of 1855 are war figures. Allowing for this,
the variations reflect, and explain, an undoubted increase of well-being. The
life of the town worker was much more precarious than it is now: he was, even
when employed, much nearer the margin, and he was always in danger of being
swept across it. And even these figures, being for the year, do not tell the
whole truth: the fluctuations within the twelve months were equally steep. Any
one who asks about the state of the poor, therefore, is confronted with the
baffling question: Do you mean the man in good work, with a garden, with the
loaf at 7d., or the same man a few months later, in a slum cellar, out of
work, with the loaf at 1s.* [ It must be remembered that the prices given above are annual
averages and in the year the price of the 4-lb. loaf might fluctuate
considerably.] It is possible to paint one picture, too
painful to contemplate; and another of considerable comfort, and to find that
the same family has sat for both. But if we want a central type by which to
adjust our ideas, a workman who is not as Macaulay bluntly said 'a blackguard'
and who has no aspirations to bourgeois gentility, I think we shall find it, in
real life, somewhere about 30s., like the Derbyshire founder and the Sheffield
cutler, and, in fiction, in the families of Mr. Peggotty, Mr. Toodle, and
Cobbett laid it down that on 10s. a week a labourer who avoided tea and the beer house, had a garden and a good wife who could bake, need never see his children crying for bread. If we accept his ruling we must conclude that in the most-favoured counties (Kent, Stafford, Lincoln, Notts., Derby, Cheshire, the North) the labourer was doing well: the average wage was 12s. In the bad counties (Wilts., Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Wales) he was doing badly on 7s. 6d. or 8s. How badly we know from the experience of the recruiting sergeants: they observed that the young men from the southwest were habitually underfed. But on the whole we have less information about the rural workers than any other class. No one tried to budget for an 8s. family. Perhaps it was too 'disheartening'. In fact after going through the town budgets with their minute allocation of resources we ask how was it possible to keep body and soul together on a Dorset labourer's pay.
In default of figures we must fall back on personal experiences and again I will begin at the top of the scale. Here [-136-] are the recollections of a Derbyshire woman and her mother, going back to about 1855.
'The cottage was on the outskirts of Buxton and what grandfather earned mother did not know. May be 28s. to 30s. a week, for he was a wheelwright. There was a good garden, and grandfather was a grand man at gardens, so there was a plenty of green stuff and some over, and the best of it was sold. There were two pigs, bees and chickens. Mother said often she wished they could eat the things instead of selling them, but they didn't do badly, plenty of plain food, but the children weren't allowed to eat for the sake of eating. There were thirteen of them, all girls but one, so you may fancy what they made of that boy. Meals were breakfast with bread and milk or porridge, sometimes dripping toast or fried bread, and always something extra for grandfather. Tea for the elder ones. The school children took their dinner along, bread and butter, a bit of lardy cake, sometimes cold bacon, or a pasty, or cheese, or bread and dripping, and maybe an apple. Grandfather came home for his dinner, a stew or boiled bacon, vegetables, dumplings, or a rabbit and roast for Sunday. Grandma was a proper cook and would make something out of nothing, and she'd a light hand with puddings and cakes. Grandfather drank beer, but all the girls was brought up teetotal. There was tea and bread and butter, and a cake of some sort, and milk for the little ones and something extra for Grandfather, and a bit of supper for grandfather and grandma before bedtime. The girls went out to service near about when they were thirteen or fourteen and some of them married. My mother was eighteen when she married, and she wore the same dress as her elder sister. On a Sunday afternoon it was a sight, all the children, and the married ones with their children, and the boys that was courting the girls and the little ones all gathered together sitting how they could, and tea and cake for all. The married girls would bring a cake, or maybe an egg or a pat of butter, and the ones that was in service would save some of their tea and sugar for Sundays, and perhaps buy something too. Grandfather wouldn't take much notice of any of them, but he would miss any that didn't come, directly. He was a strict man, took the strap to Grandma once, and mother said they would all have killed him if they had dared, for that. Grandma was a reader and could say poetry. When they was sitting sewing, she'd say poetry to them, and that made it pleasant, for the girls had to sew, like it or not, till half an hour before bedtime. They were not allowed out after dark, except for something special, and then an older and a younger together, and young men that came courting had to be out of the house by 9 o'clock sharp. "Your mother will want you home to shut up and go to bed herself" she used to say, and they had to go, but they loved her, all the lads did. Clothes were plain and home-made but Grandma took [-137-] a pride in her girls. She'd a sister married well who used to send things, and what a big one grew out of, a little one would wear, and then every bit was made up for a rag carpet, or a cushion for grandfather's chair, and patch-work there was, bed covers, curtains, and a fine frill for the mantel shelf with china dogs and funeral cards and brass candlesticks and a warming pan. Pot plants in the window and lace curtains. There was a tall clock as had been grandma's mother's, and some furniture like you see people giving Lord knows what for nowadays. And when grandfather died there was a bit put by and one way and another grandma managed nicely, and said that the Lord had blessed her that she had thirteen good children.'
This might be set against the respectable person living on 48s. a week in a London suburb. Nearer to the average is a Berkshire man's recollections of life about the same time. His father was a shepherd in regular employ at 12s., and made a bit by cow doctoring: he was therefore above the run of the ordinary labourer at 10s.
'Seven on us there were. Father a shepherd. There weren't what there be today, but I don't know as people did the worse for it. Baked. . . had a bit o' garden, milk from the farm - t'was easier to get then than now. For breakfast, porridge or bread and milk and bread and lard and p'raps a bit o' sugar to it. There weren't jam and marmalade and such when I was a boy. Cocoa . . . herb tea . . . . Dinner time were noon, father'd take his wi'en - bacon and bread and may be a bit o' pudden or bread and cheese and onion. Mother'd put it on a plate and tie it up in a spotted hankercher. Dinner'd be vegetables and dumplin, suet pudden and treacle. Rice pudden, Dunch dumplins. What be they? Why suet dumplen wi' apple chopped up in em. I don't recall as there were cake. Bread were what folks ate, tho' mother'd make a lardy cake if t'was anything special like a weddin' or a christenin' or may be a buryin'. Bacon and a bit o' butcher's meat Sundays and potatoes most always. Milk ½ Skim, 3d. the quart new. Beer . . . The women would drink tea when they could ford it. In my father's time t'was too dear. They'd drink herb tea. . . or they'd drink mint tea. They'd give away tea leaves up to the. House and that with a pinch o' fresh tea were'ny zo bad. Wages 9s., 10s., 12s. Father earned 12s., and never were out o' work, and made a bit cow and horse doctoring. Garden stuff and a bit extra at harvest and what Squire give come Christmas and rabbits now and agen. Women went gleanin, men mended boots . . . wi one thing and another they'd make do.'
A little lower down comes this report of life in Northamptonshire in the fifties:
'The principal course at the morning meal would be a small basin [-138-] of bread soaked in water, and seasoned with salt, occasionally a little skimmed milk added, and a small piece of bread tinged with lard in the winter. During the summer season we might at rare intervals get some dripping from the Hall. For dinner we might get plain pudding - flour and water - or pork dumpling, sometimes both, with potatoes or onions added to fill the crust. .. . "Tea" such we called it, bread and potted butter. I never remember grumbling about this being sparingly spread, it was at times so rancid. "Supper?" I might get something very much like a small piece of bread and a little piece of pork rubbed over it. Sunday was a high day, of course. We might get a penny black pudding (one between 4 or 5 of us, with a small piece of fried pork) for breakfast, suet pudding and a pig's foot for five of us to feast thereon. Beef? Yes, we might get a small piece at our feast and a bullock's heart at Xmas. We did occasionally get a pennyworth of bullock's liver. . . . To illuminate our cottage in winter we would get half a pound of candles (10d.) and a rushlight for father to retire and rise with, as it did not consume so rapidly. As an additional drink we had mint tea for summer, and we might get toast and water, especially in winter.'
Which is the typical picture? The truth is that the observer can see anything he wishes to see, because everything is there. But on the whole, the verdict must be that, whether we consider wages or what wages can buy, conditions of labour or housing, the golden age of agriculture left the rural worker rarely better off, usually worse off, at the end than at the beginning. We must think of village life in some such terms as these:
The money wage, which varied according to locality and season, whether the men were married or unmarried, head men or underlings, was not the only source of income. Some men were given one or more meals a day, others an allowance of beer, firewood, or skim milk, others again an allotment.
The men also earned harvest money and the women and children went gleaning. In some counties the church bell was rung to tell them that they might enter the fields, in others they came at the sound of a horn. Sometimes fuel, in the shape of wood or furze, might be obtained, lawfully or otherwise, and dung might be collected and dried. Women also worked in the fields when they could get such work, and obtained other odd jobs. In an old housekeeping book there is mention that in the fifties the Housekeeper at The Hall paid women for extra cleaning at the rate of 2½d. an hour and their 'elevenses' (bread and cheese, beer or tea), and one [-139-] or two aged women recall that 1s. a day and meals was the sum paid for charring, while others give it as 1s. 6d. and sometimes 'a bit o' something to take ome'. A woman with no more knowledge than she had acquired by hearsay and experience, might earn a little by attending a neighbour in illness or a woman in her confinement, by laying out the dead and acting as a 'watcher', by church and school cleaning, by doing' for some bachelor or widower, looking after some one's unwanted child, or an old woman would earn perhaps 3d. a day by tending the children of women out at work.
Children, too, could earn a trifle. Toddling babies were sent out into the lonely fields to earn sixpence a week scaring birds, and older boys and girls would make a penny or two in one way and another. Girls went into service young - as early as nine years old in 1830 and at a rather later age at the end of our period, and were extraordinarily generous to their families. As prospective employers would not take them without decent clothes, which few parents could provide, it was a favourite form of charity and occupation for kind ladies to prepare a little maid's outfit, or to make warm, homely garments for the aged or respectable poor. Kind ladies also did a certain amount of mild doctoring, providing salves, potions, and bandages. When a baby was expected a 'maternity bag' might be borrowed, and was there a death, the squire's or parson's lady would doubtless provide 'a bit o' black'.
Another recognized method of obtaining help in cases where the death of a horse, donkey, or cow might bring starvation within sight of the owner was to obtain the signature of some respectable person to a statement of the facts. The horse or cow 'paper' was then taken round the neighbourhood, first to persons of importance whose names were affixed to it to encourage the others. A man might add to his wages by acting as a cow or horse doctor. A woman might brew medicines from herbs and other less pleasant ingredients, such as mice, snails, worms, toads, hairs from horses' tails, and even nail parings, or they might even indulge in a little witchcraft. Such doctoring and witching were often employed to obtain abortion, a not uncommon practice both in country and in town.
Poaching, too, helped to keep the pot boiling. Many [-140-] poachers were the employees of town game dealers who organized poaching gangs or sent pimps to persuade local men to poach. In the last resort, an easing of hunger pangs might be achieved by the pilfering of turnips, and pig, cattle, and fowl food.
The poor benefited, too, by the charity of better-off folk, especially the wives of squires and clergy, though many of the latter, especially while their husbands were still curates, were themselves painfully poor. Most of the cookery-books of the period contain recipes for food for the poor. In addition to occasional gifts of 'nourishing broth' which the poor disliked but ate for lack of anything better, it was usual to give away used tea-leaves and coffee-grounds, the 'boilings' (water in which meat had been cooked) and broken meats, and even cinders to the poor'. With the 'boilings' referred to the women would make a dinner of 'Brewis' consisting of bread crusts or oatmeal, seasoned and soaked in the liquid. Substantial gifts of food, blankets, and clothes were made at Christmas, and in some houses it was the custom to have jars placed on the sideboard into which food was served from the table and taken to invalids and old people. A lady now recalls how, in the sixties, the governess and children would set out, each with a gallipot full of food for the 'respectable poor'. At one ducal establishment, mutton chops were thrown out of the windows to those whose poverty or lack of self-respect made such alms-receiving endurable.* [*The quantity and nature of the charity is an indication of the volume of the poverty.]
When all else failed there was Parish Relief or the dreaded Workhouse, not only for the slacker, the malingerer, and the drunkard, but for those who had lived decent hard-working lives, and whose only crime was the poverty which unemployment, sickness, or old age, made them powerless to avert. This coming to the Workhouse, Poorhouse, or Bastille, as it was known, was a cruel thing to decent people, who exchanged liberty and all that they knew of home and of loving companionship, for a harsh discipline, or worse, a brutal tyranny, squalor, and maybe semi-starvation, for although the diet when set out on paper may seem an improvement on anything that the lower-paid labourer could afford, it would appear that the paper diet and the real diet differed widely. At Andover, one of the tasks imposed on male paupers was [-141-] o crush bones, and so hungry were they that they fought among themselves for the stinking gristle and marrow.
One decided advantage the rural worker had was air and sunlight. Cottages were often damp and dark: fever brooded over undrained hamlets: the drinking water was polluted: whole counties were underfed. But there is no denying the figures of child mortality. In 1831 the death-rate under five in England as a whole was 348 per 1,000. But this meant 250 in the North Riding, 390 in the West, 320 in Devon, 440 in Plymouth, 240 in Herefordshire, and 480 in Nottingham.
In the later years of the seventeen hundreds and throughout our period large numbers of country folk had moved into the towns and crowded into the already crowded and insanitary dwellings. Other buildings which had seen better days fell vacant as the richer people moved into pleasanter surroundings, and were taken possession of by the poor, whole families, or may be two or three families, living in one room, such rooms becoming known in the slang of the twenties as 'slums', a term which later was used to describe a debased neighbourhood. Then the jerry-builder seized his opportunity and as there were few, if any, building regulations, he was quick to avail himself of it. The jerry-builder built to make money, not to make homes, and his activities, and the neglect of the town authorities to guide and restrict them, brought with them death and disease, discomfort and the sadness which comes of living in ugly, squalid surroundings. The authorities were indeed right when they admitted that amongst the town poor there was now 'a low and grovelling style of living'. True, the new houses did not have cellars, in which poor families could live rat-like, as many did in the old houses, but neither did they have foundations. The walls were but half a brick thick, the houses built back to back without ventilation or drainage. Double rows of these closely packed brick boxes formed courts with, perhaps for twenty houses containing as many persons as could be packed into them, a pump at one end and a privy at the other.
The window tax (repealed in 1851) was a curse to dwellers tenement houses. To escape the tax, houses were built with as few openings as possible, and closets, privies, passages, cellars, and roofs were left unventilated. More often than not their few windows looked on to the close-set wall [-142-] of another building or over a street into which refuse was thrown, or in some cases, into the yard of a slaughter-house.
Another hardship was the lack of water. In the slums of Drury Lane, for example, water was only turned on for about an hour or even less a day. The people fought for it when running and went begging for it when it was turned off. At the week-end, water was turned off on Saturday at 6 o'clock and no more was to be had until Monday.* [ *Pamphlet by George Godwin, F.R.S., editor of The Builder, 1865.] If the pump was some distance away water must be bought from carriers or water-carts.
Mr. Thomas Ashton of Hyde, a cotton magnate, found that his workpeople often paid as much as one shilling a week to the water-carrier, and that some families paid two shillings a week for carted water, so he then built two hundred and thirty houses for his workpeople, and laid water on at a charge of 3d. a week. No wonder the poor were dirty; the wonder was that they went on trying to be clean, washing in the costly water clothes which when hung out to dry were quickly covered with smuts.
The foul atmosphere of industrial towns was another hardship to the housewife and also a health-reducing factor. It is a sad little item in a tale of miseries that Faucher, a French visitor, said that one of the evils of which the poor were most conscious in Leeds was the smoke that destroyed their little window gardens. In some towns there were wash-houses, but generally the prices charged were too high for the poor to pay.
The filth amongst which many working-folk were obliged to live caused the courts and yards to swarm with flies. It was not then generally realized that disease may be fly-borne, or that their presence accounted for the fact that food became putrid almost at once.
The working-classes were helpless. But reformers had come to see that all their plans were likely to be shipwrecked on the housing difficulty. They took advantage of the humanitarian and profit-making instinct together and launched the model dwelling at economic rents. Wise employers had shown the way. As Mr. Edmund Ashworth, an employer with enlightened views, pointed out, 'whatever the weekly income, the housewife could never make such a house comfortable. . . It might readily be supposed that the [-143-] husband would not find the comfort he wished... the public- house would be his only resort.'
The Ashworths started an experimental housing scheme, led to do so by the outbreak of that dread bogy 'the fever', which was due to filth. They began a system of health visiting, to learn that habits of life were in most cases caused by conditions of life, so they built bigger and better cottages, the tenants of which soon showed 'better habits and a more respectable feeling in society .' * [*The Age of The Chartists, by J. L. and Barbara Hammond.]
The best-sized houses for general use were, they found, those with a living-room 15 by 9 feet, a back kitchen the same size, and three bedrooms.
The Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Poor was founded in 1842, and the tenement for which Prince Albert received the Gold Medal Class VII at the Great Exhibition represents the highest point reached by housing science in our period. There are four flats in a block, with external staircase. Each has a lobby, a living- room with heating cupboard (150 sq. ft.); scullery with sink, rack, dustshaft and ventilator, meatsafe, and coal-bin; three bedrooms with external ventilation (one of 100 sq. ft., two of 50); a water-closet flushed from a cistern. They cost about £450 a flat and could be let at 3s. 6d. to 4S. Wherever these Model Dwellings rose, fever disappeared as by magic. But they could not rise fast enough. A rent of 4s. was only within the reach of a mechanic in good and regular work, and the slums which were one of the unsolved problems of early Victorian England remain an unsolved problem still.
§ 8. THE DOMESTIC SERVANT
|½lb. of tea per month (11s. 8d. per lb.)||3||10||0|
|½lb. of sugar per week (8d. per lb.)||17||4|
|4 prs. shoes||18||0|
|2 prs. black worsted stockings||4||0|
|2 prs. white cotton||5||0|
|Bonnet, shawl, pattens, ribands, &c||2||0||0|
Boots were not then worn, stout shoes taking their place, and
the pattens mentioned were wooden soles with straps mounted on a ring of iron
and were used for many a year after the end of our period.
Pattens were more generally worn in the south of England and clogs - that is wooden shoes - in the north. The latter might be worn in place of shoes, but pattens were designed to keep the wearer's shoes out of the mud and damp.
The dresses were made of print, a stuff dress as a rule being too expensive for any but upper servants earning what were then considered to be high wages. A housekeeper or a head nurse might wear stuff, and on occasions, silk.
Servants of lesser importance were content with print - often of a lilac colour - and charming a pretty girl must have looked in a clean print frock, white cap with its gay ribbon, white cotton stockings, and black shoes.
The outdoor dress consisted of a shawl and a straw bonnet [-150-] tied with a ribbon. Cap and bonnet-ribbons were almost the only pieces of finery to which the young servant might aspire. Writing of an establishment in a small way in 1842, Thackeray causes Mr. Hobson* [ * Hobson's Choice, or the Tribulations of a Gentleman in search of a manservant, by W. M. Thackeray.] to say of his female servants, 'I like to be waited on by a neat-handed Phillis of a girl in her nice fitting gown, and a pink ribbon in her cap', and an old woman now in her nineties tells how she left service to be married, and wore at her wedding a bonnet with quillings of ribbon inside the brim and tied with ribbon, and a dress of check silk made from material brought home by a sailor-brother, and which had been worn by her elder sister at her wedding.
We hear of these cap ribbons in Handley Cross** (1854) [** Handley Cross, by R. S. Surtees.] when Mr. Jorrocks went to visit Sir Archibald Depecarde of Pluckwelle's Park. Sir Archy was away when his guests arrived, so the footman returns with' a smiling comely-looking personage, dressed in black silk, with sky-blue ribbons in her jaunty little cap and collar'.
Later in the century when stuffs became cheaper, the black afternoon dress came into fashion. Some old housekeeping records show that in 1850 lilac prints, white aprons and caps were the morning uniform of the maids in a large country house, these dresses being replaced in the afternoon by black stuff dresses, white caps and aprons, all of which, until the advent of the sewing-machine, were made by hand.
The fashion of a maid-servant's working dress varied little throughout the years with which we deal. The skirt to some extent followed the mode as regards width, though even in the crinoline and bustle period these articles of dress were not worn under the worker's print. They were kept for wear under the Sunday dress and if not available, the girl would do her best by other means to attain a fashionable appearance. Mrs. Carlyle notes the fact that 'the very servant girls wear bustles... a maid went out one Sunday with three kitchen dusters pinned on as a substitute ' *** [*** 3 Bustles were worn before crinolines came into fashion, and again after the crinoline period.] Housekeepers, head nurses and ladies'-maids, however, followed the fashions more closely.
Footmen were required to be tall and of good appearance [-151-] and were matched like carriage horses as to height and build, and when the 'charyot' or 'charrut' was used two were required to stand at the back, the coachman sitting in lonely state on the box, which was covered by an elaborately trimmed hammer-cloth. As the century grew older but one footman or carriage groom attended the more ordinary-looking carriages which took the place of chariots. To this day, however, a few State 'charyots' or coaches exist and make an appearance on occasions of great ceremony.
When My Lord or My Lady drove out there must be two footmen, but if the governess or nurse with her charges was permitted to use the great carriage one footman sufficed. Footmen were supplied with livery and silk stockings and were expected to have well-developed calves; if nature was unkind the calves were improved by padding. It was a favourite trick of street boys to throw mud at the white silk-clad legs of footmen, and a favourite trick of footmen to 'sit square', that is, to rest themselves by sitting with their legs dangling over the wheels on either side of the coachman when their employers had been set down and the servant could become a human being rather than an automaton.
In the early part of our period traffic was practically unregulated and on occasions of large parties much confusion resulted, and the service of the footmen might be required to disentangle the horses and bring them and the carriage to the appointed place. A footman, or in families of lesser importance, a page, was required to attend fashionable ladies when walking in town and to carry the family prayer books when they went to church.
'Homes and Habits' by Mrs. C. S. Peel
from Early Victorian England, 1830-1865, ed. G.M.Young, Oxford University Press, pub. 1934