Winston Churchill in Death Sits Down to Dinner

Churchil 1885 in Hussars uniform

Churchill in 1885 in his Hussar’s uniform

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston S. Churchill

Winston Spencer Churchill was the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough and Lady Randolph Churchill  (née Jennie Jerome) daughter of an American millionaire. As a third grandson of a duke, Winston would inherit no title and very little money. Continue reading

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Sir Thomas Beecham and the Importance of Starting, and Finishing, Together


April 29, 1879 – March 8, 1961

There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between. Sir Thomas Beecham


Sir Thomas Beecham by Emu in 1919

Beecham’s grandfather, also Thomas Beecham, was the rich industrialist who owned Beecham’s Powders, a laxative and cure-all for headache and stiffness of the joints.


In 1899, Hans Richter, due to conduct the Hallé Orchestra in a concert in St Helen’s, fell ill; Thomas’s father, Joseph Beecham, who was the mayor of St Helen’s, declared that his prodigiously talented 20-year-old son should step in. From there, the young conductor – entirely self-taught – moved on in leaps and bounds.


Thomas Beecham in 1910

Sir Thomas, who was extraordinarily handsome and possessed of a stupendous ego, bankrolled his Beecham Symphony Orchestra in 1909 and the Beecham Opera Company in 1915. He was also the impresario of His Majesty’s Theatre and the director of the Royal Opera House.


Thomas Beecham with Maud, Lady Cunard, the fundraising Britannia of Covent Garden and his mistress

Musically gifted though he was, he was perhaps more famous for his rapier wit. Once he described the sound of the harpsichord as “two skeletons copulating on a tin roof”; on another occasion he declared that “the British may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes”. His pointed goatee beard, his proud and portly stature and, most of all, that dry, acerbic wit have passed into musical mythology.

Thomas Beecham

Sir Thomas Beecham in middle age –giving it his all.

But Sir Thomas demanded the very highest standards from his players. He once noticed that his leading cellist was not striving for the perfection required of her. He brought the music to a halt and said to her, in front of the entire orchestra, “Now, madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of bringing pleasure to thousands and all you can do is scratch it!”

Brass bands are all very well in their place – outdoors and several miles away.

Sir Thomas, Lady Cunard’s lover for many years, was often unfaithful to her as he was so irresistible to women. When his wife died after many years into their marriage Lady Cunard confidently expected Sir Thomas to marry her, but he abandoned her in favor of a much younger woman.

Death Sits Down to Dinner

Although “Sir Thom” as he is referred to by Lord and Montfort in DEATH SITS DOWN TO DINNER only has a walk on part –with no lines — they enjoy telling stories about some of his more eccentric adventures with Lady Cunard.

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Mrs. Jackson and the Lancashire Witches

Lancashire Jack o lantern

On All Hallows’ Eve downstairs in the servants’ hall at Iyntwood the maids light their turnip jack o’ lanterns and settle down with their cider and toasted nuts casting hopeful looks at the housekeeper to see if she is in the mood to tell them a story.  And Mrs. Jackson –who comes from Lancashire –does not disappoint, because natives of that county know a thing or two about witches and have learned the hard way that it is best to be polite if they come across one of them.

Lancashire witches moonlight

“Are you sitting quite comfortably?” she asks the youngest housemaids in her soft Lancs accent, meaning they must not fidget . “Then I will begin. Long, long ago there were three covens of wild witches scattered throughout the moors and woodlands of Lancashire: the Pendleton, Demdike and Hedgerow witches they were called. Four times a year, these three witch families got together to celebrate the festivals of Samhain, Beltane, Imboc and Lammas on Malkin Hill in an ancient stone tower on the edge of the Lancashire moors.

They had a fine old time of it, they swapped recipes for their best spells, drank a lot of good strong cider, Scrumpy is another name for it, and once they even managed to conjure up a strange looking beast that bore a passing resemblance to a goat with long black shaggy hair that walked on two legs.

Lancashire witches hell scene

The villagers in the area feared and respected these witches, who should not be confused with wise-women and herbalists –what we sometimes call White Witches –any more than you would confuse a tabby cat with a tiger if you ever came across one. Their magic was fearfully strong and if someone from a nearby farm or village were was stupid enough to cross a witch, and I mean literally to make the sign of a cross if they saw one, then woe betide them. For everything they possessed from their sheep dog to their prize heifer would perish. But witches like to keep to themselves so all was peaceable enough for the most part.

Lancashire Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Then came the dark days of Oliver Cromwell, Old Ironsides as he was affectionately referred to. He split the country in two, executed the king and appointed himself Lord Protector of England. His rule was a strict one; he took a dim view of singing, dancing, theater and witches both tame and wild, and he was determined to rid England of magic once and for all. As is usual in the ways of mankind it turned out to be a thoroughly botched job. Many decent women, herb-wives or lonely half-mad old widows, were condemned to die as witches in those terrible times. And inevitably the day came when the whole witch-hunting business took a nasty turn for the worse.

Lancashire witches

Billy Norris was herding his sheep to market when he came across a common or garden Hedgerow witch. She was down in a ditch gathering Deadly Nightshade berries to make flying ointment for the winter. Each coven had its own recipe for flying ointment and every autumn they made masses of the stuff to last them through the winter.

Lancashire witch cursing

Billy Norris stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the witch standing knee deep in stinging nettles. He tried to sidle past her, but he was so nervous he scared one of the sheep across the lane and without his dog, who was cowering behind a tree, to nip it back into the herd it trampled the basket of berries at the old girl’s feet. She swore at Billy using quite appalling language and what was left of his nerve deserted him completely. He lost his head and made the sign of the cross. The witch, her name was Batty Heller, lifted an extraordinarily long middle finger and pointed straight and true and then melted into the hawthorn hedge and disappeared.

Lancashire witches graves

The next day every one of Billy’s sheep died. Two days after that his dog had a fit and died and as Billywas standing at the pump filling a pail of water he fell to the ground paralyzed, his hair stark white. Two days later a villager stumbled on Batty Heller in a graveyard cutting down branches of hemlock, and the day after she was seen digging up Monkshood roots in someone’s garden. The villagers decided that they had had enough.

Lancashire Mathew Hopkins Withc finder General

Mathew Hopkins Witch Finder General interrogating witches and their familiars.

They went to the local constable who got on his horse and rode into Lancaster to report that there was a dangerous witch at large down Demdike way. Without hesitating the chief constable sent for  Mathew Hopkins, the Witch Finder General and this is when things got out of hand. The Witch Finder arrived within the week with a large force of men carefully trained to search out witches.

They herded up nearly forty women, most of them innocent old crones, but among them was a particular ugly old boot whose name was Alizon Caxxon. There were plenty of villagers ready to swear that they had seen Alizon flying over the moors, upside down, on a great brown toad. And poor old Alizon was put to the question.

The things they did to Alizon Caxxon are too terrible to relate. And with you young girls already so scared I will just leave you to imagine the worst and when you have, double it and still you won’t come up with the sort of cruel things they did to the poor wretch.

Lancashire witch trils

She confessed to witchcraft of the worst kind, to curses and conjuring, and finally broken she admitted to disturbing Christian graves. With a bit more ‘questioning’, she coughed up the names of Gertie Gallavantz, Batty Heller, the beautiful Esmeralda and Square Betty, and finally she gave them Old Demdike.

Lancashire Malkin Tower

The Witchfinder General sent his men to lie in wait at Malkin tower at the next full-moon and the following morning they brought all five women in and stowed them away in the dungeons at Lancaster Prison. When they found Old Demdike her familiar Marmaduke, a large and particularly angry black cat, scratched and bit three men before he ran yowling into the night as they wrestled the old dame to the ground. Thanks to Marmaduke’s long yellow teeth their bites turned septic giving further proof that the old lady was a witch.

Word went out that for once six real witches were to be burnt at the stake on the next market day in Lancaster. The people poured in from every village around. They bit into toffee apples, scoffed down hot apple fritters and drank cider, for it was October and the day before All Hallows’ Eve. Then a great mob of them waited for the witches to be trundled out in chains from the prison, dragged up onto the towering bonfires and tied to stakes.

Lancashire watches

The fires were lit and the flames leapt into the night sky making it as bright as day in the town square. The witches began to shriek and the simple country folk jeered and threw whatever they could lay their hands on at them. Then Old Demdike lifted up her voice over the roar of the flames and cried out a long and complicated backwards blessing –what witches sometimes call a curse.

Lancashire witches lightning

It was a blood chilling sound and in that moment the square went completely dark and the night became bitterly cold. Seconds passed, the night grew blacker still, and the crowd crouched low to the ground, whimpering in fear. Still blacker and no one could see a hand in front of their face, but they could certainly hear Old Demdike as she screamed out her curse over the crackle of flames the people could no longer see: Ouy peek dna ouy ssleb drol eht yam, ouy nopu enish ot ecaf sih ekam dna (which you might understand if you hold this up to a mirror)

When her voice and those of her sisters became silent the darkness faded and the flames rekindled and leapt up higher and brighter than before as cloud after cloud of bats lifted up out of the fires and flapped up into the night sky.

lancashire swarm of bats


For the next three days and nights the skies poured rain thick with soot, a plague of toads climbed out of village pumps and wells until the ground was covered with them, cattle stopped eating and died, and no one dare leave their cottage after dark because of the terrifying apparitions that raced across the night skies. And when all was over and the bravest of witch finders climbed Malkin Hill they found that the tower had been split in two by a great bolt of lightning.



And the rest of the Lancashire witches lucky to avoid capture? They disappeared, driven deeper into the moors and the forests and were only glimpsed on All Hallows’ Eve as they flew through the night sky to Malkin Tower. And if you are foolish enough to be out after sunset on this night and look up and see a witch flying upside down on a toad whatever you do, look down!”

Note: Lancashire had more witch trials than any other county in England during the Witch Finder General’ time. I stole the witches’ name from Lancashire folk lore. But Mrs. Jackson swears that every word of this story is true!

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Maud, Lady Cunard and the Wounding Repartee

Maud Cunard photo

American socialite Maud Alice Burke, later Lady Cunard, known as Emerald


‘Let me introduce you to the man who killed Rasputin,’ Maud Cunard said to guests attending her large dinner party for the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. Pavlovich and his friend Prince Felix Yasupov were indeed the men who had taken hours to kill the Mad Monk, Rasputin, the favorite of the Tsarina who resisting poison, bludgeoning on the head, and stabbing was finally chased from the house to be killed by a bullet in the head and then thrown into the river. Mortified at Maud Cunard’s outrageous introduction the Grand Duke Pavlovich turned on his heel and left her house, never to return.



Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia was one of the few Romanovs to escape murder by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution.


She was the American wife of Bache Cunard, the fabulously rich grandson of shipping magnate Samuel Cunard, who founded the Cunard Line. It was a marriage that she found so unforgivably boring that she abandoned Bache and went to live in London where she assumed the more interesting first name of Emerald. The couple was to legally separate, but Bache Cunard financially supported his independent wife for the rest of his life.


Bache Cunard

Sir Bache Cunard, born in New York in 1851, was the eldest son of Sir Edward Cunard – shipping magnate


Lady Cunard was probably the most lavish hostess of her day and entertained fashionable London society at countless scintillating dinners, innumerable extravagant balls, and invitations to ultrasophisticated country-house parties at her husband’s country seat at Neville-Holt Hall.. Her celebrated London salon was a center for musicians, painters, sculptors, poets, and writers, as well as politicians (anyone was invited as long as he or she was famous or interesting), but nerves of iron were necessary to withstand Maud’s quicksilver repartee and wounding tongue.


Neville Holt Hall

Nevill Holt Hall in Leicestershire. The Cunard shipping family owned the estate from 1876 to 1912


Herbert Asquith, the prime minister, considered her a dangerous woman, because although she was not greatly interested in politics, she beguiled senior politicians into revealing state information at her dinner table. Maud was renowned for serving up her guests’ frailties at dinner after the fish course. However, there was one occasion when Maud Cunard met her equal in the hands of F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead,  a skilled orator, and close friend of Winston Churchill, who was noted for his staunch opposition to Irish Nationalism,  pugnacious views, and hard living.


F.E. Smith 1st Lord Birkenhead

F. E. Smith M.P. depicted in Vanity Fair, January 1907


Do you mind if I smoke?” Lord Birkenhead asked Lady Cunard long before dinner was over.

“Do you mind if we eat?” Lady Cunard responded sweetly.

“Not if you do it quietly,” retorted his lordship.

by Anthony Wysard, pencil and watercolour, published 1928

Maud Cunard by Anthony Wysard, pencil and watercolour, published 1928


At a time when discreet infidelity was an acceptable pursuit among the aristocracy, Maud was the longtime mistress of Sir Thomas Beecham. The anecdote related by Lady Shackleton in Death Sits Down to Dinner about the window-cleaner spotting Lady Cunard in bed with Sir Thomas is actually true, and nearly cost Lady Cunard her powerful place in society.

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Daisy Brook and the Imprudent Letter


Daisy Brook, who later became Daisy Greville, the Countess of Warwick, was one of the early Edwardian era’s great beauties and the center of it’s many scandals.

Daisy_Greville2She featured in DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN as an example of imprudence and reckless behavior. “I will not be used as an example of indiscretion for generations of silly girls, like poor Daisy Brook,” cried one of Clementine’s friends when discovered to be involved in an illicit affair that might become public.


Daisy was called the Babbling Brook because her many clandestine affairs were well known in Society, usually leaked inadvertently by Daisy. It was quite fashionable for a married woman to take lovers – but very unfashionable to be indiscrete.

Lord_Charles_Beresford_-_in_Naval_Uniform_late_1880s_02In her early marriage to Lord Brook Daisy fell in love with Lord Charles Beresford – a serial lady killer with a long-suffering, plain wife who was also extremely rich. Daisy was so in infatuated with Lord Charles that she burst into Lady Charles’s bedroom at a country house party and announced that she and Lord Charles were passionately in love and were  going to elope. Lady Charles put up with a lot from her husband, but this sort of dangerous impetuosity from his mistress would not be tolerated. Rich wives have a lot of clout with their husbands, Lady Charles didn’t say a word to Daisy, but collected her husband and took him off home.

Inevitably this incident cooled Lord Charles’s ardor for the reckless Daisy, and he abandoned her to concentrate his energies on women who did not specialize in dramatics. But during the interim Lady Charles became pregnant. Daisy outraged that her lover had been unfaithful to her – with his wife – and convinced that the baby was legitimate as no one, in Daisy’s opinion,  could possibly be interested in the very unattractive Lady Charles, wrote a letter to Lord Charles.  It was quite a graphic piece of writing apparently. In it Daisy proclaimed her outrage at how he could have gone from her to the very unattractive Lady Charles, and for good measure reminisced about certain details of their physical love. Somehow or other, in the way letters rashly written in the heat of the moment often do, it was delivered to Lady Charles instead of to her husband. Who not only opened the letter and read it, but consulted her solicitor.

Prince of WalesIn a panic Daisy realized that the letter in the wrong hands and coupled with legal advice might very well be her downfall in Society went to her dear friend Bertie the Prince of Wales – who was to become King Edward VII. It was during this tearful scene with the gorgeous Daisy begging for help that Bertie fell in love with her.

Bertie was the consummate gallant, and completely besotted by Daisy went into action immediately. At 2 a.m. on a rainy morning he rousted the unfortunate solicitor from his bed and demanded to see the letter. Once read Bertie knew the dreadful thing must never come to light. The solicitor would not hand the letter over, so Bertie went to Lady Charles, who refused to return the letter to Daisy, unless Daisy was willing to take herself off to the Continent for the rest of the season.

Daisy 1904_1905_countess_of_warwiBertie was not a man to threaten; he told Lady Charles that if she used the letter in any way whatsoever it might be her who would be ostracized by Society. Again Lady Charles refused to part with the letter. To the complete delight of London Society, who were fully aware of what was going on, Bertie made sure the Brooks were invited everywhere and assiduously cut Lady Charles from any function that involved him. Angry that his friend the Prince of Wales was snubbing his wife,  Lord Charles stormed over to Marlborough House and in a set to with the prince unfortunately gave him a shove and threatened to knock his block off! Luckily, Lord Charles was called away to sea in the service of the Royal Navy before he could do any more damage to his relationship with the future King, leaving his wife to stew on the sidelines of the London Season until she finally agreed to destroy Daisy’s letter.

And Daisy Brook? Well, she went on to become the extraordinarily rich Countess of Warwick and Bertie’s long term mistress.

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Eric Horne and What the Butler Saw

Any novel, movie or TV series about the British aristocracy in the early 1900s never fails to emphasize the tremendous loyalty displayed by the servant classes for their masters.  And particularly the devotion of butlers and valets.

For single men about town their valets also performed the task of butlering. They styled themselves as  gentleman’s gentleman. In larger establishments and country houses the master of the house usually had a butler and a valet, though some butlers also valeted their masters.


Without his gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s life would be a mess. In P.G. Wodehouse’s delightful stories Jeeves shows his devotion to Bertie by doing his thinking for him.


Bertie Wooster: Jeeves, I have to make one thing crystal clear.

Jeeves: Yes, sir?

Bertie Wooster: I am not one of those fellows who become absolute slaves to their valets.

Jeeves: [as if shocked] No, sir.

Bertie Wooster: Just as long as we understand each other.

Jeeves: Perfectly, sir.


In Downton Abbey there are times when one almost feels that Lord Grantham has a better relationship with his butler and his valet than he does with his own family and Carson’s devotion is as unquestioning as his lordship’s Labrador:

Carson GRantham cricket

Carson: I couldn’t work for a man that I don’t respect. And I certainly couldn’t leave Downton for him.

Lord Grantham: I shall take that as a compliment. For myself and for my house.



Dorothy L Sayer’s elegant and aristocrat detective Lord Peter Wimsey is remarkably off-hand, almost flippant, about the devoted service he receives from his man, Bunter who is also Wimsey’s humble ‘Watson’ in his sleuthing hobby:


Bunter: My old mother always used to say, my lord, that facts are like cows. If you stare them in the face hard enough, they generally run away

Lord Peter Wimsey: Your mother, Bunter? Oh, I never knew you had one. I always thought you just sort of came along already-made, so it were.



I searched for a manservant who did not offer the sort of slavish loyalty that butlers of fiction seem to provide, but treated the job as just that; a means of earning a living without being a cringing toady, and here he is.


Eric Horne was butlering at the end of the 19th century well into the 20th and he wrote a wonderful book called What the Butler Winked At from his private diary when he retired. Eric saw it all: indiscretions, infidelities, eccentricities, the penny-pinching of the exceedingly rich toward the people who looked after their welfare, drunken cooks, the tremendous snobbery that existed between upper and lower servants,. He remained unimpressed – especially by the gentry, and rarely Butler wined atkept a post for longer than two years. Eric enjoyed change.

He was intelligent and understood the personal service business so well he had his pick of butlering jobs. One of the most interesting was a seven month stint to a fabulously rich Indian Prince, a close friend of George V. Eric found the Prince to be a man of splendid disposition ‘sharp as a needle with intelligence that far surpassed that of any Englishman’ he had met. He set up the Prince’s large London establishment in a West End mansion rented for the Season where the Prince entertained society on lavish scale and, on the QT, a stream of pretty actresses.


During the shooting month of August the Prince rented a substantial castle in Scotland and Eric was there to ensure smooth sailing for the many guests. There was a railway strike and the scotch ran out, but this problem was solved instantly by Eric who had befriended a local merchant. As the castle’s major domo Eric chose the menu for twelve course dinners and played his violin during the meal.  Haggis as well as fresh local oysters were to be served at every dinner, by order of the Prince, and Eric had to nursemaid a guest who won a competition to see how many oysters he could eat washed down with a jeroboam of champagne.


Toward the end of his stay the Prince received phone call from Balmoral that the King and Queen would be motoring over to visit him the day before he returned to London. All preparations were made for a sumptuous luncheon, but there was no sign of the royal party or word from Balmoral. The Prince was mystified but too polite to telephone to find out what had happened. He departed the following morning leaving Eric to pack up the house before taking the train down to London. And of course there had been a mix-up in dates and at lunch time the King and Queen arrived and it was up to Eric to entertain them. He made the old Scottish castle as welcoming as he could; his skills as the perfect butler made him an admirable host. He conducted the royal couple around the principal rooms of the castle, with a little potted history to go with. Gave them a delicious luncheon put together from an emergency picnic, and discussed the season’s grouse coverts with the King. He might have given them a tune or two on his violin!

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Dame Nellie Melba and the Silver Voice with a Brass Tongue

At the name of Melba… crowned heads would nod respectful acknowledgment, noble lords and ladies would open their doors, newspaper editors would clear space for headlines, theatre managers would turn pale, and the house would be full.


Melba Phelia in 1889

Melba as Ophelia in 1889


Her voice was pure and pitch perfect she never slid up to her High C but merely produced it with effortless spot-on perfection.  The Tsar paid tribute; Paris, Monte Carlo and Brussels were as crowns strewn in her path. Italy was duly impressed but could not quite warm to the lady, they felt that she could not act and her voice was too cold. Germany, where they were rather more musical, was not too keen at all – she did not have what it took for Wagner.


Melba as Violette in La traviata 1900

Melba’s costume for Violette in La Traviata 1900s


At Covent Garden, where space backstage was at a premium, a dressing-room marked ‘Melba’ was always exclusively hers. At the Metropolitan her name in the roll of honor led all the rest. Escoffier named a peach and ice-cream dessert, Peach Melba, in her honor for the Coronation year of 1911.



Peach Melba – Escoffier for the 1911 Coronation of George V


Nellie Melba was not only one of the greatest voices of the Golden Age she was its greatest personality. Quick witted, outspoken and unpredictable she held her ground at center stage against rival sopranos, male colleagues and conductors. The silvery quality of her voice was the legend of the era. For fifteen years on both sides of the turn of the century she was renowned as the world’s greatest soprano. So was her tongue. The public adored her, musicians tended not to, but they praised her. Her tempestuous relationship with Puccini made any rehearsal a nightmare. On one occasion after Puccini had made her re-sing an entire aria, he threw down his baton and shrieked: “No, no, no. You sing my music. You don’t sing Melba-Puccini.” They had to wait for several days before Melba would agree to continue with rehearsals.


Melba cloak i Lohengrin

The cloak worn by Melba in Lohengrin 1920


“…the voice, pure and limpid, with an adorable timbre and perfect accuracy, emerges with the greatest ease.” Arthur Pougin, said of her in Paris. But she was so unspeakably rude to everyone that it took the intervention of Lady de Grey (later the Marchioness of Ripon) to prevent her from being fired from the opera house in Brussels and it was only with the support of the British nobility and particularly the Marchioness of Ripon that Melba made her break through to become a world superstar.


Melba State Performance covent garden May 1914 for Georgwe V

Melba’s state performance at Covent Garden May 1914 for George V


The more famous she became the more outrageous her behavior became. She insulted the press, journalists and anyone who disagreed with her, and got away with it. She invariably would finish her concerts with ‘Home, sweet home’, leaving everyone misty eyed and begging for more. And when it was announced (not before time, some thought) that the diva might soon retire to her native Australia, the editor of The Musical Times wrote under the headline THE DIVA TO GO HOME: ‘And by all means why not? As the Diva has melodiously declared (only too often), there’s no place like it.’


Melba as Desdemona 1924

Melba as Desdemona in 1924





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The Goddess of the Hunt and Riding Aside


Princess Mary painted by Alfred Munnings


Fox-hunting – the great pastime of the English countryman, conjures up vivid images. But women riders –  sitting beautifully upright on their great glossy horses, flowing habits cascading, top hats fixed firmly over neatly coiled and netted hair, veils secured across haughty faces, all galloping along at great speed and daringly taking all  obstacles have all my admiration. The Dianas of the hunting field. What courage! What style! How on earth did they stay on their horses?


Jules Pellier invented a saddle with two pommels to hold the rider more securely in place so she could gallop and jump in the hunting field.

Here is a perfect illustration to demonstrate exactly how perching on her horse like the fearless huntress she was, with no apparent effort or aids to stay on the horses back was achieved. Underneath the flowing skirt of her navy worsted habit was the strangest saddle imaginable. It looked lop-sided and bulky because it was. It involved two pommels a fixed head and a leaping head.  One supported the right thigh, and the second one held her left thigh secure between pommel and stirrup.When she was ready to gallop across the field and take a five barred gate she pressed her left thigh up against the leaping pommel and her right thigh downward and there was no toppling!


Master of Foxhounds – Alfred Munning

The greatest danger to a rider seated aside in the hunting field was that she was very much locked into position on her horse. Men seated astride in their small hunt saddles were thrown free if their horse fell, but riders aside were trapped in place. Imagine a 1200 pound horse falling over with you trapped in place on its side. Also because of the height of the fixed head, it was also very difficult for a rider aside to drop her hands effectively to stop her horse


The long right side of the skirt could be lifted up and buttoned behind in the small of the back. But when the rider was seated aside on her horse, the skirt fell evenly to cover her legs completely.

The riding habit worn in the early 1900s had what was called a pocket for the right leg, which sat higher on the horse and would have lifted the hem up so you could see part of the rider’s leg. So the right hand side of the skirt was diagonally longer and when the rider was seated aside on her horse the skirt fell equally to the edge of her boots, completely concealing her legs. When she was walking around this elongated right side of her skirt was lifted and buttoned up in the small of her back giving her habit a lovely line.


Riding jodhpurs with a modesty apron

In the 1900s women started to ride astride, giving them greater freedom and more contacts with their mount. They wore riding jodphurs, and over these were wrapped an apron skirt modestly covering her parted thighs! Hugely frowned on and forbidden by some hunts women nevertheless prevailed and by the 1920s it was quite acceptable for women to wear jodhpurs and ride like men.  Queen Mary most strongly objected to women riding astride, in 1913 she made a royal decree forbidding women to ride astride along Rotten Row in Hyde Park.



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Drinking Tea and the Rules of Engagement

The hedonistic age of Edwardian Britain for the idle rich and leisured classes abounded with every possible pastime, as it was out of the question to be of society and to work for a living. For men these interests varied from traditional roles in politics, government and the stewardship of their bountiful and productive acres, to archeology, architecture, breeding horses, or a dabbling interest in science. For their wives it was a far narrower field.Edwardian tea gown

In between breakfast in bed now that she was married, luncheon, tea time and dinner, the beautifully dressed Edwardian woman in London managed to squeeze in a gallop along Rotten Row, a fitting with her modiste, visits to the London galleries and perhaps a leisurely hour to herself with the latest novel, before a round of formal social occasions in the evening.


A Saturday to Monday in their country houses in summer were spent playing or watching lawn-games: cricket, tennis and croquet; picnics, boating on the lake, and visiting neighboring houses to do much of the same. In autumn and winter there was foxhunting in which women were welcomed to participate (seated side-saddle although some hunts grudgingly accepted riding astride) and wives were expected to provide support and watch their husbands shooting at various country estates, or accompany them for deer stalking in Scotland.


After dinner, no matter where they were, Edwardians of both sexes loved to play cards. Gambling was immensely popular and both men and women played for high stakes usually well into the late night hours.


And then there was tea-time that quiet hour in the day between five o’clock and dressing for dinner, when a lady was ‘not at home’ to her friends but otherwise engaged in what the French called cinq à sept and which had nothing whatsoever to do with drinking tea.

Edwardian teagown

Extra marital affairs were made fashionable by the Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII. Bertie was particularly partial to other men’s wives, especially the wives of his friends.  His current mistress was always included on the guest list of a country house Saturday to Monday.

Infidelity was a pastime; entirely accepted, thoroughly practiced, carefully organized and with only one proviso: discretion. All these clandestine tea-time visits in London, little liaisons at the National Gallery, and corridor creeping in country houses at night were never referred to.  But of course people knew, it was just never directly spoken of in society; gossip was after all another of society’s pastimes. A lady’s change of lover must never be the subject of common gossip.


The Edwardian age for the idle rich and the aristocrat was one of refined hypocrisy, with clear unspoken rules to safeguarded society from the distress of stupid blunders, quarrels at gentlemen’s clubs, and the divorce courts. Good manners counted for everything and it was considered ill-bred to show emotion. So here are some of the unspoken rules that kept infidelity in marriage a pleasant pastime.

romance.Here are the unspoken Rules of Engagement:

Only when a wife had produced an heir, and a spare, was she free to take a lover or two.

The overriding consideration was that there must be absolutely no exposure of any misconduct. Emotional displays were offensive and smacked of middle-class morality.

The unforgivable sin was to bring disgrace among those in polite society, thereby letting down the side. Respectability was for the middle-classes, discretion for the uppers.

A lady’s name may appear only three times in the newspapers: at her birth, her marriage and her death.

Divorce was unthinkable, and if one was stupid enough to seek a divorce one had to be prepared to be excised from society to live on the Continent until the rest of society chose to forget.

The hours of cinq à sept were so called because this was a convenient time for a woman’s lover to call for ‘tea’. Thus the invention of the tea-gown an elegant but, loose fitting gown worn without the confines of a corset

Country house liaisons were easy after lights out. Each bedroom door had a little card holder bearing the name of its occupant. One mischievous guest exchanged the name card of a particularly active lady with that of a Bishop. The poor man was awoken at one in the morning by a boisterous and randy earl clambering into bed with him.

A six o’clock bell was rung at country house parties, to give visiting gentleman time to get back to their own rooms well in time for valets and maids to find them there.

It was always up to the woman to ensure discretion; she must choose her lovers with care and never risk discovery. Love letters were burnt, assignations made in public by code, the thrill of planning and the chase were possibly more rewarding than the act of love itself.

Gentleman, always so much more independent in their lives, sometimes had an established relationship with a mistress. An attractive woman, not of their class or back ground and sometimes a professional entertainer, who provided them with sexual pleasure without the tedium of co-habitation. Maida Vale in London was a favorite neighborhood to set up a mistress in her own establishment.

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The Redoubtable Edwardian and the Institution of Marriage

Yes, of course Edwardians married for love, but the upper-classes usually fell in love among their own kind, shoring up their country estates from time to time with alliances to an American fortune or with the daughter of a wealthy industrialist.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

Until they were of age, Britain’s aristocratic girlhood was kept under wraps on the family’s country estates. Heavily chaperoned by their family and brought up carefully by nannies and governesses these bright young lovelies had no formal education but were able to read and write, play a little music, speak French and were often awfully good at riding horses.

Debutante Joh Singer Sargent

The business of getting heirs was of vital importance to estates that were entailed to the closest male relative, so young women were introduced into polite society when they were in their late teens and available immediately on the marriage mart.

When they were presented at court, debutantes made their deep curtsies to the king and the queen without wobbling or falling over. This simple ceremony transformed them overnight from school girls into young women eligible for marriage ­- no matter how unprepared they were.



There followed a succession of parties, balls, luncheons and at-homes during the summer months of what is known as the London Season. This ran typically from Easter until The Glorious Twelfth whilst Parliament was in session and was exclusive, grand and introduced a fresh crop of young women in early spring to avail Britain’s top families of the opportunity to take mates from other equally prestigious families.

Edwardian dancing

From Saturday to Monday the Edwardians bounded happily from country house to country house, to enjoy the pursuits of rural pleasures: from picnics to shooting parties.


During the Season there were a continual array of events to attend: Royal Ascot, The Derby, Cowes week, and Hurlingham for polo; the Royal Opera House, His Majesty’s Theatre followed by supper at the Savoy or lunch at Claridges after a fitting at Madam Lucile. These events required numerous changes of clothes, often as many as five a day. Chaperones turned a blind eye if the right young man was interested in a daughter or a niece, and hopefully after a couple of seasons these teenage girls were safely married off and the responsibility of their upkeep transferred from father to husband.Bride Diana Manners


This rapid metamorphosis from nursery, to coming out, to marriage took place within the space of two years. By the age of twenty-one most young society matrons were pregnant with their second child, having hopefully produced an heir the first time around.

With no housework or child raising to eat up the hours of their day, how did rich and titled ladies fill their time? Unlike their housemaids and kitchen maids who worked from 5 o’clock in the morning until after the family had gone to bed, their days were ones of leisure. They were expected to adorn their beautiful houses, dress appropriately for every occasion and ensure that their housekeeper maintained a comfortable environment of their husband and their guests.


For most rich and aristocratic Edwardian wives their lives were actively social, but for the serious minded woman there were distractions outside of merely having fun, being perfectly dressed and visiting the children for an hour or so at tea-time. Women’s suffrage with the rise of the Women’s Social and Political Party had become a far more intense business and there were upper-class women actively involved in the cause:

Votes for women

Lady Constance Lytton and Emily Lutyens caused their families considerable embarrassment. There were many charitable organizations and the arts to support: Gladys, the Marchioness of Ripon was an influential and powerful patron of the arts. Women like Lucile Duff Gordon who started a fashion empire,  Rosa Lewis hotelier and party planner for the rich and influential, Eleanor Glyn who was a best-selling romance novelist and of course Bloomsbury-ite and novelist Virginia Stephen who later became Virginia Woolf although remarkable, in the early 1900s, were not unusual.

Virginia Woolf

Unfortunately, for most women, married far too young, raised to adorn and produce children  there was little fill their lives in what we today consider a meaningful way. The getting and maintaining of an immense wardrobe, and daily instructions to her cook and housekeeper left many young society matrons with plenty of time to devote to the great Edwardian pastime of infidelity! Which takes me to my next blog: Drinking Tea and the Rules of Engagement . . . enjoy!

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