Reduced circumstances

J.E.B. (Jack) Seeley, soldier, politician and industrialist, claimed in his book For Ever England (1932) that the English class system was not as rigid as it used to be. Social divisions, he believed, were narrowing and he offered this as evidence –

Before the World War the landowner, whether squire or nobleman, although he grumbled about agricultural depression, was rich and powerful. In my boyhood I remember him with a stable of six or eight carriage-horses, and later with three or four motor-cars. If he lived in a well-known hunting county, he or his sons would have eight or ten hunters [horses], in less fashionable hunting districts four or five. A butler, four footmen, and ten or twelve maid-servants was a very usual household. In my youth there were shooting parties, lasting for a week or more, of the same guests; later, before the War, and much more expensive, perpetual week-end parties. I am not describing the famous houses in London and the provinces, but the average of the countryside in rural England.

To-day, although much property has changed hands, the same families are living in the same districts, some in part of the big houses, others more fortunate in smaller houses on the same estate, doing the same county duties and rendering the same service to the community in which they live.

The carriage-horses, of course, are gone – they would have gone in any case; but instead of four big motor-cars there is one Austin or Morris. The shooting parties have come to an end; the week-end parties take the form of occasional visits from a very few real friends. The butlers, the footmen, and the ten maid-servants are replaced by possibly four maids and often one faithful butler at a reduced wage. The house in London has been sold. The boys, instead of a hunter apiece, think themselves lucky if in their short leave they can afford to hire a hunter for a week. The girls are going through courses of shorthand, typing, or cooking in London or the county town, or following commercial pursuits for a salary.

For Ever England, J.E.B. Seeley, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1932.
This must have been a great consolation to working class families living in squalid overcrowded slums throughout Britain at that time. After all, life must be terribly beastly when one is down to one’s last butler (on a reduced wage) and one’s children have to find gainful employment – and let us not speak of the Austin!

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