The Conventions of High Society

In 1932 Mary, Countess of Lovelace shared her memories in an essay for the Times of London.

For a picture of social life fifty years ago I can only draw upon a limited experience, first as a girl before 1880 and as a young married woman after that date. I can, in short, only give the youthful feminine point of view.

Victorian ball-2

…nearly every social custom which applied to ordinary intercourse between both sexes was based on the idea that every young woman, and especially every inexperienced girl, was a sacred thing to be carefully guarded from any possibility of insult or undue temptation. The well-guarded girl of the years 1870 – 80 could not walk alone in the street or drive alone in a cab or in a railway carriage. To any sort of entertainment she must be accompanied by father or mother or by some married woman. At a ball, the place where her chaperon sat was a kind of home to which she was supposed to return after every dance. Of course, she did not always do so; and the wise mother knew when to be lenient and when to enforce the rules. All dancing partners are not equally attractive, and the necessity of “going back to Mamma” provided a by no means always unwelcome end to a tete-a-tete. Looking back I cannot recollect ever feeling my chaperon to be an irksome restraint, and she was often a most welcome protection and adviser.

The real drawback to the system was the fatigue and boredom that it imposed on the older women. How well I remember the rows of weary faces on the benches against the wall, and I wonder if they always got the loving gratitude from their charges which was certainly their due.

Now and then there would appear a male chaperon – a kind father or uncle – who took his turn at the social treadmill. He got his reward in extreme popularity, and as he was in great demand for taking dowager after dowager down to supper, he did not suffer from inaction.

I am told that there are still some chaperons, though not nearly so many as in the old days. For dinners and entertainments other than balls, apparently the girls now do not need any female protector whatever. They go about anywhere and everywhere with any male friend whom they chose. In fact, they “walk out” and “keep company” just as our friends in the servants’ hall do.
‘Society and the Season’, reproduced in ‘Fifty Years’, Thornton Butterworth, Limited, 1932.

Rotten Row 1913

Rotten Row and Hyde Park in 1913, when standards were beginning to slip – there are unaccompanied women in the street! Perhaps they’re from the servants’ hall.

Dartmouth Castle

It’s time we heard from my favourite Edwardian travel writer again. Charles G. Harper can always be relied on for a droll observation or caustic comment. This post finds him in Dartmouth, Devon.

The little coach that runs daily from Dartmouth to Kingsbridge has a steep climb up out of Dartmouth. Here the pedestrian certainly has the advantage, for, tracing his coastwise way round through the woods of Warfleet creek, where a disused limekiln by the waterside looks very like an ancient defensible tower, he comes at last upon the strangely grouped church of St. Petrox, the Castle, and the abandoned modern battery, all standing in a position of romantic beauty, where the sea dashes in violence upon the dark rocks.

Dartmouth Castle 1

The “garrison” of Dartmouth Castle in these days is generally a sergeant of garrison artillery retired from active service, or in some condition of military suspended animation not readily to be understood by a logically minded civilian. It is a situation worthy of comic opera : in which you perceive the War Office erecting batteries for defending the entrance to the harbour, and then, having completed them, furnishing the works with obsolete muzzle-loaders, capable of impressing no one save the most ignorant of persons. Then, these popguns having been demonstrated useless, even to the least instructed, they are removed at great expense, and their places left empty : it having occurred in the meanwhile to the wiseacres ruling the Army that, in any case, under modern conditions, a hostile fleet would be able to keep well off shore and to throw shells into Dartmouth, without coming in range of any ordnance ever likely to be placed at the castle.

So the sergeant-in-charge, who lives here with his wife and family, and is apparently given free quarters and no pay, on the implied condition that he makes what he can out of tips given by tourists, is not burdened with military responsibilities.

Dartmouth Castle 2

The present incumbent appears to have developed strong antiquarian tastes, is learned in the local military operations of Cromwell’s era, and a successful seeker after old-time cannonballs and other relics of strange, unsettled times.

You cannot choose but explore the interior of the Castle, for as you approach there is, although you may not suspect it, an Eye noting the fact. The Eye is the sergeant’s, and there is that way about old soldiers which admits of no denial when he proposes that he shall show you over. You are shepherded from one little room to another, peer from what the sergeant calls the “embershaws” (by which he means embrasures), and then, offering the expected tribute for seeing very little, depart.
‘The South Devon Coast’, Charles G. Harper. Chapman & Hall Ltd, 1907.

The dignity of honest work

“NO TIPS ALLOWED”
SUGGESTION OF THE STEWARDS
FOR EMBODIMENT IN AWARD.

During his submission of the case of the Cooks and Stewards’ Federation in their dispute with the Union Shipping Company, Mr. E. J. Carey stated to the Arbitration Court to-day that the men desired that the practice of tipping should cease. The claims of the men were 32 shillings [£1.12.0] per week for second-class stewards and 37 shillings [£1.17.0] for first-class stewards and the abolition of tips. If the Court would make this award the stewards would do their utmost to arrange for the abolition of tips.

They did not want to beg for payment for the work they did. They would agree to have the boats placarded “No tips allowed,” and they would agree to instant dismissal in the case of a steward taking tips; the company could endorse its ticket “steward included.” The men were even prepared to have it made a breach of the award for a steward to take a tip. The federation would do all possible to cooperate with the Court, the Union Company, and the public, to save their dignity as workers, and to ensure their being placed on the same footing as firemen, sailors, and other workers.

WAHINE  1913 - 1951  https://www.nzshipmarine.com/nodes/view/160#idx42

New Zealand Ship and Marine Society (12th Jul 2018). WAHINE 1913 – 1951. In Website New Zealand Ship and Marine Society. Retrieved 8th Aug 2019 16:48, from https://www.nzshipmarine.com/nodes/view/160

The tipping system, said Mr. Carey, had been forced upon them by the Court, because they could not pay house rent on their present wages. It was idle to say the tipping system could not be stopped; there was the example of the railways. If the Court, in its award, said that tips were still to be taken into consideration when framing the minimum wage for stewards, it practically ordered and instructed that the general public should pay part of the wages of the men. On the intercolonial boats the labour union had stopped the practice, and they had endeavoured to stop it on the coast.
Evening Post, [Wellington, N.Z.] 29 April 1915.

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New Zealand Ship and Marine Society (23rd Jun 2018). NAVUA 1904-1926. In Website New Zealand Ship and Marine Society. Retrieved 8th Aug 2019 16:57, from https://www.nzshipmarine.com/nodes/view/823

 

On a wing and a prayer

I’m a week late for the 110th anniversary of Blériot’s cross-channel flight but this annecdote about the pioneering French pilot is worth sharing anyway. It comes from Harry Harper, a newspaper reporter who was at the start line for the great event. He recalled that….

Blériot himself, when one tried to get any information from him, proved a little disconcerting. He was a dark, strong-featured man, with a rather dour and grim expression, and with astonishing little to say. When questions were fired at him he was apt to shrug his shoulders, and answer rather abruptly.

He took off and flew a few circuits to test the weather conditions for his tiny aircraft and then…

…. after a few minutes in the air, skimming to and fro above the sand-dunes, Blériot came down and said that, though the wind was certainly troublesome, he felt fairly confident of being able to get across to Dover before conditions grew much worse.

Bleriot_pre-takeoff-25_July_1909-2

So, pale but composed, he took his seat again in his cockpit, and made ready for the great adventure.

There was a truly dramatic moment just before he took off. Standing up in his little machine, a lonely figure, he peered out across the Channel with a rather perplexed expression. Then he turned to his friend Leblanc, and others standing just beside his machine, and asked:
“Where is Dover?”
Eager hands pointed in the approximate direction. …..
‘My Fifty Years in Flying’, Harry Harper. Associated Newspapers Ltd., 1956.