The Good Old Days


There are many misconceptions about the [Edwardian] period. It is often looked upon with romantic nostalgia as an age of elegance and security. Even the weather is said to have been better then, though this idea seems to have been dispelled by study of the meteorological records and to have been based on one or two memorably fine summers.

Was it a golden age? Nobody at the time seemed to think so, but it was natural, after the shocks and sufferings of the Great War, for older people to look back and imagine that it had been. This was particularly true of the upper and middle classes, whose supremacy had been shattered for ever. For many of the working-class population the pre-war years had been not only “the good old days” but also, in many respects, “the bad old days”. ……..

……Closer study shows that these bygone Edwardians faced, in an earlier form, most of the problems we ourselves have to cope with today.

Unemployment, bad housing and malnutrition were rife. There were strikes and violent demonstrations. There was the struggle for sex-equality – won today so far as Parliamentary voting is concerned, but still unfinished in several other fields. There was bitter controversy over Ireland, though that country was still part of the United Kingdom and the “Irish question” was different in form. There was fierce argument over the powers of the House of Lords. There were “immigrants” – especially Russian and Polish Jews fleeing from persecution under the Tsar and settling mainly in London’s East End – and there were “emigrants”, who saw a poor future for themselves at home in Britain and sought better opportunities in the United States or the developing dominions of the Empire. And there was the fear of a coming war, very real to a thoughtful minority, though it seldom troubled the mass of the nation, who were surprised and indignant when it overwhelmed them in 1914. In all these matters there are informative comparisons and contrasts that help us to understand our own time.

‘The Edwardian Era’, Geoffrey Trease, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1986.