Edwardian Interlude

The golden coins are melted down, youth has lost its gilt, the golden tresses are shorn, the spirit-lamps are out, yet fragrance demoded as frangipani still hangs about those old days... the days of the Edwardian Season.

There are moods of nostalgia even for that which one has loved only by hearsay. I have read so much about the days when hansom cabs announced their approach in the night by a silver tinkle, that I can sometimes nearly persuade myself that I have personal recollections of that period. The gold of the 'nineties was perhaps never more than gilt, but its brief life was full of glitter. There was complete assurance and a leisured air about the way the Edwardian beauties enjoyed the Season in London, driving sedately round Hyde Park in regal victorias and barouches with coachmen bewigged and powdered footmen... the high climb... the leather cabin with tiny windows at each side and yellow curtains to match the wheels... abovehead dangled a swaying lamp... and the feeling of finality when the scarlet aprons were closed. A top hat with curving brims, a narrow band, and flat edge over eyes, would be worn at a rakish angle; maybe an eyeglass in right eye; certainly an excessively waisted short coat with a low opening in the front; a flower would repose in the buttonhole; the shirt front would be wide with collar loose and slightly starched, whilst the heavily-knotted tie would have wide dangling ends. There would need to be long moustaches. The ends would trail down almost to the shoulders. The hair would have to be curled and frizzled with hot tongs and then stiffened with bear's grease. The traditional trousers would be pale strawberry roan with ends turned down and boots fashionably pointed.

To turn back to the carriage-and-pair period of the Season, the late Victorians and Edwardians fascinate. There is a je ne sais quoi about them, a hidden depth; they might have unusual experiences, do strange things, and say nothing. Those Edwardian beauties lived up to their reputations in dresses with bodices fitted so closely that they might have been poured into them, while their skirts rustled over countless be-ribboned and lace- flounced petticoats. The dresses were elegant, and feminine charm was cluttered with a flurry of parasols, feather boas and hanging vanity bags. They were proud, reserved, and self-contained, but all was not perfect. The Edwardian age may have been one of restless luxury. It was also vulgar to a degree. The long years of the mournful widowhood of Queen Victoria had given place to the social life of dinner parties and balls, the theatre and gambling, countryhouse visits and the races. Money rather than social rank was the key to recognition. Life lacked simplicity and style. Edwardian intricacies were expensive but pointless with only the hard glitter of their electric lights. There was abundance of leisure. It was not necessary to go into business, but it never seemed to occur to them that intelligence had any value.


Even a Season must have had many moments of monotony for a young man of leisure. Immaculately dressed, he would ride or walk in Rotten Row for about an hour, then change into frock-coat and tall hat for lunch at the club. The ladies might drive sedately in the park or stroll in fashionable Eaton Square. In the afternoon there were often concerts, perhaps by Lady Radnor and her band, or Lady Downe singing, or Alec Yorke giving recitations. He might be fortunate and be invited to a Saturday afternoon party at Holland House or Syon, but on Sunday morning in London he would observe the ritual of the traditional parade in Hyde Park after lunch. Luncheon on Sundays would be memorable if he received an invitation from Lady Dorothy Nevill or Lady Jeune. He would then be certain to find himself in the company of statesmen and men of letters. He might even go to one of the musical receptions given by Mrs. Ronalds with the assistance of Sir Arthur Sullivan; or opera at Covent Garden on a de Reszke night; perhaps a theatre show with Connie Gilchrist or Arthur Roberts as the attraction; a ball at Marlborough House or Dudley House; or a reception at Grosvenor House.

Throughout the spate of engagements, an immaculate standard of dress would have to be maintained, There would be the reputation to uphold that in London could be found the smartest-dressed men in Europe, whose styles were copied by all the smartest foreigners. Wherever you went it would be noticeable. The well-dressed equestrians in Rotten Row rode for pleasure, not exercise. There was pride of appearance in the turnout of the carriages, in the colourful liveries of the servants, in Bond Street where a silk hat and frock-coat were de rigueur. Soft shirts and collars had not been introduced, whilst the Homburg hat had just been worn by the Prince of Wales in the country, where men were expected to change before tea into brightly hued silk or velvet smoking suits.

Had we stayed in one of the best Edwardian houses... and, of course, all Edwardian houses were the best... there would be innumerable routine observances. We would take away a collection of vignettes... the commotion on Sunday mornings as to who should ride to church in the landau, who in the wagonette, who in the victoria, who in the brougham, who should walk, and so on. Mental pictures of brass bedsteads... artificial flowers... shell-pink silk reading lamps... Vichy water... brass trays for early morning tea... Regie cigarettes... family prayers... tweed caps and spats... horses champing bits... the bric-a-brac is endless.


Copyright © Angel.S 1997