School’s started here, but many places are enjoying a last few days of summer before returning to the hallowed hallways of learning. For the aristocratic young lady in nineteenth century England, August heralded the start of the country house visit.
August in London was hot, sticky, and stinky, with the Thames wafting up all kinds of odors in the summer heat. With Parliament generally out of session, everyone who was anyone found an excuse to leave town for cooler climates, often in the north of England. August 1 was also the start of grouse season, so if your dear Papa was fond of shooting the little birds, you probably headed to Scotland, where the best hunting was to be found.
If you didn’t have a lavish country seat where you could retire, you angled for an invitation to someone else’s country estate. This was a chance to lengthen the Season, to be with a select group of friends in a different setting. You might visit a distant relative or the family of a dear friend. If one particular gentleman had shown his interest, he might invite you and your family to the ancestral pile to meet his extended family and have a little more time to get to know each other. Such invitations came with the expectation that the young man was going to offer marriage, and soon!
But even if you were the guest, going to house parties cost a pretty penny. First, you had to have sufficient outfits for breakfast with the family, tea in the afternoon, formal dinners at night, balls in the local assembly rooms, riding, walking to visit friends or nearby architectural wonders, boating in the nearby river or lake, lawn bowling, and many other interesting activities. Then, you were expected to provide vails (tips) to the servants who supported you while you were visiting—the groom who held your horse, the maid who cleaned your room, the cook who made your favorite raspberry scone, the porter who handled your baggage on your way to the estate, and so on. Some people even opted to stay in the stench of London rather than incur the costs of tipping every servant from here to there!
I haven’t been on a country house visit, but I did run away this week to celebrate my wedding anniversary. My husband and I spent the night at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel, which still looks much like it did when it was built in the 1920s. Famous early film stars Rudolph Valentino and Clara Bow stayed here, among other luminaries. So it’s off by about a 100 years and on the wrong continent. It was still very romantic.
How are you ending your summer?