Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Supper, Lunch, Dinner and Tea! Oh My!

Suffragette parade 1913. Still wearing big hats.

The third series of Upstairs Downstairs arrived, tossed onto my driveway yesterday and I watched 4 episodes, as I continue to research Flo in the City.

This series starts in April 1912, for Mrs. Bellamy goes down with the Titanic. Plunk in the middle of the Tighsolas era!

Like in Downton Abbey, the hats shown are smaller and more restrained. So I went online and saw that average women, like the suffragettes, were still wearing big hats in 1913. And so was Queen Alexandra. But smaller hats were making an appearance.

In the first scene of the first episode, Mrs. Bellamy is having tea and the writers go out of the way to 'explain' what tea is, the drink with a pastry of some sort, crumpets or buttered cakes. Something to hold you to the late evening formal meal.

Breakfast, dinner supper tea.. it all gets a bit confusing.

I searched for every mention of 'tea' in the Nicholson letters, and can confirm that 'tea' meant the late day meal. "I had dinner at Mr. Cleveland's and also stayed for tea."

This was the general gist.

So dinner for the Nicholsons is what we call "lunch."

Tea was what we called in my family "Supper" since we no longer take late evening meals like on the Continent.

Supper is mentioned occasionally in the letters, rarely actually. Herb uses it to mean "tea"...late afternoon early evening meal, around six o'clock.

Marion uses it to mean LATE meal.. I went to dance and we had a supper.

I think that's how it is.

With most men, heads of the family, coming home at 6, that's when people in North America started having 'suppers' and not teas, at that time.

In my home, it was breakfast, lunch and supper. I only recently learned that 'dinner' is supposed to mean the main meal of the day, whenever it is.

With all the modern conveniences, women could prepare suppers by 6.

It is clear in Upstairs Downstairs that the servants had long days. They cooked, served and cleaned up the late meal, the dinner, and then ate a meal for themselves. Luncheon meant a formal mid day meal.

Anyway, this series of Upstairs Downstairs introduces a middle class character, Hazel, a secretary, and she causes a stir...upsets the apple cart, so to speak.

Neither downstairs or upstairs respects her, except as a secretary, as they don't know where she fits in. James woos here and she gets the blame.

Since James Bellamy marries her, the rest of the series deals with this.

Hazel's middle class mother isn't impressed. As Richard Bellamy says, the Middle Class is more prudish than the Upper. And my letters prove it.

Lunch is mentioned only a few times in theNicholson letters and refers to a midday meal. Lunch at the Windsor.

Hmm. I looked online for definitions of lunch, dinner, supper and tea ..and in England it is claimed that people who have breakfast, dinner and tea, like the Nicholsons, as their three daily meals, are almost certainly working class in origin.

A supper is an 'informal' late day meal, by one definition. In our house it was the BIG late meal, but at six when Dad came home. A la American. Dinner is really supposed to be a formal meal at night... in England.

In NA it's the BIG meal of the day, whenever.

It's easy to see all the confusion over the title of meals, reflecting the changing social life, work life, and eating habits over the century and the difference between UK and N A society.

In this environment, if Queen E extends youan invitation to 'dinner' might prove very embarrassing when you show up at the wrong time. But then your social secretary should help you avoid any confusion.