Sunday, April 15, 2012

Victorian Picnic Etiquette

With spring upon us, my thoughts turn to possible upcoming outdoor activities. It is still quite chilly here on the Canadian Prairies, but I know that won't last for long. I was thinking about possibly hosting a ladies picnic when the weather gets warmer. This got me wondering about picnics in the Victorian era.

People have been eating outdoors for literally ages of course, but the notion of "picnics" became popular during the Victorian era. During Medieval times, eating a feast outdoors was usually part of a hunting party. Nobles would host elaborate feasts of game, roasts, pies etc. for those involved in the hunt. In the 18th century the idea of hosting a more informal feast outdoors for your guests, minus the hunt, began to become a popular activity. It really took off during the 19th century, with even Quern Victoria herself partaking in such excursions.

Her Majesty picnicking with the royal family.

As much as it was considered a more informal occasion, food was still expected to be sumptuous. Dishes like lobster, and chicken, with sauces and sides, and desserts like tarts and trifles were acceptable picnic fare. Champagne was also included, kept cold it was advised, by wrapping the bottles in newspaper.
Servants would sometimes be sent ahead with the dishes, a small kerosine burner for heating up tea, and cutlery (eating with your fingers was considered improper). If there were no servants for the outing, then the gentlemen were expected to wait on the ladies and entertain them after the meal with any musical talents they had.

Victorian picnic set

After dining, games like blind man's bluff, charades or even tag, were played, or people wondered off in pairs or groups to explore the grounds. Usually around 5pm tea was served, before setting off for home.

As per usual during the 19th century, there were still lots of rules for polite and appropriate social behavior while picnicking.
When choosing a location it must be scenic but not too dramatic (like a cliff or dark forest) as it might excite or frighten the delicate ladies. There must also be ample shade for them, so as not to cause them discomfort in the sun. A light breeze was also considered ideal to keep the women comfortable (apparently we are easily made uncomfortable, but with several layers of petticoats, tight corseting and a possible bustle in summer weather, who wouldn't be?).
Men were not allowed to sit down on the ground near a lady, unless invited to do so. Men and women were also not allowed to wander off alone for too long either, or the lady would not be invited back on further picnics. Personally it all sounds a bit ridiculous to me, and who knows how long "too long" was - an hour? 20 minutes? 10? Before one was branded a "picnic tart".

I will have no such silly rules at my picnic. Just good food, friends, and some dressing up. What would you suggest for a gothic/steampunk picnic?

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  1. Making a funky steampunk picnic blanket would make a cool project :-D

  2. I am somehow always a flesh eating bug magnet! Its alas....I don't picnic. :( But if I did...I would totally want a huge awesome basket....and inflatable couch! :) Hearts, Janna Lynn

  3. Another wonderfully informative post, my dear. I love these!

    We did a "Victorian" picnic ourselves just last Friday night... well, we looked more Lolita-ish as it was rather humid out and we didn't want heavy skirts and shirts. But not as fancy as these real Victorian picnics by far. We did have fireworks though from the baseball game on the North Shore... :)

  4. Lols at 'Picnic tart'. I'd think something fancy to heat the tea might be required with brass knobs and a little boiler. We could send off some sky lanterns. I'll bring the Dundee cake.