Tag: History

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History – Thought for the Day

Temple Church, Photo by PH Morton

History – Thought for the Day

Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana, a Spanish born American Philosopher. 1863-1952

This truism can certainly be applied to periods in military history viz;

The Nazi German  invasion of Russia during the 1941 winter  in WW2. Napoleon had tried in 1812 faulty logistics, poor discipline under the renowned strong Russian resistance, disease, and not the least, the weather defeated them both. had the Nazis concentrated on the Western Front instead WW2 may have had a different outcome!?

The recurring military defeats can also  be ascribed to the British, Russian and Americans trying over the last two centuries  to subdue war lords in Afghanistan, failing with similar reasons to the above.

The French campaign failed in Vietnam followed by the US both halting because of  strong dogged resistance, climate etc and other factors common to both incursions.

In essence ,the invading armies underestimated their foes, not learning from the previous campaigns.

Servants: A life below stairs

This is so interesting. A different life and almost a different world.

By Lucy WallisBBC News

Scenes from Downton Abbey (Carnival films/ITV), Servants (BBC), Upstairs, Downstairs (BBC), Gosford Park (Getty Images)

Servants: A life below stairs

From Upstairs, Downstairs to Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, TV dramas and films have made us care about the characters below stairs. Domestic service was Britain’s biggest employer a century ago, but how have things changed over the years?

“It is a form of marriage to a point as you are devoted to that family,” says 78-year-old Rick Fink.

Fink has more than 55 years of experience managing estates and working as a butler. He started off in the Royal Navy in 1953, and one of the first guests he served as a young steward was Prince Phillip.

“I was petrified, but this was the Queen’s husband. He just came aboard and he was tanned with blonde hair and looked fabulous and I had to ask him what he wanted to drink.”

Now Fink runs the Butler-Valet School, training butlers for service in stately homes and private residencies. Some aspects of the role are timeless and governed by an unspoken etiquette and code of conduct.

Victorian servants – who’s who

The owners of a large Victorian house and their servants, circa 1885.
  • The butler – in charge of the house, coachmen and footmen. He looked after the family and the wine cellar
  • The housekeeper – responsible for the housemaids and carried the keys to the china and linen cupboards
  • The ladies maid – the mistress of the house’s personal attendant, helping her to dress and do her hair
  • The valet – the master’s manservant, attending to his requests and preparing his clothes and shaving tools
  • The cook – ran the kitchen and larder, overseeing the kitchen, dairy and scullery maids
  • The governess– educated and cared for the children with the head and under nurse
  • The hallboy – worked 16-hour days, lighting all the lamps and candles and polishing the staff boots before they woke up
  • The tweeny – in-between stairs maid earned £13 a year, worked seven days a week from 5am-10pm and looked after slop duty.

“[A butler] needs to be reliable, discreet, trustworthy, and your life revolves around your employer,” says Fink.

“I would never sit in the drawing room or have dinner at their dining room table. I keep myself the other side of the baize door.”

There is a great deal of nostalgia surrounding the traditional notion of domestic service, with the scandals above and below stairs in ITV’s Downton Abbey proving a ratings success. But life for a domestic worker has evolved.

With the help of labour-saving devices, a household can now be run by fewer people. Employers can contact staff on a mobile phone rather than have to ring a bell or track them down in the grounds of the estate.

The inventory is itemised on a computer so there is no need to count the silverware and the dishwasher takes on the burden of washing up. Although not the Waterford Crystal.

According to the Office for National Statistics from the 2012 Labour Force Survey, about 65,000 people are employed as domestic workers by households in the UK.

This includes domestic personnel “such as maids, cooks, waiters, valets, butlers, laundresses, gardeners, gatekeepers, stable-lads, chauffeurs, caretakers, governesses, babysitters, tutors, secretaries”, to name just a few.

It excludes the provision of services such as cooking, gardening etc by independent service providers (companies or individuals).

The figure includes those who may work for more than one household and may live in or away from their employer. Fink is surprised at just how many job adverts he sees these days for “live-out” domestic workers.


The situation was very different in 1901 when the vast majority of the 1.5 million people employed as domestic servants in Britain would have lived with their employer to attend to their every whim, whatever the time of day.

Many aristocrats could afford a large team of live-in servants at their country estate, and there was a distinct social hierarchy in the servants’ quarters.

According to Dr Lucy Delap, director of studies in history at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, servant status was reinforced at mealtimes.

“There would be a strict order of coming in to eat and strict rules about where different ranks of servants sit, and you might also have rules such as no speaking unless you were addressed by one of the senior servants,” says Delap.

“The senior servants had a great deal of power, so the butler for example in some households would put down his knife and fork, and everyone else had to fit in whether you had finished or not. So servants had to learn to be fast eaters.”

Victorian servants - graphic taken from Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs

According to Delap, the cook and her kitchen staff were able to eat in the kitchen where the other servants always suspected they were getting better food.

Uniform was another way of maintaining rank. Servants dressed a little more individually in the 18th Century. The black dress, white apron and white cap worn by maids in the 19th Century was a Victorian creation, a way of disguising personal identities.

Housemaid in 1900
The names of housemaids were often changed to match their station in life

Servants in a country estate would have been given specific tasks that matched their station, unlike today, where Fink says he has seen some instances of multi-tasking and the expectation that a butler may also, for instance, be asked to do the cooking as well.

In the Victorian era it was not just the aristocracy who employed servants, new wealth had trickled into the cities and led to a burgeoning middle class. Employing a servant was a sign of respectability, but for the lower middle class, where money was tighter, they could only afford one servant – the maid of all work.

According to the Victorian author Mrs Beeton, in The Book of Household Management, the maid of all work was to be pitied.

“The general servant or maid of all work is perhaps the only one of her class deserving of commiseration. Her life is a solitary one and in some places her work is never done.”

This relentless drudgery played a part in dwindling servant numbers and there were new opportunities in factories and shops where workers received something unheard of in domestic service – evenings and weekend offs.

“If we look at the 1891 and 1911 census we see a really interesting fact emerging. In 1891, the number of indoor domestic servants is 1.38 million, which is a pretty high number,” says Dr Pamela Cox, senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Essex.

A Victorian family and their two maids pose on the doorstep of their house, 1875
Middle class families could afford fewer servants

“If we jump to 1911 it has gone down to 1.27m. The population is expanding, the middle class is expanding therefore the demand for service is expanding, but the supply of servants is shrinking.”

Employing young people from the Victorian workhouses was thought to be one way of resolving the servant crisis. Poor and destitute orphans were “rescued” from a life in the gutter, educated and sent to work as servants.

“They were legally employed but this was child labour,” says Cox.

The numbers of servants continued to dwindle in the 20th Century, particularly for the middle classes, and World War I and II had a profound effect.

A scene from Downton Abbey - Carnival films/ITV
The intrigues at Downton Abbey have attracted worldwide interest

With the men sent off to fight, women dominated traditional male working roles in munitions factories, making aeroplanes and uniforms. After World War II, many women did not return to their domestic service roles.

Gradually the “modern home” of the middle classes was updated with new equipment to accommodate the shortage of servants – the introduction of flushing toilets, washing machines and microwave ovens.

The 21st Century domestic workers now tend to be self-employed entrepreneurs, running their own ironing businesses from home or their own cleaning service franchise.

The master/servant relationship has become less defined. Whatever would Mrs Beeton make of that?

Month: October

The month of October is autumnal. The leaves of deciduous trees turn into the most amazing variety of shades of yellow, red, orange and pink. It is a majestic sight to behold until, that is the leaves start to fall on the ground in messy brown heaps that would take ages to clear up. LOL

October makes it nearer to the greatest celebration of all: The birth of our Lord.

However there are intervening celebrations before Christmas and the most known in October is the Halloween, October 31. As from last year, we will once again join in the fun of Halloween. Please help us compile anything and everything Halloween.

Kindly help us also compiling events that happened in October, over the years from around the world.

Month: October

Notable Events in October:

3 October 1959, postcodes were introduced in Britain.

5 October is International Teachers’ Day

12 October 1849, the safety pin was patented in Great Britain.

20 October 1973, Sydney Opera House opened.

21 October 1790, Tricolour is chosen by the French as National Flag.

22 October 1797, first successful parachute descent occurred.

24 October 2003, Concorde makes its last commercial passenger flight.

29 October 1618, Queen Elizabeth I gone mad; she had Sir Walter Raleigh beheaded in Whitehall.

31 October 1982, the Thames barrier was raised for the first time.


A Little Health

A Little Health
by anonymous poet from The Diary of Francis Kilvert (1840-1879).

A little health,
A little wealth,
A little house and freedom,
And at the end
A little friend
And little cause to need him.

Apparently this advice for good life was used as Victorian Sampler.

A Brief History of Samplers

Sampler Origins

The term sampler comes from the Latin exemplum meaning ‘an example to be followed, a pattern, a model or example’. It is believed that, although the earliest dated samplers and references to them come from the 16th century, they probably were stitched long before this time.

The first known dated English sampler was made by Jane Bostocke in 1598 to celebrate the birth of her daughter (or possibly niece) Alice Lee, and is housed in the sampler collection at the Victoria and Albert museum. This sampler is covered with random motifs in a variety of stitches and shades, and includes metal threads, pearls and beads.

Sampler Development

It is believed that the early samplers were sewn mainly by women, rather than by young girls as were those of a later date, and were intended truly as examples, both of designs and of different stitches, such as cross stitch, eyelet, Algerian eye, long armed cross etc. These long, narrow band samplers contain a variety of different designs, alphabets, and sometimes cut or pulled thread work. Many consist of elaborate scrolled designs in double running or Holbein stitch.

Later in the 17th century the style changed to spot samplers, random motifs worked in silk, which were often intended to be cut out and appliqued onto bed hangings or other furnishings. During this period printed pattern books became available, so samplers lost some of their use as works of reference. Many of the designs from these books can be seen repeated in English samplers from this time onwards.

From the mid-eighteenth century, it became more common for young girls to work samplers as part of their education, of which needlework formed a major part! These samplers began to take on the form probably best known, with decorative borders, alphabets, motifs such as animals, flowers and houses, and they usually also contained some sort of verse.

Marking samplers included various alphabets in reversible stitches, crowns and coronets, which could be used to mark for identification of the household linens of the aristocracy. Other samplers contained pious verses or religious symbols, and yet others taught geography in the form of embroidered maps, or mathematics in the guise of cross stitch multiplication tables!!

Samplers Today

During Victorian times, samplers became more pictorial, and metamorphosed into decorative articles to be hung by proud parents on the parlour walls! As the designs became more elaborate so the number of different stitches used was reduced, until generally only one stitch remained in use, thus ending up with the cross stitch samplers so well known today.

Credit Cards

Did you know?

Diners Club was the first universal credit card, introduced in the United States in 1950. It became the first major credit card company in Britain in 1962 formed from the merger of Finders Services and Credit Card Facilities.
American Express was the next big company to launch into the credit business in 1958.

A report in the Financial Times in 1965 said the average Diners Club card holder was 41, male and married with a family, earning well over £3,000 a year as a senior commercial or business executive.

Switch and Visa debit cards were introduced in the 1980s. Customers use the cards for payment of goods and the money is directly debited from their account. The cards can also be used to withdraw money from cashpoint machines and they act as cheque guarantee cards.

The Credit Card Research Group carried out a survey in 2001 and found there were 62 million credit cards in circulation in the UK, with many people owning more than one.

Source: BBC News

Month: August

It is…….


Month: August


August dry and warm,
Harvest doth no harm.
– English Proverb
If the twenty-fourth of August be fair and clear,
Then hope for a prosperous autumn that year.
– English Proverb
In the USA, it is the month for honouring the fantastic Goat Cheese.:)

It is also the month for the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival.



In some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere,August 1 is Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass”), the festival of the wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year.

1 August 1834, slavery was abolished in the British Empire.

4 August 1693, the most delicious drink, champagne, was invented by Dom Perignon.

5 August 1962, the most luminous actress of all time, Marilyn Monroe, was found dead.

10 August 1675, the Greenwich Observatory was founded.

14 August 1893, France innovated and issued vehicle registration plates.

16 August 1960 – Cyprus was granted independence by Britain.

21 August 1911, the Mona Lisa, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s  masterpieces, was stolen at the Louvre.  Thank goodness it is back hanging proudly at the Louvre.

23 August 1617, one-way-streets were first established in London

28 August 2012 – today is the 49th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s inspiring “I Have A Dream” speech.

31 August 1900, Coca Cola arrived in Britain from America.