|Dinner in the 1780s.|
In Jane Austen’s day, dinner was a moveable feast, depending on whether you kept fashionable hours; country hours where normally earlier than in London. The haut ton did not dine until at least five or six o’clock, or even later. When Lady Newdigate (Hester Mundy) stayed at Stansted Park in 1795, she commented that: ‘The hours of ye family are what ye polite world w’d not conform to viz. Breakfast at 8½, dine at 3½, supper at 9 and go to bed at 10, but Everybody is at Liberty to order their own Breakfast, Dinner or Supper into their own Rooms and no questions ask’d.’
The Austen family dined at half-past three when living at Steventon Rectory in the 1790s. However, over Jane’s lifetime, their dinner hour changed. While staying with the Bridges family at Goodnestone in 1805, Jane mentions dining at four o'clock, so that they could go walking afterwards. Three years later, when the Austen ladies lived in Southampton, Jane noted in a letter, ‘We never dine now till five.’ During a visit to her brother Henry’s new residence in Henrietta St, London, Jane wrote to Cassandra (15 September 1813) that soon after five o’clock, shortly after her arrival, the family sat down to ‘a most comfortable dinner of soup, fish, bouilée, partridges, and an apple tart.’
|Dessert time at the Ashmolean.|
Following dinner, tea and cakes were normally served around seven, and the day ended with a light supper and wine (unless one had dined fashionably late). As the dinner hour got later and later, some people had a snack, perhaps some cold meat, in the early afternoon to fill the gap. By 1817 Sir Richard Phillips noted in his Morning’s Walk from London to Kew that the dinner hour of the polite world had ‘shifted to the unhealthy hours of eight or nine’ at night.
Image © Sue Wilkes: A table set for dessert in the 1770s at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.