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Manor House
"If servants were caught kissing, they'd be sacked. But if it was guests nothing would have happened. What does that say about a society?" Mr Edgar, butler
THE PROJECT|THE HOUSE|THE PEOPLE|EDWARDIAN LIFE|YOU IN 1905|TREATS|SNOB QUIZ
Lady Olliff-Cooper
Photograph of a wedding in 1906

Edwardian marriages were built on a different set of rules to those today

Photograph of Mrs Davies greeting her husband

A modern marriage - Mrs Davies greets her husband Peter at the fete - it's the first time they've seen each other for nearly two months


Upstairs
The family are expected to discuss issues of the day at the dinner table
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Downstairs
When they eat, the lower servants are only allowed to speak if Mr Edgar the butler allows them to
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"I used to go to tea at my grandfather's house, and the first thing he'd say was 'children should be seen and not heard' – and we'd have tea in silence. And I actually thought that's what the man was like. I'm like him now!"
Mr Edgar, butler
Edwardian Life:
Sex and Marriage

Attitudes to sex and marriage were very different in the Edwardian period if we compare them with ours today. Marriage was the norm, and divorce was rare. In Britain in 1910, there were only 1000 divorces a year, compared with around 100,000 divorces a year in Britain today.

Divorce
Perhaps the Edwardians had "stronger" marriages than we have today. Certainly both the laws and attitudes concerning marriage were different then, and were weighted in favour of marriage and not divorce. Some would say they were also weighted in favour of men. If a man committed adultery, this was not seen as enough grounds for a divorce - he would have to desert his wife as well. But if a woman cheated on a man, a divorce could be granted right away.

Moreover, regardless of the reason for a divorce, the man would remain the sole legal guardian of any children. Even more unusual to our modern eyes, following a divorce, a woman only had the right to any money or property which she could prove was separately hers - any joint money went to the man. The system was such that it was very difficult for a woman to get a divorce from an unhappy marriage because if she did, she would probably lose not only her money but in all likelihood, her children as well.

Turning a blind eye
With divorce so unusual, particularly among the upper classes, a blind eye was often turned towards adultery. In a time when a husband and wife would not be expected to share a bedroom, extramarital affairs were commonplace. In fact, in the notorious "Saturday to Monday" parties that took place in country houses like Manderston, they were expected. Name tags were put on guests doors specifically so that the male guests could find their mistresses rooms at night. A bell was often rung at 6am so that gentlemen could find their way back to their own bedrooms before the maids came round to make the fires.

Edward VII himself had many mistresses, and it was well known amongst the "fast set" that he was unlikely to attend a social event or shooting party unless one of his "official" mistresses had also been invited.

Sex below stairs
But below stairs, things could not have been more different. Male and female servants were kept apart as much as possible. Not only were their bedrooms at opposite ends of the house (the women in the attic, the men in the basement), but any romance below stairs would lead to an instant dismissal - and more often than not it would be the woman who would be blamed.

There are numerous accounts of maids who were thrown out of houses by their masters after being discovered to be pregnant by a fellow servant or by a "follower." In fact, almost half of all illegitimate children born in 1911 were born to women in service. If such a thing did happen, it was a very serious matter. With no social security or National Health Service, and if she had no family to go to, such an "unemployable" woman would often end up at the workhouse, or worse, could be forced into prostitution as the only way to stay alive.

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