Love a house party? We do, and with the return of Downton Abbey and Lady Mary to our screens we can’t help but be inspired by the glamour of the golden age of the Saturday-Monday (‘weekend’ is such a vulgar expression) house party.
Think scandal, royalty and excess, and by the roaring ‘20s you can throw cocktails and jazz into the mix too. The house party in all its splendour became a defining element of Edwardian and 1920’s high society.
The Season had long been a fixture for the upper classes, but alongside the annual round of balls and dinners, society hostesses would personally invite a small number of select guests to spend a few days partying in private at their country home. Whether it was a chance to show off the charms of a debutante daughter, or an opportunity for a couple to conduct an affair in relative secrecy, as the preserve of aristocracy, politicians and royalty these private gatherings were the ultimate in exclusive events.
This was the golden age of the English country house, where a household could contain up to ten times as many staff as family members. The carefully chosen guests would arrive expecting to be waited on hand and foot while they enjoyed the best the British countryside had to offer. By day this meant picnics, shooting, fishing, and hunting, and by night, gambling, games and scandal.
If a couple let the hostess know that they were conducting an affair, she was expected to place them in rooms that would make this easier. However, all that creeping around in the dark didn’t always go to plan. Reportedly, one aristocrat jumped into bed thinking he had found his mistress, only to find himself tucked in next to the arch-deacon and his wife. The Prince of Wales had things easier. Bertie’s on-going affair with the Countess of Warwick meant that ‘his’ rooms actually adjoined hers at Brockett Hall, while her husband had to pretend not to notice. It’s little wonder that house parties became an ample source of gossip.
The age of Downton might be over, but we can still take inspiration when it comes to our own parties. Take over your own country house and play Lord and Lady of the Manor for the weekend. Roam your own country estate, try your hand at shooting or fishing, or go for some more up to date activities such as off-road driving. Dress for dinner before enjoying cocktails, followed by a formal banquet, add in your personal butler, a full complement of staff and perhaps costumes for the guests and you can recreate your own house party à la Downton.