Social distancing Posted on July 29, 2020

I came across a sentence the other day in a pre-Victorian memoir that made me wonder who exactly did all the work in the huge gardens of the day. Brownism, of course, greatly reduced the detailed gardening of parterres and topiary. Sheep did a lot of mowing. We have seen photos of garden teams fifty-strong, the men all wearing hats, waistcoats and watchchains, the boys caps (the weeder women not even in shot). But here is Prince Puckler-Muskau, in a house-party at Lord Darnley’s Cobham Hall in July 1828.

‘Today I diligently helped clear a few new vistas through the brush, to which everyone lent a hand.’ This is something Jane Austen left out: the gentlemen in their shirt sleeves, the ladies in… what, I wonder? Pinafores? And where did the sons of toil fit in? Did they set to, competing to impress with their brawny bending, or watch from the wings, concealing their giggles, or pitch the branches on a bonfire? Did the cider-flagon go round the party, ending with a shanty and a jig, or did they practise social distancing?

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