Life of the middle classes in Queenstown
in the 1880's and 1890's
                                                        

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In the 1880s and 1890s Queenstown was prospering, as never before or since. It was the terminus for the main line from Dublin.  The transatlantic liners called going and coming to deliver and pick up passengers and mail, and the harbour was full of sailing ships inward bound from China, India, Australia and New Zealand.  Cork Harbour is to windward of all European ports and they would need know, after 80 to 120 days at sea the port at which they should unload.  They also needed to be re-supplied with food etc.

 

Life for the Professional Classes in Queenstown in the 1880s and 1890s was more leisured and pleasant than at any time since.

 

They lived in large semi-detached multi-stories houses and had at least a living-in cook and a living-in house-maid.  The staff slept on the top floor, and got half a day off each week.  Otherwise they were expected to work as required. There was no mains water until well into the 1890s,  but in each bedroom there would have been a marble topped wash-stand on which stood a huge china bowl, and each morning the maid would have brought you a  metal jug of hot water heated on the kitchen range and a china jug of cold water, and you shaved (cut-throat razor) and washed with that. The houses were lit with gas which heated a ceramic "mantle" which gave a  pleasant soft light. It had to be turned on and off at the light itself and lit with a match, so when moving around a house in the dark you carried a candle on candle stick. In the cupboard beside your bed was a china chamber pot. 

 

The houses had large gardens, a greenhouse, and a conservatory attached to the house itself..  They were tended by paid gardeners who produced fresh vegetables and fruit in season. 

 

The middle class eat enormously by our standards because their house were only heated by open fires, which the maid was expected to tend, or gas fires which were expensive.  Breakfast would consist of porridge and bacon and eggs, kippers or something similar, toast and marmalade.  Lunch was a three course meal, and dinner (in the evening)  four or five.  Tea meant hot buttered scones or doughnuts, sandwiches and cake. The tea would be served from a solid silver tea pot, the maid was on hand to replenish the plates as required, and of course do the washing up.

 

The Victorians took much more exercise than we do.  Few even of the professional classes had personal transport. Road  traffic was horse-drawn and to keep a horse you  had to  have a field.  That was only possible if you lived on the edge of the town or in the country. Only a few of the very rich would have had a coach and a full-time coachman.  Children walked to school irrespective of the distance. Adults walked, went by train, or increasingly bicycled.  "Outside cars", "jarveys", or "jaunting cars" were the only form of taxi.  "Car" was short for carriage and still meant a horse-drawn vehicle. Motorcars do not appear until after 1900.

 

The children of the professional class were always privately educated.  In some cases the family would have employed a governess who lived in. The barrier between working class and professional class was virtually unbridgable. 

 

There were no domestic refrigerators but milk and bread was delivered daily.A lot of dried food, like peas, was used, and the garden produce preserved by bottling Cooks were skilled at recycling left-overs.  Mrs. Beaton called them rechaufees and dedicated a special section of hr book on Household Management to them .

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No telephones, but the post made deliveries two or three time a day, so notes were a practical alternative. A letter posted in London before 5 p.m. would be delivered in Queenstown by 10 a.m. the next morning.

Women wore multiple layers of petticoats and dresses that came down to the floor. The men would have worn thick woolen underwear flannel shirts and tweed suits in the winter.   Both would have had heavy overcoats that came down to their ankles for use when out of doors. Both invariably wore hats.  This was the heyday  of the ostrich feather.  The quality of your clothes was an important indication of your social status.

    

The Cork Opera House was flourishing and provided both light (Gilbert and Sullivan) and classical operas, and  Symphony Orchestras came there for "a season".  Queenstown had its own Musical Hall.

There  were two Tennis Clubs, a small one in Queenstown and a much larger combined Tennis and Croquet club in the western suburb of  Rushbrooke.  

 

The Royal Cork Yacht Club, to oldest in the world which traces its origins back to 1720, had its clubhouse in the town. If you owned a yacht you had a paid yacht hand to do the less pleasant jobs. But even the large yachts would not have had engines, and may not have been intended to be slept in. The club house included a billiard room.  Dinners were a regular feature and the members were expected to wear the club uniform which was based on the Naval Officers "mess undress", sometimes colloquially referred to as a "bum freezers" because it does not cover that part of the anatomy. .

 

There was a pack of beagles on the island and the major hunts on the mainland, and a lot of good shooting on the marsh land round about. Only the wealthy would have possessed guns..

 

Queenstown accommodated Cork business men,  the families of the officers on the Royal Naval ships and the dockyard, and most of the families of the Army Officers stationed on Spike Island . The Admiral was the most important local dignitary. The British Empire was the only World Power and the Royal Navy policed the seas world-wide, it authority unchallenged.

 

Besides the R.C. Cathedral designed by Pugin, there were two large Church of Ireland churches one in Queenstown and the other in Rushbrooke.  These held three service each Sunday, an early Communion Service,  Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Attendance at the Morning Service was virtually a civic duty.  Both churches had large voluntary choirs who would be expected to sing the hymns and chant psalms in "parts".  Morning Prayer lasted almost two hours, and children were expected to attend "Sunday School" before that.  

 

Much of the entertainment was self-made.  Every house had, "morning" or "smoking" room for the family. Women did not smoke. In addition  it had a  large drawingroom for entertaining and every drawingroom had its grand piano.  Every young lady's "accomplishments" beside embroidery had to include singing and at least one musical instrument , and even young gentlemen were expected to have a "party piece", and to bring their music for it with them.  Sheet music from the popular "shows" was purchased in large quantities.   Larger houses, like Admiralty House, had ballrooms

 

Wives of the Professional Class had an "At Home" day.each week. This would have been printed on their "Visiting Card".  "At Home" meant that anyone receiving a card from you was free to call between the hours stated, and would be given tea. Your "dropped cards" on any newcomer that you wanted to meet.