“Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to choose his own wife.” – Jane Austen, Emma
By the time breakfast was served in a regency household, the family had been up for a while. After rising, people would engage in tasks such as letter writing, practicing the piano, taking a walk or riding. In larger households, the cook and maids would busy themselves heating the stove and boiling water. In more modest establishments, such as the Austen household at Chawton, Jane would help with preparing breakfast. A simple repast of toast, rolls, cheese, tea, coffee, chocolate, or ale would be served between nine and ten. The more elaborate breakfast would not be featured until Victorian times.*
Individuals would rise early, at around 6:00 in the morning. Within the next half-hour or so, people would start work. Breakfast would be taken later, at around 9:00 and afterwards. The morning’s work would finish with ‘dinner’–probably taken between 12:30 and 14:00. Work continued until late. For some, there was tea in the late afternoon, between 17:00 and 18:00. It would be common not to leave one’s work before 19:00. After the evening meal, people would go to bed at around 22:00 – Time and Work in England 1750- 1830, Hans-Joachim Voth
Nuncheon or luncheon was a midday meal served at an inn. For several centuries this meal was simply a snack. Dr. Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary defined luncheon as “as much food as one’s hand can hold.” In the Regency home, such meals had no official name and often consisted of only a cold snack and drink to provide sustenance until the evening meal.*
After breakfast with the children, the first job of the lady of the house would be to talk to the housekeeper. It would be important for them to communicate about the other servants, making sure they were doing their jobs properly and behaving correctly above and below stairs.
They would also discuss the evening meal. If visitors were expected, the lady would choose meals that were lavish and unusual. (They loved showing off) When these matters were dealt with the wife would then check through the household accounts. Bills for meat, candles and flour would usually be paid weekly. When the early morning activities were finished, the social whirl would begin! High society ladies would either receive calls or visit others. Tea would be drunk and snacks eaten.- The Regency Townhouse
During the medieval period dinner was eaten at midday, but this meal was slowly moved up to 3 in the afternoon, then pushed up to five. These meals became elaborate affairs of at least two or three courses, which Louis Simond, a French/American traveler to London, described in wondrous detail in his travel diary. During Jane Austen’s time tea would be served an hour or so after the meal, or from 3-6 o’clock, depending on when dinner was served. Suppers became light snacks, except in the case of a grand ball, where elaborate buffets might be served.
In 1798 Jane Austen writes of half past three being the customary dinner hour at Steventon, but by 1808 they are dining at five o’clock in Southampton. There are many mentions of the timing of dinner in the novels, but none is so explicit as in the fragment The Watsons. Tom Musgrave knows perfectly well that the unpretentious Watson family dine at three, and times his visit to embarrass them, arriving just as their servant is bringing in the tray of cutlery. Tom compounds his rudeness by boasting that he dines at eight: the latest dinner hour of any character. At Mansfield Parsonage they dine at half past four and at Northanger Abbey at five. The effect of London fashion can be seen in the difference between the half past four dinner at Longbourn and that at half past six at Netherfield. – Jane Austen in Context, Janet Todd, p. 264
- *Jane Austen’s World, Maggie Lane
- Mealtimes of the Regency Day: The Regency Redingote