chapter  3
COUNTRY AND TOWN
Pages 8

Left to the mercies of the market, unprotected by state subsidies, the Edwardian countryside was economically and socially moribund. The country houses it is true kept their old splendour, assisted by infusions of industrial money. Great landed families such as the Churchills, Cecils and Greys continued to supply some of the nation’s political leaders. They could still employ gardeners to pick up leaves from their mile-long avenues and village girls to staff their mansions. As Lady Bountifuls, distributors of winter blankets, coal and soup, landowners’ wives claimed a natural right to interfere with the lives of village families, and took any challenge to that right as ungrateful insolence:

My wife’s father lived up in Over Grafton and most of the houses belonged to the Hawkins people, it was an estate you see. But my wife’s father didn’t work for Hawkins. He worked down at the mill, doing the dye work, and he rented a house up there. Well now, the old Lady Hawkins, she used to go round and give advice here and there to the people who worked for them, and she’d go round and pull the pot lids off to see what they was cooking, and all things like that. And if they were having a meal at the dinner time and she went into any of the houses, she expected them to sit upright like the soldier does when the officer goes round at mealtime. She expected them to do that. And she went into my father-in-law’s place one time and they were having a dinner. She expected them to do the same. Of course they were nothing to do with her actually, and the eldest brother went on with his dinner, and the others, they sort of half sat up and half went on. ‘Well.’ she said, ‘you rude boy’…and she took his plate off him…Oh, that was a terrible thing, see.1