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Family Of Four: 25 - "At Home' Days

...Bobby and I made a rush to the kitchen, rapped on the door, and walked round the table to see the array. The silver had been given a final polish and the tea service looked splendid glistening on the patterned tray. The bread and butter was cut fine as fine, and the teacakes so exceptionally thinly sliced that they curled over into rolls into which I could run my finger, to be told sharply, "You naughty girl, take your finger away at once." That slice would be whipped away and the remaining ones re-sorted to fill up the space! ...

Mrs Vivien Hirst recalls her mother's formal At Home days.

Mrs Hirst recounted her childhood memories to her nephew, Raymond Prior, who gathered them into a book, Family Of Four.

‘At Home’ days were formal occasions. Mummy held hers on the third Thursday in each month.

Once or twice, when we were yet too young to go to school, Bobby and I were told to stay in the nursery until we were sent for to be introduced to Mummy's friends in the drawing-room. Soon we were prepared for the event, faces washed and shining, hair neatly parted, and mine, which was thick and springy, and therefore always tangled, combed and tugged at by Nurse in a merciless way, which drew forth little cries of protest from me. We were allowed to wear our ordinary clothes and to resume our usual activities afterwards.

The housemaid knocked on the nursery door and said, "You are to come downstairs now, Miss Vivien and Master Bobby, mind how you go!"

On reaching the hall we had a quick look to see how large, or small, was the pile of cards resting on the salver on the oak chest. It was a curious custom: each married caller brought with her three white cards, two printed with her husband's name and address, which she left at the house as a compliment to the husband and wife she was visiting; the third bore her own name, and the same address, and she left this also as her compliment to the absent husband of her hostess. The housemaid held ready the salver to collect these cards before announcing the name, and the practice was for the hostess to return the call of each one on the appointed 'At Home' Day.

When we had satisfied our curiosity, Bobby and I made a rush to the kitchen, rapped on the door, and walked round the table to see the array. The silver had been given a final polish and the tea service looked splendid glistening on the patterned tray. The bread and butter was cut fine as fine, and the teacakes so exceptionally thinly sliced that they curled over into rolls into which I could run my finger, to be told sharply, "You naughty girl, take your finger away at once." That slice would be whipped away and the remaining ones re-sorted to fill up the space!

Trays were set out ready for the housemaid to carry in when the bell summoned her, and laid upon them were entree dishes, dainty with lace doyleys, and spread with minute cucumber sandwiches, small fancy cakes, the inevitable sponge cake from Hobson's and chocolate finger biscuits.

Bobby and I then ran to the drawing-room. The housemaid, who had waited patiently for us, knocked upon the door and opened it, and suddenly we were on our best behaviour. Mummy called us over to her and I led, followed by Bobby, both of us shaking hands with each guest, some of whom we knew, others strangers to us. I was shy and rather intimidated by the twittering remarks: "Oh! aren't they sweet, Flo?" "How Bobby has grown!" and so on, I very solemn and earnest, Bobby dimpling at each one in his charming way.

The guests were very elegant. Some were dressed in long, braided jackets, a jabot of lace foaming down the front opening, with full skirts and smart hats. One or two dispensed with a jacket and wore a dainty blouse, the neck high and stiffly boned, or a gathered, tightly-bodiced gown, with perhaps a feather boa loosely around the shoulders and a large straw hat, smothered by a fascinating assortment of roses. Gloves of fine doeskin were de rigeur.

We were very pleased when our social education was over and we could leave the drawing-room.

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