THE hugely popular ITV series ‘Ladette to Lady’ attempted to make fine young women out of many a 21st century girl and on Sunday it was time for me to get my own lesson in etiquette from Paxton House’s Lord and Lady Goode Manners aka Alan and Val Knowles.
Sunday’s class on how best to conduct yourself in the more desireable of social circles was the second of four sessions Alan and Val hosted at the famous mansion house and although I’d like to consider myself a polite, well rounded sort of guy, it was certainly an education.
But Sunday’s class was certainly more of a challenge for my fellow pupil of etiquette (derived from the French word for ticket, taken to mean ‘prescribed routine’) Norma, who was taught the many ways a lady could hold her fan in order to give off a particular signal to any potential suitors.
Who knew that the slip of one finger or a change of hands could lead to admirers getting the wrong idea? A man would be left in no doubt of a lady’s feelings towards him if she drew the fan through her hand, thus signifying her love for him, whereas it was game over for him if she twirled it in her right hand, as that meant she was in love with another.
And the fan could also be used as an impromptu weapon should a gentleman’s hand stray a little close to a lady’s bosom or a a seduction prop should she happen to drop it as a handsome man was walking by. Spare a thought for the men back then as they would be expected to be well versed on what each signal meant - I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be tested on my recollection of them!
As the class took place in some welcome sunshine in Paxton House’s wonderful gardens it seemed appropriate that Lady Good Manners gave her audience a lesson on the importance of keeping a good ‘Physic Garden’.
Her maid Kate, more commonly known as Karen Page, Paxton House’s costume and exhibitions officer, was on hand to present a number of plants which had all sorts of uses. I certainly didn’t want to spend too long in the company of thyme as back in Georgian times it was used to encourage urination and vomiting. Marigold, on the other hand, was a much more desireable plant to have in the garden as taken on its own it would bring courage to the heart and marigold tea was consumed to promote sound sleep.
Displaying a few cracking bruises from going on a particularly raucous funfair ride the day before, I certainly could have done with some rosemary, which was used to eradicate marks from one’s body in the 18th century.
Speaking of bodies, anyone striving for a beach body for their summer holiday would do well to invest in some fennel which was thought to be a fantastic slimming aid at the time George III was on the throne.
And I don’t think mouthwash manufacturers have anything to worry about but back then it was thought that drinking one’s own urine was the perfect remedy for bad breath!
With apothecaries back then costing so much people made sure they had a well stocked garden so they could treat themselves but as well as being a conscientious they also enjoyed the odd bad habit - with snuff being a popular vice amongst the higher classes.
And just like many other things back then there were different ways of doing it for men and women. Lord Goode Manners was on hand with some snuff and some swift instruction on how to take it, to ensure that myself and Norma would fit right in should we be transported to a Georgian social gathering.
We were advised not too indulge too much though as women were warned to avoid ‘a snuffy suitor ’- identifiable due to their inability to walk properly while ladies who had too much snuff were thought to be of very questionable character.
The social elite back then knew how to enjoy themselves, with croquet the outdoor pursuit for many. After a quick introduction on how to correctly hold one’s mallet and position oneself for taking a shot, it was time for me to see if I could cut the mustard in a leisurely game of croquet.
And although at first I was taking my shots like an over enthusiastic player in a game of crazy golf I soon adjusted my technique to that of a respectable Georgian gent and I don’t think I disgraced myself too much, finishing in the runner-up position. That part of the lesson was called ‘croquet with grace’ and I’d like to think I just about pulled it off!
Never slipping out of character during the lesson - Alan and Val were the perfect teachers. With fantastic costumes and the knowledge and enthusiasm to match they made brushing up on Georgian etiquette an enjoyable experience, whilst also making me rather glad that rules on how to conduct oneself in society are a lot less stringent these days.
And Val said that it was something of a detriment to modern society, that in general, standards of good manners and deportment had slipped so much.
“As the years have progressed women have tried to become equal to men but in some cases they have taken on the wrong values. Some women want to be able to drink as much as men or shout as loud as them and if they were to carry on like that in Georgian times people would assume they were a prostitute!
“Youngsters growing up in Georgian society didn’t have the popstar or film star idols that people have today; they strove to be like the very respectable people in the higher classes, often royalty.
“Before King George took to the throne life in British society was more lewd but he was a respectable family man who was a great influence on the country.
“Etiquette was a word adopted from France as women who went there would be keen to mimick the behaviour they picked up over there as well as the fashions.
“Georgian women would be shocked by the way some girls conduct themselves today - they would never have dreamt of behaving in such a way!”
Alan and Val will deliver their final two etiquette lessons on August 12 and September 9, with sessions at 11.30am, 1pm and 3pm. Classes cost £4 for adults and £1 for children.