Lunch & Supper

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LUNCH, OR LUNCHEON, IS A RELATIVE NEW comer to Britain. It’s first recorded at the end of the eighteenth century: a tumultuous time with Britain and other European countries allied against the newly established French First Republic and the country militarized and heavily taxed. In a more domestic context, mealtimes were in a state of flux, with dinner gradually moving from midafternoon to around 8:00 p.m. for the upper classes. Given that breakfast was generally around 9:00 a.m., it was a long time to go without eating, and while what would later become afternoon tea could fill some gaps, it was hardly a substantial repast.

Lunch, therefore, was inevitable. It was originally known by many names, including nooning and the rather poetic noonshine. It was never as formal or as lengthy as dinner, which remained the main focus of the eating day and the meal to which guests were generally invited. It was a proper sit-down meal, but there was no need to dress specially for it, and frequently not everyone living in a house would be at the table, as there were always those who were off visiting friends, shooting, or conducting business and would therefore have lunch elsewhere. Naturally, it was slightly geared more toward women than men, for women were most likely to be in to eat it. The implications of this are made clear in season 3 when Isobel has Ethel cook lunch for Cora, Violet, and the Downton daughters, and they stand firm against Robert’s intrusion into their ladies’ lunch and their feminine concerns.

The meal itself was a hot one, though the dishes tended to be simple and were often based on leftovers or used pantry items. In keeping with its feminine overtones, as well as its place as a less important meal than dinner, the food was light and, especially after the Great War, was the most likely place to find dishes based on eggs and salad, both very easy to prepare. Unlike dinner, with its many courses and complicated cutlery etiquette, lunch was sometimes served buffet-style, with dishes laid on the table for people to help themselves. That meant fewer servants were required—useful if you are planning to host a Downton-style lunch yourself. At Downton Abbey itself, footmen are generally on hand to serve, but even there, when the financial situation is at its most dire and the number of staff reduced, Robert dining alone is served by Jane, who, as a woman, was of much lower status than one of the liveried manservants.


I was wondering if I ... might try to take her out of herself. Perhaps give a little lunch party, nothing formal. Just Lady Grantham and the girls.


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