Please, Come In

The entrance halls of some of the great English houses of the affluent could oft be places of unbridled conviviality, or conversely, dens of apprehension, abasement, and even injury.

In a time when an Englishman’s home was his castle, uninvited visitors were strongly frowned upon. Visiting cards became an indispensable tool of etiquette, with sophisticated rules governing their use.

The essential convention was that a first person would not expect to see a second person in the second’s own home (unless previously introduced and invited) without having first left his visiting card at the second’s home. Upon leaving the card, the first would not expect to be admitted initially but instead might receive a card at his own home in response from the second. This would serve as a signal that a personal visit and meeting at home would be welcome. On the other hand, if no card was forthcoming, or if a card was sent, sealed in an envelope, a personal visit was thereby discouraged.

The whole song and dance routine depended upon there being servants to open doors and receive the cards and was, therefore, confined to the social classes who employed servants.[i]

The exception might be trades people offering their business flyers (figures 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5), in the hopes of patronage.

Fig. 1. Flyer of John Hinge, ‘operator for corns and nails’.

Fig. 2. Flyer of John Brailsford, cutler.

Fig. 3. Flyer of William Woodward, nightman.

Fig. 4. Flyer of Thomas Hedges, comb and brush maker.

Fig. 5. Flyer of Benjamin Tiffin, bug-destroyer.

Once admitted into the house by the butler, visitors, of all ranks, were requested to wait in the hall while the butler went and sought the pertinent inhabitant. Callers of quality, assured of an audience, would merely pace the stone or marble floor for a few moments until being received, while most vendors and service providers would be told to sit on one of the solid, exacting, chairs that were positioned round the walls. Hall chairs (figure 6) were intentionally uncomfortable; designed to intimidate tradespeople, potential suitors, and other uninvited callers.

Fig. 6. Mahogany hall chair, circa 1825. (Thakeham Furniture)

Butlers would often receive perquisites from certain unsolicited callers, but ultimately, were responsible for conducting a well-oiled house. If confronted with some repugnant or fainéant individual upon opening the front door, the caller might well have been unceremoniously dragged inside, held down on one of the hall chairs and treated to an horrific ordeal with a leg clamp to ensure their non-return.

Such was the case with one Bernard ‘Bernie’ Clay (figure 7), a London brick dust seller, intent solely on equipping the household with the necessary brick dust to polish their mahogany.

Fig. 7. Bernie Clay, brick dust seller.

The butler concerned, one Percival Leftlegs, took exception to Clay, admitted him, and then summoned a few accomplices to deal with him. Clay was constrained in a hall chair and set about by Leftlegs who applied a leg clamp to the unfortunate’s right leg (figure 8).

A. Bernie Clay. B. Sebastian Bellmouth.
C. Percival Leftlegs. D. Bellmouth’s brother-in-law.

Fig. 8. Bernie Clay being coerced.

History does not relate whether Bernard Clay suffered lasting physical or mental impairment, nor if he ever returned to the same premises.

A more satisfactory outcome, under similar circumstances, was achieved by Edward Rhododendron, a gardener from a large estate near Dulwich who sought counsel with his master to apply for the vacant position of head gardener.

An overzealous butler caused sever bruising and lacerations to Rhododendron’s right leg, but the unsavoury incident came to the attention of the estate owner, who indeed, granted Rhododendron the hallowed position of head gardener (figure 9).

Fig. 9. Edward Rhododendron, with leg on the mend.

Jack Plane

[i] Wikipedia.


About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in 17th and 18th Century Culture, Antiques, colouring and polishing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Please, Come In

  1. james A conrad says:

    Interesting and very odd :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric R says:

    I don’t know how you come up with these stories and offerings Jack, but I must say I find them quite fascinating.
    I truly appreciate all the effort you put into explaining what you are presenting. And, they never cease to amaze.
    Thank you very much, my friend.
    Eric from Kissimmee, Florida USA.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Roger Bunce says:

    Ah, Spring has sprung at last !
    Nice one !


  4. Andrew Wilson says:

    Brilliantly entertaining and informative, as always. Thank you Jack.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. james A conrad says:

    Of course, it IS April 1st!


  6. voncarlos says:

    A wonderful look at how life was. Thank you.


  7. Dillon Coleman says:

    wonderful article. can you tell me where the drawing of Edward Rhododendron came from?


  8. Greg Forster says:

    I do not believe I will ever leave my home again.


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