Get Out The Tennis Racquets And Persian Carpets! It’s Victorian Garden Party Time!

The season for garden parties is almost here. Soon your mailbox will be overflowing with invitations. You must get a jump on your party planning, because as the anonymous author of  Party-Giving On Every Scale writes, “The ladies of each county consider it incumbent upon them to entertain their neighbors at least once or twice during the summer months.” You must come up with menus, erect tents, and find a military band to play at your party. And, if you’re like me, you don’t have a household staff to take care of the trifling domestic matters. Luckily, keeping you from social disgrace is Party-Giving On Every Scale, published in 1880. This lovely volume contains the secrets to throwing a wildly successful Victorian garden party, which is sure to make you the envy of your friends and neighbors.


Garden Party is a popular and not expensive form of entertainment, as hospitality can be shown to a large circle of guests at a very modest cost. These afternoon garden parties take place from four to seven, but are only held as a matter of course from June to October. Garden parties are fashionable entertainments, and are frequently given on a very large scale. Royalty itself leads the way by giving afternoon parties to which from 800 to 1000 guests are invited, which is more or less followed by all ranks of society, including bishops in their palaces, officers in barracks, and members of yachting clubs on the lawns of the club houses, while in the suburbs of London these entertainments are very general, and in the country itself, garden parties are an institution in every county, and the young ladies are able to count their invitations to them by the score. The ladies of each county consider it incumbent upon them to entertain their neighbours at least once or twice during the summer months, and those who have extensive grounds find that a garden party, of all entertainments, entails the least trouble and expense.

At large garden parties, where the guests assemble by hundreds instead of by tens, there is generally one or two military bands in attendance; if given by a regiment, assaults of arms take place at intervals for the amusement of the company.

Garden Party – Philip Leslie Hale

Refreshments at these entertainments are invariably served indoors; but in the country refreshments at smaller garden parties are sometimes served in a tent, or on tables placed under the trees. At large garden parties tents of various sizes are erected on the lawn, and fitted up with seats in addition to the numerous chairs and garden seats that are indispensable, these are placed in rows in the vicinity of the band, and in all available shady spots.

At suburban or country garden parties rugs and Persian carpets are spread on the lawn under the trees, upon which seats are placed, so that should the grass be damp the guests need not fear taking cold.

The guests usually arrive from half-past four to five, and are received by their entertainers either on the lawn itself or in a tent, the names of the guests being announced by the butler or by the head-waiter.

A garden party at Buckingham Palace on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Guests on their arrival usually inform their servants at what hour they purpose taking their departure, and expect their footmen to be in readiness at the time named to call up their carriages.

The usual run of garden parties given on a small scale averages from forty to one hundred guests, and in giving the details of the expenses consequent upon providing for a garden party, it is purposed to take the medium number, seventy-five; that in calculating the expenses for a larger or smaller number of guests it may be arrived at by adding to or deducting from this given number.

Lawn-tennis is now generally played at garden parties, so much so that garden parties are often designated lawn-tennis parties. In town and in the suburbs a military band is generally engaged to play from four to sevenin town a military band means the bands of the 1st or 2nd Life Guards, or that of the Royal Horse Guards Blue, and the bands of the Grenadier, Coldstream, or Scots Guards. These fine bands are a great attraction at a garden party, and a band belonging to either of these regiments can be obtained at the following barracks: Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Wellington, and Chelsea Barracks, and at the Tower. The permission of the colonel of the regiment, or that of the “president of the band,” has to be solicited as a matter of courtesy or form, when the bandmaster is applied to for his band, subject to this permission being granted. The cost of the band is regulated by the strength of its numbers, the charge ranging from 10s to 15s. per man.

People who reside within twelve miles or so of London when they require a band to play at a garden party, usually apply to the nearest regiment quartered in their vicinity, such as Hampton Court or Hounslow, while those who reside in the neighbourhood of garrison towns, such as Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth, Dover, etc., have quite a choice of bands, and the cost of these averages 8s. to 10s. per man, and five guineas is the usual price to pay for twelve performers.

Those who reside at a considerable distance from a town where a regiment is quartered fall back upon the band of the county militia, yeomanry cavalry, or local volunteers; the cost of which bands average also from 8s. to 10s. per man, exclusive of railway fares and refreshments.

The usual refreshments provided for a band at a garden party consist of cold meat, ale, or sherry, or claret, as the bandmaster may prefer:—the cost of which would amount from 25s. to 30s.

Unless a garden party is given on the most economical scale, and it is desirable to spend next to nothing upon it, it is always advisable to engage a band, as the expense is small in comparison with the pleasure derived from it; but when a garden party is merely a small friendly gathering of from five-and-twenty to forty guests, the expense of a band is considered unnecessary, and its presence rather pretentious than not.

In providing garden seats and chairs for the accommodation of guests at a garden party, seats for one-third the number of those invited would be sufficient, in addition to the seats in the drawing-rooms, tea-room, and elsewhere.

Various descriptions of tents are usually erected at garden parties, umbrella tents, round wall tents, canopy tents, and small marquees. The cost of hire of these tents and marquees ranges from £1 10s. to £20, according to size and description of tent.

Bright-looking Persian rugs for spreading on lawns can be bought from 9s. 6dto 70s. each; the cheaper ones, although of coarser and commoner materials, answer the purpose equally well; although our transatlantic neighbours, with their usual disregard of expense, make a grand display of handsome Persian rugs at their fashionable garden parties; but this comfortable custom may be followed without going to any considerable expense in the matter of rugs, always bearing in mind that old and faded hearth-rugs and mats have not an inviting appearance, and that squares of carpet do not offer sufficient resistance unless of the thickest texture—velvet-pile, Turkey, or Axminster. The ubiquitous crimson drugget, although available at all other entertainments, putting as it does a bright face upon much that is dingy in the way of carpets in corridors, landings, cloak-rooms, etc., is at a discount at a garden party.

Tea and Tennis – Edward Frederick Brewtnall 

The refreshments are almost invariably served in the house itself, for several reasons—it entails far less trouble to serve refreshments in a tea-room, where all conveniences are at hand, than to arrange a buffet on the lawn under the trees. When it is desirable, however, that refreshments should not be served in the house from want of space, or some equally good reason, a large tent or marquee is hired for the purpose, the cost of the hire of which, say one 20 feet square, ranges from £and upwards; but, unless the guests number over one hundred, the expense of a tent for refreshments is seldom incurred, besides which a marquee is by no means a cool retreat on a sultry August afternoon, and a dining-room of a house, well ventilated and kept cool by the exclusion of hot air, is a far pleasanter resort for a large party of guests. Again, guests at a garden party find the change from the gardens to the house rather an agreeable one, and for this reason the reception rooms of a house or mansion are thrown open at a garden party, including drawing-rooms, library, billiard-room, or picture gallery if the house boasts of one.

The largest ground-floor room of a house, with the exception of the drawing-room, is usually converted into a tea-room, in which tea is served on dining tables in the centre of the room, or from a buffet at the upper end of the room, as at an afternoon dance or five o’clock tea. Trays with refreshments are carried on to the lawn by the men-servants in attendance during the afternoon, and handed to the guests,—one servant carrying a tray with cups of tea and coffee, another a tray with glasses of sherry or ices.

The refreshments indispensable at a garden party are tea and coffee, sherry and claret cup, cake, and biscuits. Fruit and ices are given in addition to these refreshments when a saving of expense is not of paramount importance to the giver of an entertainment.

For a party of seventy-five guests, 1 lb. of tea would be used, 1 1/2 lbs. of coffee. This quantity of tea and coffee would make 3 gallons of each, allowing a little over 5 ozs. of tea to the gallon, and 8 ozs. of coffee to the gallon. Tea should be made as required, in an urn holding 1 gallon, while the whole quantity of coffee is made in a 3 gallon coffee-kettle or copper; half this quantity should be served hot, and half as iced coffee in glass jugs, prepared with the proper quantity of milk and sugar, the coffee having been placed in ice some hours before required for serving.

Iced claret cup is also made as required, and 2 gallons is usually found sufficient for this number of guests, allowing 8 bottles of claret and 8 bottles of soda-water for the quantity of cup, in addition to about 2 lbs. of loaf sugar; the cost of this claret, at 18s. the dozen, would amount to 12s.; the price of soda-water, as has been before said, ranges from 1 1/2dto 3dper bottle, according to where it is purchased.

Badminton averages the same as does claret cup. Champagne cup and Moselle cup are but seldom given, but when provided, sweet champagne or sparkling Moselle, the former at 42s., and the latter at 36s. per dozen, would be good enough for this purpose. The same quantity of either of these wines would be required for this as for claret cup, viz.: 8 bottles of wine to 8 bottles of soda-water, but the quantity of cup drunk at a garden party depends upon the number of gentlemen present, and also whether they are players of lawn-tennis, in which case there would probably be a run upon iced cups; thus less than 2 gallons, or more than two gallons, would be drunk, according to circumstances. When matches of lawn-tennis are played at a garden party, a table is placed on the lawn, with iced drinks, sherry and seltzer-water, for the benefit of the gentlemen. Sherry and seltzer is rather a favourite drink with men in general, and 6 to 8 bottles of sherry would probably be drunk, or even less, according to the number of gentlemen present; thus, from 1 1/2 to 3 dozen seltzer-water would be required, but, as has been before said, it entirely depends upon how many gentlemen are present.

In some remote counties, for instance, the gentlemen at a garden party are represented by three or four young curates and two or three old gentlemen, while the ladies perhaps muster from forty to fifty, in which case very little wine is drunk. When garden parties are held in or near London, or in the home counties, or in or near cathedral cities, in or near university towns, and garrison towns, &c., the numbers are more equal, and generally one-third of the guests are gentlemen ; therefore, a hostess, when providing wine for a garden party, naturally takes this into consideration.

Susanna’s note: The author breaks out the amounts of ices and strawberries required and their respective costs. She refers to other sections in the book for the expenses of cakes, biscuits, and china rental. If you are writing or researching or merely curious about these topics, do peruse the sections of the chapter I have omitted.

Refreshments are served from 4 to 7—from the commencement to the termination of a garden-party. Two women-servants should pour out the tea and coffee; a third should serve either ices, or strawberries and cream, when given, while the guests help themselves to all other refreshments on the tables, whether to fruit, wine, or cup, etc. One man-servant should also be in attendance in the tea-room to offer any assistance in the way of opening soda-water or pouring out wine. An attendant is hardly required in the cloakroom, unless the party is a very large one, as ladies are not always shown into the cloak-room on their arrival at a garden-party, and many ladies prefer to leave their wraps and dust cloaks in their carriages.

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