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THE ENGLISH SATIRIST Saki wrote, “The cook was a good cook, as cooks go, and as cooks go, she went.” By contrast, Georgina Landemare was more akin to Mrs. Patmore, in charge of culinary matters at Downtown Abbey. She stayed, gloriously.
Rosemary Hill’s “Ooh the Rubble” reviews Annie Gray’s biography of Georgina Landemare in London Review of Books, July 16, 2020. As is typical of LRB, the review is replete with entertaining commentary, both from Hill and biographer Gray. Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are selected tidbits, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.
Hill writes, “Gray is a food historian and she sets Landemare’s long life [she lived to 96] in the context of changes in diet and eating habits over nearly a century.”
Georgina’s father, Mark Young, was coachman for the Liberal Minister of Parliament Cyril Flower. Born in 1882, Georgina was raised in a late-Victorian orbit of comfort, if not splendor.
The Rothschilds’ Kangaroos. For example, a visit to Georgina’s maternal grandmother is recounted, en route to which they passed the Rothschild’s Tring Park estate. There, Hill says, Mrs. Young “took a welcome rest while the children watched the kangaroos. These belonged to Walter Rothschild’s menagerie, a source of great local interest and periodic nuisance…. Apart from these exotica, the world of Landemare’s childhood belongs to the late Victorian dreamtime, a chapter from Lark Rise to Candleford.”
Scullery Maid No. Six. Georgina briefly considered nursemaid service, but opted for below stairs in the kitchen. “She began,” Hill notes, “as a scullery maid, ‘number six’ in the kitchens of a house in Kensington Palace Gardens that had a staff of about 14. Landemare set her standards early. She never took a position in a house with fewer than six staff, which implied a household income of less than £2000 a year.” Figure around $300,000 today.
“I started on ten pounds a year payable every quarter…,” Georgina wrote.
Making Room for Nuncheon. Hill describes culinary customs in turn-of-the-century upper-class England: “After tea in bed came a substantial breakfast involving porridge, fish, eggs, sausages and marmalade. It was eaten around 8.30 a.m., much earlier than the Georgian breakfast, as it had now to make way for the meal that first appeared at the beginning of the century under various names, as nuncheon, noonings or noonshine and finally settled down to become luncheon and then lunch. Lunch elbowed its way into the day, pushing breakfast earlier and dinner later, and by the 1890s was itself moving clockwise towards 1.45 p.m. or even 2 p.m.”
Moving Up Below Stairs. Georgina’s life changed markedly in 1909 when she married widower (and chef) Paul Landemare. We’ll continue with her tale tomorrow in Part 2.
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020