Fine Dining through the Ages!

Crab cactusNicola here! When I was a small child we lived in an ultra-modern house in a town in the North of England. It was the 1960s and 70s and open plan was the height of fashion. Both sets of grandparents however lived in bungalows and my step-grandparents lived in a Victorian two-up tow-down house. All three of these buildings had one thing in common; they had a room that was “for best.” The door was almost always closed and when I was allowed in I didn’t like it. It was always cold (there was no heating on because it wasn’t used very often) and it smelled of that closed up mustiness that rooms sometimes have. In all cases there was a cactus or an aspidistra (or both!) on a wooden plant stand. It was the dining-room.

Dining-rooms are curious things. They go in and out of fashion. At some stages they are the ultimate in aspiration and at others Pompeii diningignored. The Ancient Greeks are usually given the credit for inventing the concept of the dining-room. There were very specific requirements for it: no more than 11 wood or stone benches around the walls. It was a place where men gathered to eat honey cakes and chestnuts, washed down with wine. Yes, it was men only! The Romans, refining the concept, created the triclinium where both men and women dined reclining on sofas, which can’t have been great for the digestion. The Roman triclinium was a very high status room built to have a view and to provide refreshing breezes as one ate. Many were outside and had murals on the wall and fountains in the tables, according to archaeology done at Pompeii.

Dining HogwartsOf course the majority of people, once they had moved into a built dwelling, had one communal room for everything, including sheltering the animals, and so had no separate eating area. The idea of a room that was specifically for the consuming of food died out of fashion, to be re-invented much later. In the meantime the nobility in their castles had a great hall which served many purposes, including as a communal eating area. The hall at Hogwarts (in the picture) is designed on a similar scale. With the size of the household this would have been a busy and noisy space, the lord and his family up on the dais and the household in descending order of rank seated at the trestle table below. In such a household the kitchens could also be a long way away from the room where the food was consumed.  At Ashdown House, for example, built in the 17th century, the kitchens were in a completely separate building and it was the job of the servants to find a way to deliver the food whilst it was still hot. There were some benefits to this system since it did mean that the risk of fire in the main house was minimised (and also the smell of food cooking; a noble family wanted to eat it but not to smell food preparation!)

As was the wont with the rich, however, they soon felt the need for more privacy and so started Basildon 4 to set a smaller chamber aside for more intimate meals. This was the parlour, and the great hall became the venue only for grand, formal meals. The dining room rose again in popularity and by the Georgian period the elegant room with its silver, china and linen was highly prized. People got quite carried away; some architects recommended a house should have 3 dining rooms, one for Winter (shielded from the bad weather and with a roaring fire), Summer (open to the outside with gentle breezes) and an in-between dining room as well! This was the period when the first official use of the name “dining room” began and was included in Dr Johnson’s dictionary.

Albert_Chevallier_Tayler_-_Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning_1909With the industrial revolution and the rise of the middle class, the Victorian dining room became a place to surround oneself with as much comfort as possible. They furnished the room lavishly with mahogany sideboards and upholstered chairs as well as a grand dining table and as many ornaments and utensils as possible. The aspirational working-class dining-rooms of my childhood evolved from those sorts of rooms, a place that was for best where you ate proper meals such as Sunday lunch or used only when there were guests not family. They were usually situated next to the kitchen for ease of serving and some even had a serving hatch through the wall – I remember my mother being so proud of the hatch with its wooden doors! The hostess trolley was also the 20th century equivalent of all those wonderful Victorian dining accoutrements, I think!

Fashions in dining rooms also brought with them many other social changes over the years, from the introduction of the fork in the early 17th century to the introduction of different courses, to endless rules on when meals should be served and books on table manners. One Victorian guide listed, amongst other things that soup should be taken with a spoon, it was not the done thing to sniff a piece of meat when it was on your fork, and on no account should you blow your nose on the table cloth!

These days there seems to be a debate about whether the dining room is out of fashion or not. Whilst a lot of us eat in the kitchen, 17th century eating or in front of the TV, there are still those who maintain that a separate dining-room dedicated to the consuming of food is a special place. I imagine that the popularity of the dining room will come around again, just as it has done over the past 100 years or more.

Do you have a separate dining room or do you prefer a kitchen/diner or to eat elsewhere? Which of the historical dining arrangements would you have enjoyed the most – great hall, Georgian elegance or with the animals around the fire?! And do you have a favourite dining room accessory?

65 thoughts on “Fine Dining through the Ages!”

  1. SUCH a fun post, Nicola!
    I think I would like the Harry Potter great hall dining room, where the house elves magically bring in the food and then clean up!
    I do like the current modern preference for the kitchen being integral to the dining area, so the cook is engaged with family/guests. Food is all about gathering and coming together in the spirit of camaraderie. For me, making a very formal, cut-off dining room discourages that sense of celebration.

    Reply
  2. SUCH a fun post, Nicola!
    I think I would like the Harry Potter great hall dining room, where the house elves magically bring in the food and then clean up!
    I do like the current modern preference for the kitchen being integral to the dining area, so the cook is engaged with family/guests. Food is all about gathering and coming together in the spirit of camaraderie. For me, making a very formal, cut-off dining room discourages that sense of celebration.

    Reply
  3. SUCH a fun post, Nicola!
    I think I would like the Harry Potter great hall dining room, where the house elves magically bring in the food and then clean up!
    I do like the current modern preference for the kitchen being integral to the dining area, so the cook is engaged with family/guests. Food is all about gathering and coming together in the spirit of camaraderie. For me, making a very formal, cut-off dining room discourages that sense of celebration.

    Reply
  4. SUCH a fun post, Nicola!
    I think I would like the Harry Potter great hall dining room, where the house elves magically bring in the food and then clean up!
    I do like the current modern preference for the kitchen being integral to the dining area, so the cook is engaged with family/guests. Food is all about gathering and coming together in the spirit of camaraderie. For me, making a very formal, cut-off dining room discourages that sense of celebration.

    Reply
  5. SUCH a fun post, Nicola!
    I think I would like the Harry Potter great hall dining room, where the house elves magically bring in the food and then clean up!
    I do like the current modern preference for the kitchen being integral to the dining area, so the cook is engaged with family/guests. Food is all about gathering and coming together in the spirit of camaraderie. For me, making a very formal, cut-off dining room discourages that sense of celebration.

    Reply
  6. When I was growing up, we always ate in the kitchen – whether we had a dining room or not. I have a dining room, but I never use it. I live alone and usually dine on a tray in my back room which I use as an entertainment room. I have my books, computer and TV back there. When we have family gatherings, most of us gather together in the dining room/kitchen area.
    I had to laugh at the Victorian guide that discouraged folks from blowing their nose on the tablecloth (smile). Fun post.

    Reply
  7. When I was growing up, we always ate in the kitchen – whether we had a dining room or not. I have a dining room, but I never use it. I live alone and usually dine on a tray in my back room which I use as an entertainment room. I have my books, computer and TV back there. When we have family gatherings, most of us gather together in the dining room/kitchen area.
    I had to laugh at the Victorian guide that discouraged folks from blowing their nose on the tablecloth (smile). Fun post.

    Reply
  8. When I was growing up, we always ate in the kitchen – whether we had a dining room or not. I have a dining room, but I never use it. I live alone and usually dine on a tray in my back room which I use as an entertainment room. I have my books, computer and TV back there. When we have family gatherings, most of us gather together in the dining room/kitchen area.
    I had to laugh at the Victorian guide that discouraged folks from blowing their nose on the tablecloth (smile). Fun post.

    Reply
  9. When I was growing up, we always ate in the kitchen – whether we had a dining room or not. I have a dining room, but I never use it. I live alone and usually dine on a tray in my back room which I use as an entertainment room. I have my books, computer and TV back there. When we have family gatherings, most of us gather together in the dining room/kitchen area.
    I had to laugh at the Victorian guide that discouraged folks from blowing their nose on the tablecloth (smile). Fun post.

    Reply
  10. When I was growing up, we always ate in the kitchen – whether we had a dining room or not. I have a dining room, but I never use it. I live alone and usually dine on a tray in my back room which I use as an entertainment room. I have my books, computer and TV back there. When we have family gatherings, most of us gather together in the dining room/kitchen area.
    I had to laugh at the Victorian guide that discouraged folks from blowing their nose on the tablecloth (smile). Fun post.

    Reply
  11. Thanks, Andrea. Yes, the elf-help would be an added bonus! I totally agree that it’s nice when you’re cooking to be able to interact with your family and guests. I seem to remember that in my grandmothers’ time this wasn’t “the done thing” but we are more relaxed about it and I think that’s a definite bonus.

    Reply
  12. Thanks, Andrea. Yes, the elf-help would be an added bonus! I totally agree that it’s nice when you’re cooking to be able to interact with your family and guests. I seem to remember that in my grandmothers’ time this wasn’t “the done thing” but we are more relaxed about it and I think that’s a definite bonus.

    Reply
  13. Thanks, Andrea. Yes, the elf-help would be an added bonus! I totally agree that it’s nice when you’re cooking to be able to interact with your family and guests. I seem to remember that in my grandmothers’ time this wasn’t “the done thing” but we are more relaxed about it and I think that’s a definite bonus.

    Reply
  14. Thanks, Andrea. Yes, the elf-help would be an added bonus! I totally agree that it’s nice when you’re cooking to be able to interact with your family and guests. I seem to remember that in my grandmothers’ time this wasn’t “the done thing” but we are more relaxed about it and I think that’s a definite bonus.

    Reply
  15. Thanks, Andrea. Yes, the elf-help would be an added bonus! I totally agree that it’s nice when you’re cooking to be able to interact with your family and guests. I seem to remember that in my grandmothers’ time this wasn’t “the done thing” but we are more relaxed about it and I think that’s a definite bonus.

    Reply
  16. Thanks, Mary, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It feels so much cosier to dine on a tray in a less formal setting, doesn’t it.
    The Victorian guide was hilarious. Evidently the author felt there were plenty of people who needed that sort of guidance. There was also a recommendation not to wipe your hands on the skirts of the lady sitting next to you!!

    Reply
  17. Thanks, Mary, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It feels so much cosier to dine on a tray in a less formal setting, doesn’t it.
    The Victorian guide was hilarious. Evidently the author felt there were plenty of people who needed that sort of guidance. There was also a recommendation not to wipe your hands on the skirts of the lady sitting next to you!!

    Reply
  18. Thanks, Mary, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It feels so much cosier to dine on a tray in a less formal setting, doesn’t it.
    The Victorian guide was hilarious. Evidently the author felt there were plenty of people who needed that sort of guidance. There was also a recommendation not to wipe your hands on the skirts of the lady sitting next to you!!

    Reply
  19. Thanks, Mary, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It feels so much cosier to dine on a tray in a less formal setting, doesn’t it.
    The Victorian guide was hilarious. Evidently the author felt there were plenty of people who needed that sort of guidance. There was also a recommendation not to wipe your hands on the skirts of the lady sitting next to you!!

    Reply
  20. Thanks, Mary, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It feels so much cosier to dine on a tray in a less formal setting, doesn’t it.
    The Victorian guide was hilarious. Evidently the author felt there were plenty of people who needed that sort of guidance. There was also a recommendation not to wipe your hands on the skirts of the lady sitting next to you!!

    Reply
  21. My father was a hotel manager during much of my childhood, so the dining room that I ate in was often the hotel restaurant. (I credit my disinclination to cook to my upbringing …or perhaps it’s due to sheer laziness!) Nowadays, my husband cooks, and we eat at the dining table in our kitchen. Our home has no dining room. Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  22. My father was a hotel manager during much of my childhood, so the dining room that I ate in was often the hotel restaurant. (I credit my disinclination to cook to my upbringing …or perhaps it’s due to sheer laziness!) Nowadays, my husband cooks, and we eat at the dining table in our kitchen. Our home has no dining room. Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  23. My father was a hotel manager during much of my childhood, so the dining room that I ate in was often the hotel restaurant. (I credit my disinclination to cook to my upbringing …or perhaps it’s due to sheer laziness!) Nowadays, my husband cooks, and we eat at the dining table in our kitchen. Our home has no dining room. Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  24. My father was a hotel manager during much of my childhood, so the dining room that I ate in was often the hotel restaurant. (I credit my disinclination to cook to my upbringing …or perhaps it’s due to sheer laziness!) Nowadays, my husband cooks, and we eat at the dining table in our kitchen. Our home has no dining room. Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  25. My father was a hotel manager during much of my childhood, so the dining room that I ate in was often the hotel restaurant. (I credit my disinclination to cook to my upbringing …or perhaps it’s due to sheer laziness!) Nowadays, my husband cooks, and we eat at the dining table in our kitchen. Our home has no dining room. Thanks for an enjoyable post, Nicola.

    Reply
  26. Thank you for an interesting post. I had an eat in kitchen and formal dining room for 25 years. At Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter I loved having the smiling faces of my extended family around our big table in the dining room that could seat 20. But the house had a circular floor plan and for the rest of the year that dining room table caught all the school bags, projects, hats, gloves, mail, sporting goods and miscellaneous paper piles that a family of five could accumulate. Now I visit that wonderful table at my son’s and watch the third generation pile their LEGO’s and school bags and other items about the table top and laugh. It must be the table. I would have liked the great hall concept I believe, after the meal was over the tables and benches were moved to the perimeter and the room became their evening “living room” centered on the fire, with the dogs and entertainment. Sounds good to me.

    Reply
  27. Thank you for an interesting post. I had an eat in kitchen and formal dining room for 25 years. At Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter I loved having the smiling faces of my extended family around our big table in the dining room that could seat 20. But the house had a circular floor plan and for the rest of the year that dining room table caught all the school bags, projects, hats, gloves, mail, sporting goods and miscellaneous paper piles that a family of five could accumulate. Now I visit that wonderful table at my son’s and watch the third generation pile their LEGO’s and school bags and other items about the table top and laugh. It must be the table. I would have liked the great hall concept I believe, after the meal was over the tables and benches were moved to the perimeter and the room became their evening “living room” centered on the fire, with the dogs and entertainment. Sounds good to me.

    Reply
  28. Thank you for an interesting post. I had an eat in kitchen and formal dining room for 25 years. At Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter I loved having the smiling faces of my extended family around our big table in the dining room that could seat 20. But the house had a circular floor plan and for the rest of the year that dining room table caught all the school bags, projects, hats, gloves, mail, sporting goods and miscellaneous paper piles that a family of five could accumulate. Now I visit that wonderful table at my son’s and watch the third generation pile their LEGO’s and school bags and other items about the table top and laugh. It must be the table. I would have liked the great hall concept I believe, after the meal was over the tables and benches were moved to the perimeter and the room became their evening “living room” centered on the fire, with the dogs and entertainment. Sounds good to me.

    Reply
  29. Thank you for an interesting post. I had an eat in kitchen and formal dining room for 25 years. At Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter I loved having the smiling faces of my extended family around our big table in the dining room that could seat 20. But the house had a circular floor plan and for the rest of the year that dining room table caught all the school bags, projects, hats, gloves, mail, sporting goods and miscellaneous paper piles that a family of five could accumulate. Now I visit that wonderful table at my son’s and watch the third generation pile their LEGO’s and school bags and other items about the table top and laugh. It must be the table. I would have liked the great hall concept I believe, after the meal was over the tables and benches were moved to the perimeter and the room became their evening “living room” centered on the fire, with the dogs and entertainment. Sounds good to me.

    Reply
  30. Thank you for an interesting post. I had an eat in kitchen and formal dining room for 25 years. At Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter I loved having the smiling faces of my extended family around our big table in the dining room that could seat 20. But the house had a circular floor plan and for the rest of the year that dining room table caught all the school bags, projects, hats, gloves, mail, sporting goods and miscellaneous paper piles that a family of five could accumulate. Now I visit that wonderful table at my son’s and watch the third generation pile their LEGO’s and school bags and other items about the table top and laugh. It must be the table. I would have liked the great hall concept I believe, after the meal was over the tables and benches were moved to the perimeter and the room became their evening “living room” centered on the fire, with the dogs and entertainment. Sounds good to me.

    Reply
  31. Ever since my childhood, dinner has always been in the dining room. Breakfast and lunch, hurried meals sometimes taken on the fly, were often in the kitchen, but dinner was a slower meal, the whole family together, and time to talk as well as eat.
    Besides, when I’ve taken the time and effort to make a good meal, the least the rest of the family can do is sit down and take the time to enjoy it!

    Reply
  32. Ever since my childhood, dinner has always been in the dining room. Breakfast and lunch, hurried meals sometimes taken on the fly, were often in the kitchen, but dinner was a slower meal, the whole family together, and time to talk as well as eat.
    Besides, when I’ve taken the time and effort to make a good meal, the least the rest of the family can do is sit down and take the time to enjoy it!

    Reply
  33. Ever since my childhood, dinner has always been in the dining room. Breakfast and lunch, hurried meals sometimes taken on the fly, were often in the kitchen, but dinner was a slower meal, the whole family together, and time to talk as well as eat.
    Besides, when I’ve taken the time and effort to make a good meal, the least the rest of the family can do is sit down and take the time to enjoy it!

    Reply
  34. Ever since my childhood, dinner has always been in the dining room. Breakfast and lunch, hurried meals sometimes taken on the fly, were often in the kitchen, but dinner was a slower meal, the whole family together, and time to talk as well as eat.
    Besides, when I’ve taken the time and effort to make a good meal, the least the rest of the family can do is sit down and take the time to enjoy it!

    Reply
  35. Ever since my childhood, dinner has always been in the dining room. Breakfast and lunch, hurried meals sometimes taken on the fly, were often in the kitchen, but dinner was a slower meal, the whole family together, and time to talk as well as eat.
    Besides, when I’ve taken the time and effort to make a good meal, the least the rest of the family can do is sit down and take the time to enjoy it!

    Reply
  36. I think my post got lost. We have a room which lies between the living-room and the kitchen. I assume it was planned for a dining-room. And our dining table does reside in it. The is the only table we have for eating.
    But this room is actually a multipurpose room for us. Not a formal dining room at all.

    Reply
  37. I think my post got lost. We have a room which lies between the living-room and the kitchen. I assume it was planned for a dining-room. And our dining table does reside in it. The is the only table we have for eating.
    But this room is actually a multipurpose room for us. Not a formal dining room at all.

    Reply
  38. I think my post got lost. We have a room which lies between the living-room and the kitchen. I assume it was planned for a dining-room. And our dining table does reside in it. The is the only table we have for eating.
    But this room is actually a multipurpose room for us. Not a formal dining room at all.

    Reply
  39. I think my post got lost. We have a room which lies between the living-room and the kitchen. I assume it was planned for a dining-room. And our dining table does reside in it. The is the only table we have for eating.
    But this room is actually a multipurpose room for us. Not a formal dining room at all.

    Reply
  40. I think my post got lost. We have a room which lies between the living-room and the kitchen. I assume it was planned for a dining-room. And our dining table does reside in it. The is the only table we have for eating.
    But this room is actually a multipurpose room for us. Not a formal dining room at all.

    Reply
  41. What a lovely comment, Denise. Thank you for sharing! There is definitely something special about a large gathering of family and friends enjoying the company around a big table. And how perfect that the table is now at your son’s house!

    Reply
  42. What a lovely comment, Denise. Thank you for sharing! There is definitely something special about a large gathering of family and friends enjoying the company around a big table. And how perfect that the table is now at your son’s house!

    Reply
  43. What a lovely comment, Denise. Thank you for sharing! There is definitely something special about a large gathering of family and friends enjoying the company around a big table. And how perfect that the table is now at your son’s house!

    Reply
  44. What a lovely comment, Denise. Thank you for sharing! There is definitely something special about a large gathering of family and friends enjoying the company around a big table. And how perfect that the table is now at your son’s house!

    Reply
  45. What a lovely comment, Denise. Thank you for sharing! There is definitely something special about a large gathering of family and friends enjoying the company around a big table. And how perfect that the table is now at your son’s house!

    Reply
  46. A very good point, Lillian! There is something very enjoyable about taking the time to sit down and enjoy a good meal properly. When everyone rushes about so much it’s good to have dinner together.

    Reply
  47. A very good point, Lillian! There is something very enjoyable about taking the time to sit down and enjoy a good meal properly. When everyone rushes about so much it’s good to have dinner together.

    Reply
  48. A very good point, Lillian! There is something very enjoyable about taking the time to sit down and enjoy a good meal properly. When everyone rushes about so much it’s good to have dinner together.

    Reply
  49. A very good point, Lillian! There is something very enjoyable about taking the time to sit down and enjoy a good meal properly. When everyone rushes about so much it’s good to have dinner together.

    Reply
  50. A very good point, Lillian! There is something very enjoyable about taking the time to sit down and enjoy a good meal properly. When everyone rushes about so much it’s good to have dinner together.

    Reply
  51. Ah, interesting! So you have the space designated for a dining room, Sue, but use it for lots of different purposes. I think it’s rather nice that there are rooms that have more than one use so that they don’t get shut away.

    Reply
  52. Ah, interesting! So you have the space designated for a dining room, Sue, but use it for lots of different purposes. I think it’s rather nice that there are rooms that have more than one use so that they don’t get shut away.

    Reply
  53. Ah, interesting! So you have the space designated for a dining room, Sue, but use it for lots of different purposes. I think it’s rather nice that there are rooms that have more than one use so that they don’t get shut away.

    Reply
  54. Ah, interesting! So you have the space designated for a dining room, Sue, but use it for lots of different purposes. I think it’s rather nice that there are rooms that have more than one use so that they don’t get shut away.

    Reply
  55. Ah, interesting! So you have the space designated for a dining room, Sue, but use it for lots of different purposes. I think it’s rather nice that there are rooms that have more than one use so that they don’t get shut away.

    Reply
  56. Like Sue, growing up we had a room between the kitchen and living room where the table was and we ate there as a family almost every evening meal. That room also housed the piano, plus we did our homework at the table so it was constantly in use.
    Now days, with my open floor plan I have a spot for a dining table but right now it is covered with books, a half finished puzzle, and mail. I live alone and usually eat on a stool in my kitchen. 🙂

    Reply
  57. Like Sue, growing up we had a room between the kitchen and living room where the table was and we ate there as a family almost every evening meal. That room also housed the piano, plus we did our homework at the table so it was constantly in use.
    Now days, with my open floor plan I have a spot for a dining table but right now it is covered with books, a half finished puzzle, and mail. I live alone and usually eat on a stool in my kitchen. 🙂

    Reply
  58. Like Sue, growing up we had a room between the kitchen and living room where the table was and we ate there as a family almost every evening meal. That room also housed the piano, plus we did our homework at the table so it was constantly in use.
    Now days, with my open floor plan I have a spot for a dining table but right now it is covered with books, a half finished puzzle, and mail. I live alone and usually eat on a stool in my kitchen. 🙂

    Reply
  59. Like Sue, growing up we had a room between the kitchen and living room where the table was and we ate there as a family almost every evening meal. That room also housed the piano, plus we did our homework at the table so it was constantly in use.
    Now days, with my open floor plan I have a spot for a dining table but right now it is covered with books, a half finished puzzle, and mail. I live alone and usually eat on a stool in my kitchen. 🙂

    Reply
  60. Like Sue, growing up we had a room between the kitchen and living room where the table was and we ate there as a family almost every evening meal. That room also housed the piano, plus we did our homework at the table so it was constantly in use.
    Now days, with my open floor plan I have a spot for a dining table but right now it is covered with books, a half finished puzzle, and mail. I live alone and usually eat on a stool in my kitchen. 🙂

    Reply

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