An Illustrated Social History

Chelsworth  Yesterday and Today

In the early 18 Century, class dominates the social conventions of the day: deference and status constrain relationships of every kind and at all levels of society. At the higher levels, this means that formal rules of etiquette govern such things as forms of address, courtship behaviour and precedence at public events.

At the same time, there is a good deal of coarseness in the conduct of both men and women in matters of drinking and gambling. Foreign visitors have commented upon our readiness to discuss indelicate subjects in mixed company.

Family background counts for a very great deal, especially where titles and the right to arms are involved. However, it is increasingly true that the simple possession of wealth, from commerce as much as from property ownership, can now open the door to higher social status and a ‘good’ marriage.

As ever, fashion controls social manners, particularly in matters of dress - for men, fine clothes and powdered wigs; for women, elaborate costumes riding on top of hooped petticoats, and highpiled hair. In the towns, sedan chairs are much in vogue for stylish street transport, both for comfort and for safely, in the absence of proper pavements and effective policing.

In the country, as one would expect, those in positions of social esteem, as well as those aspiring thereto, do their best to imitate both the occasions and the style of their urban models.

Today, in general, society has become more informal and casual over the past 30-40 years. Introductions and handshakes are still in order when people are brought together for the first time, but without the old meaningless ‘How do you do?‘ Approaching strangers without a formal invitation is quite acceptable, and old and young generally associate on completely equal terms. However, a degree of mutual respect is called for even when addressing by their first name people one scarcely knows.

6,     Social Manners

At he same time, it is clear that in this village there are at least two quite distinct social closes - the bulk of the people are comfortably middle class, but a notable minority are regarded, and regard themselves, as being of some form of lower order. (It is difficult these days to find the right way to describe this situation without being disrespectful or patronising. However, in terms of education, employment and housing, this minority has fared less well, and is consequently less well favoured in worldly terms. As a result, they usually stay away from many of the social occasions such as parties and concerts).

Although following fashion in clothes and appearance is still de rigeur in some quarters, most people dress for ease and comfort most of the time. For work, of course, and for special social occasions, a more formal outfit is appropriate, and it is noticeable that more women, as they look for positions of leadership in business etc., seem to be prepared to adopt rather severe styles of dress. Young people, too, are constrained by peer pressures to follow the current vogue, so that teenage girls generally model their clothes, shoes, hair, jewellery and much else on pop fashion gurus, to the extent that, in some cases, this leads to physical and psychological problems over weight and diet.