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The Victorians wouldn’t be much use to you if you are organising a school disco, a Halloween ‘sleep-over’ or even Guy Fawkes fireworks in the back garden – but ask them to lend a hand with what they called ‘Juvenile Parties’ and you wouldn’t be able to stop them.

One of the leading protocol and etiquette guides of 1898, ‘Manners and Rules of Good Society – or Solecisms to be Avoided’, written as one might expect by ‘A Member of the Aristocracy’, had lots of ideas for keeping gatherings of ‘tots, teens and in-betweens’ in order… although generally it disapproved of such activities…

“The dresses worn by children at these entertainments are of so elaborate a character – and so much pride is exhibited when wearing them – that a spirit of vanity and a love of dress are aroused at a prematurely early age. From a physical point of view late hours, heated rooms, rich dainties and constant excitement have a pernicious effect upon children”. So there!

If however you decided to press on despite the pernicious effects here are some of the tips the book offered:-

Food

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In the best houses tea is usually served in the dining room about half an hour after the time given on the invitation card, tea from one end of the table and coffee from the other. In between are plates of pound, plum and sponge cake, interspersed with plates of thinly sliced bread and butter. The food is served by the governess, the daughters of the house, the head nurse or the lady’s maid. Any parents accompanying their children eat elsewhere leaving their children in the care of their nannies.

Amusements

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These take place in the drawing room immediately after tea – all valuable ornaments or things likely to be broken having been removed. The carpet is covered with a dancing-cloth. Popular amusements include performing birds, monkeys or dogs, Punch and Judy and other marionettes. Magic lantern shows are held in the library. Charades can be popular but the children should be prepared for such a boisterous activity with a quiet game like ‘Forfeits’, ‘Cross Questions and Crooked Answers’ or ‘Proverbs’.

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Dancing and games are popular and should last about 45 minutes. Little girls prefer polkas, valses and quadrilles while boys are partial to country dances like the Tempête or ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’. If taciturn Master Tommy declines to dance with timid Miss Tiny he should be encouraged to do so by his mamma, elder sister, or grown up aunts and cousins.

Refreshments

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These should be provided in the dining room – lemonade, wine and water, every description of cake, sandwiches, crystallised fruits, French plums, figs, almonds, raisins and oranges. Bon-bons containing paper caps etc which afford children much amusement, are usually provided.

Christmas and New Year’s Parties

The distribution of presents is a very important feature. Now that Christmas Trees are falling from fashion other novelties can be employed like ‘The Lucky Log’. ‘The Fairies Well’ and ‘The Magic Sack’. Adults at the party might care to hand out the presents dressed as Christmas characters like the Fairy Godmother, Buttons or Prince Charming. These provoke much wonder and admiration amongst children. Presents are usually given at the close of the evening.

The ‘Member of the Aristocracy’ who wrote ‘Manners and Rules of Good Society – or Solecisms to be Avoided’ advises that the best children’s parties take a middle course between too much ‘quiet play’ on one hand and too much raucous fun on the other. It is important to render such gaiety and amusement suitable to the age of the children invited. This aristo. cautions that it is a mistake to crowd too great a variety into the space of four hours, the usual limits of a child’s party. No little judgement is required when organising juvenile parties – a tip that I might recommend to those living in St Margarets who over the last few days have been busily dressing their houses for Halloween with crates of cobwebs, piles of pumpkins and enough witch’s hats to keep the local Sabbat going for months.

— from Martyn Day