In 1914 Surrey society mirrored that across much of the rest of the country. Much of the land was owned by relatively few families, with the majority of the male population consisting of tenant farmers, businessmen, tradesmen, agricultural labourers, clerical occupations and domestic servants.
Though increased mobility provided by railways and better roads was beginning to change the social order and routine of county life, family and social affairs continued in much the same way as they had since Victorian times. The 1911 census shows that Thomas, 2nd Lord Farrer of Abinger employed a butler and nine domestic servants to cook, clean and run the household. He was a Liberal peer and County Councillor and a firm supporter of women’s suffrage and conservation, serving as the first chairman of the Box Hill Committee of the National Trust. His children attended boarding school and university, his wife, Evangeline hosted luncheons and parties.
“You must be cooked in Paris I fear, so we are here but the strong South breeze ‘tho hot, keeps us coolish. Kitty bathed yesterday and today – very happy. Albany House Committee this morning very dull. I went hoping to catch a scullery maid …This p.m. music lessons and in the evening a concert at Peaslake…How nice it would be if you were coming to West Downs tomorrow.”
Letter to Lord Farrer from his wife, Evangeline, dated 22 May 1914
“Dear daddy, it is hot here and the sea is so blue we are all going to bathe, it is so much fun best love to Mummie and all from Anne (from Margate)”
Letter to Lord Farrer from his daughter Anne, dated 11 July 1914
Horace Platt and his family were typical of the developing middle class in Surrey on the eve of the Great War. Horace was an advertising agent. He and his family lived in comfort in Hook Heath, Woking. They owned their house, had a car, went on holidays and their three children had a nurse.
In contrast family life for the lower orders could be hard and people found work where they could. In the 1911 census Arthur Thomas Perrin of Hersham (near Esher) was listed as a dental mechanic in a factory, but by 1914 he had become a labourer. He, his wife Georgina and their five young children were admitted to Chertsey workhouse several times over the summer of 1914. Entering the workhouse would have been the last resort but many struggling families had no other option. The Perrin family also had to come to terms with the loss of three of their eight children.
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