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"MY PARLOUR"

THE ENGLISHMAN'S HOME

HOUSING AND COURTSHIP

A WIFE'S PARTICULAR ROOM.

"Will you walk into my parlour?'' said the spider to the fly. Tho old rhyme is, or used to be, almost as well known in Australia as in England, but an acquaintance with the domestic traditions of .England teaches how much meaning can be conveyed by a single word. After all, when you come to think of it, what is a parlour? It sounds like something rather imposing. The public-house parlour is, of course, a recognised feature of semi-public architecture, but it ib rather seen than heard of. Certainly, "parlour" conveys the idea of magnificence, There are bank •parlours, for instance; or, better still, to quote another nursery rhyme, the royal apartment, "the Queen waß in the parlour eating bread and honey." As a matter of fact, the first and ordinary meaning of "parlour" in the English language has nothing to do with marble halls and palaces, writes the London correspondent of the Melbourne "Age." Emphatically, any decent English housewife will pretty soon tell you it is not associated with eating bread and honey. It is simply the guest room of 90 per cent, of English wives and mothers, who are neither forced by circumstances to invite' their friends into the "kitchen-living-room" combination, or lucky enough to have their drawing rooms, morning-rooms, sitting-rooms, and the rest of the separate apartments of- fashion. When tho spider invited the fly into his parlour he was not crudely trying- to dazzle him with magnificence. Has was far more subtle. His weapon was flattery. To be invited by the average English housewife into her 2>arlour is a tribute of social appreciation. It was flattery, not allurement, which was drawing the fly to its doom. If this reading of the nursery rhymo is not convincing just think of what it goes on to say about the "pretty tilings" that are there for the fly to see. That corresponds exactly to the English parlour, the front downstairs room, where are the treasures of tho household —not merely the best furniture, but tho smaller possessions in which the thrifty English wife takes pride—the household gods, in fact. A generation ago, at all ■events, in a vast number of Australian homes where- the old English tradition was still strong, it was much the same; they were a pretty faithful reflex of the English prototype. Here were the family photograph album; the family Bible with the vital statistics; the stuffed bird in the glass case; the coral and seashell ornaments; the cut-glass pendante, and so on. In Australia, from a variety of circumstances, this room has largely gone out cf fashion. In England it has not. _ It is still here, one great test of domestic respectability and social decency. In Australia this was known as the "front_ room" very often; sometimes more imposingly the "drawing-room." In England it is invariably the front room on the ground floor, but is known as the parlour.

That is'why the parlour is to-day a matter of national interest. The housii^g' problem in Great Britain is one of national urgency. The shortage is driving people to live in overcrowded, insanitary dwellings. It prevents the demolition of the atrocious slums that disgrace every largo town in tho country, beoanse you cannot turn a family out of a home, however appalling it is, until you find an alternative roof for its collective head. The problem is difficult and complex. The coßt of materials and wages forces the Government to offer a subsidy to builders The present rate of construction just about keeps pace with tho natural increase of population, but no more. It is all veiy well to put up houses at current cost, but how are the rents to be made remunerative to tho owners on the one hand, and within the means of hard-pressed tenants on the other? These, one -would say, are -the vital aspects of a problem which successive Ministers of Health have failed to solve. Yet it is not thp.se, but the parlour, which has appealed to the imagination and the instincts of the people of this country. The Government, in its scheme of housing,, provided for a certain maximum of floor space—to be exact, 850 square feet. The id-ea of the Minister of Health, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, was to allow a certain amount of latitude in the matter. His first concern was to give as much space as possible to what he regarded as essentials. But, of course, if the parlour was regarded as an essential, well, he said, it could be included in the total. He gave a specimen plan, which included three bedrooms, one of which was 10 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 10 inches, and a parlour 10 feet 6 inches by 9 feet 3 inches. The Labour members were incensed. Yet it was not so much the tiny proportions of the "third bedroom,""which moved! them to indignation as the inadequacy of the parlour. "Not enough-to swing a cat in," said one. "Big enough to court in," Mr. Chamberlain replied. Then were the Labour members thoroughly aroused. A Scottish member said tht remark was an insult.

It is not exactly clear why |he mere remark should be regarded an insult, but it is also true that Mr. Chamberlain forgot for the moment how tho vast mass of Englishmen treasure their parlour. He was disposed to be humorous about it. The previous day the Independent' Labour Party—which is, of course, a rather "advanced" wing of the Labour Party—had issued a manifesto in which jt asked, "Where arechildren of the working classes to court if they are deprived of their parlours?" Sweethearts would be driven to make love in the Etreets or the bar—bar parlours, presumably—of publichouses.

Mr. Chamberlian failed, for the moment, to remember that if the Englishman's homo is his castle, the parlour is, for the Englishman's wife, the keep of that castle. The average English housewife makes it her special pride and joy. It Is all very well to make fun of it in some of its aspects.' Tou can go down miles of London streets in which these typical parlour houses cover acres and acres in serried rows.' In evory one the parlour—front room on tho ground floor—is usually in darkness. On Sunday evenings alone is it lighted. Unles a visitor of adequate social rank is being entertained, the room is shut up to keep out the smoke and fog and dust of London, which would ruin the curtains and the upholstery of a suite that, once bought, is expected to last a lifetime.

It is nil very well to make fun of this room, which, normally, is only used once a week—after the dinner is cleared away on Sundays and the dinner things washed up. But it is no joke to the great mass of English wives. First and foremost it is their own particular room, and particularly good care they take of it. From Monday morning to Sunday afternoon they have the house affairs to attend to, _ Sunday afternoon and evening are their one chance to relax. If you ever arrived late for Sunday dinner and found a usually placid and kindly housewife upset for'(.he first time in your experience of her, you would discos'" *'!■ was beccn.'w ynu fmrl upset the treat »hs was wailing {or ail

the previous week—to get dinner over, wash up, tidy the house, and then retire within the impregnable seclusion of her parlour, quite alone, if need be, but, in the hope of a call from a receivable friend, with tea to follow. It's her qne afternoon off, The evening is hevs, too, officially, but there's supper and all that, so there is not a very great deal in it for herself. But the family is at home. The_ fire is alight on that one night during eight months in the year, and the gas is burning. That's why, on that one night in the week, darkness ceases to reign along the ground floor through miles of London streets.

Sunday aFternoon is the life's clay at home; Sunday night she shaves with her family. The parlour makes it possible, because 90 per cent, of the enjoyment, the comfortable satisfaction, would bo lost if they had to be spent in any everyday room. The English working man is proud of his home, but, "be it never^ so humble," Ijb wants part of it for hia parlour. Ths pin-lour means for him most of the amenities of domestio life; and, if he makes less use of it than is made of the dra\ving-r00m,5 of more fortunate people, it is because its contents must last, and because, in the absence of paid servants, it cannot be used every afternoon and every night! by all the family and be always ready for their friends. The husband may be able to enjoy his evenings smoking his pipe by the kitchen _ fire, six evenings of the week; his.wife may be happy there, too, relaxing a little after tie day's work, and the children with her. But this change to the parlour on Sunday makes all the difference to humdrum lives. Socially, too, the parlour i s an institution not to be surrendered without a struggle. Fun can be, and often enough is, made of the parlour as an attribute of social distinction. The housewife who Ihinks herself as good as her neighbour in the social scale could not bear the thought of being parlourless if her neighbour had one. Sha would surely feel considerably depreciated in public estimation if a parloured neighbour called and had to be received in one of the six-days-a-week rooms. It is as much a mark of social status with her to possess a parlour as it is of others to possess a high-class motor-car.

The prominence giyen to courtship in the matter is far from being a joke. Tho givl who had to take her young man into a week-day room, such as the kitchen living room, would feel that she was not rising to tho proper level of courtship. It may be snobbish, but it is fairly certain 'that most of them would, as the Independent Labour maniFesto_ pointed out, prosecute their match making in the street rather than conduct it in a room shared with their families.

The Minister of Health did not mean it, of course, but Labour members saw in his attitude towards the parlour a kind of "slight." They thought he believed that tho working man had no business with such an attribute of social ambition. For them the parlours did not represent snobbishness, but an effort to maintain a standard of social decency which would, indeed, suffer if the parlour were regarded as an unnecessary employment ,of floor space. It has the same kind of moral effect upon its possesors as a decent suit of Sunday clothes. It makes a vast difference to the happiness and contentment of the mass of the population. Without it, the Englishman's home would ba "cabined, cribbed, confined." The tiny apartment allotted by the Minister of Health "for those who must have a parlour" out of the scheduled 850 square feet would not do. A parlour the Englishman must have, and it must be one that feels like a parlour.

It is a sound instinct which has enabled men of all parties in the House of Commons to detect quickly that the Minister's plans, affecting as they do the great bulk of small dwellings to bo erected for some years to come, would set a new and lowei 1 standard of life by establishing a lower moral standard of domestic values., The parlour is triumphing. Appeals from every quarter have inducedihim to promise more space, probably 100 square feet, and the parlour will get nearly all of it.

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Bibliographic details

"MY PARLOUR", Evening Post, Volume CV, Issue 148, 23 June 1923

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1,973

"MY PARLOUR" Evening Post, Volume CV, Issue 148, 23 June 1923

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