Since the 18th century meals have changed their timing, names and the food consumed. What would our late-Victorian family have eaten?
In the 18th century, the meals each day were breakfast, then dinner at perhaps 4pm, and supper in the evening. However, by the 19th century the traditional time for dinner had got later and so tended to supplant supper. As dinner became later, a new meal filled the gap between breakfast and dinner - 'luncheon'. As dinner was moved still later, to 7 or even 8pm, a gap appeared after luncheon. Tea, as an expensive drink, was served with the dessert final course of lunch. It separated from luncheon, becoming 'afternoon tea' and savoury items, breads, biscuits, cakes and pastries were served.
The longer working hours of the working classes meant that dinner stayed nearer the middle of the day and supper was adapted to take on the food served at afternoon tea. Some families continued to use the term 'supper', others used 'tea' or 'high tea'.
Until late in the 19th century, breakfast was a light meal, with bread or rolls, butter and a drink, except perhaps in the country where cold meat was also available. By the 1860s the use of marmalade and jams was becoming popular. Other dishes were added too, such as eggs, meat chops and fish. At the end of the century, the declining numbers of domestic staff meant that breakfast once again became more simple.
Mealtimes gave Victorian families a chance to meet together regularly. Meals were quite formal. Father sat at the head of the table, mother at the foot, and the children sat round the sides. In better-off homes, a servant helped to pass the dishes and fill glasses. In other families the older daughters did this job.
Middle-class families ate well. Even a plain family dinner started with soup or fish - herrings were very popular. Meats such as boiled rabbit, roast duck or Irish stew followed. To finish there were puddings, fruit tarts or cheese. If guests were invited, the meal was a much grander affair. There could be six courses, each eaten with separate plates and cutlery.