Plucky Pouting Picnic-a-maid of Plumbton Abbey – Hampshire, England, 1862
The discovery in 1845 of the High Tea Hee-Haw and the subsequent boom in biscuit manufacturing caused such a downturn in the availability of suitable servants to run the homes of the middle and upper classes that a solution was sought as households started to struggle. To try and help a ease the shortfall the Victorians invented a new style of dining, picnicking or ‘a gathering where everyone brings some food’ started to gain popularity, usually at an indoor location, by 1860 it had made the translation to also include outside dining after the opening up of formal parks and gardens to the general population.
A novel solution to the growing problem was found by The Duke of Plumbton Abbey, for he discovered during part of his grand tour of Europe a village full of disenchanted Picnic-a-maids, disillusioned distant relatives of the High Tea Hee-Haw made miserable by the fact that the only employment they could find was to work the land and not indulge their passion of putting on the perfect picnic. The Duke never missing an opportunity offered to take them to England to relieve the shortage of help and to also compliment the new craze for picnicking.
News spread fast and as the boat pulled into London crowds filled the street, cheering and waving as row after row of neatly dressed Picnic-a-maids stood proudly on the decks, their tops shining in the midday sun, each with a crisp starched apron wrapped around their middle and wearing an iconic fluffy white hat.
Over ten thousand Picnic-a-maids arrived on our shores during the 1860’s fulfilling roles up and down the land and were said to be the original weavers of the now classic picnic baskets which they used to make in their spare time. We celebrate the Picnic-a-maids to this day with the electronic version, a teasmaid and in popular television drama’s like Upstairs, Downstairs and the latest sensation Downton Abbey, both of which include characters wearing the unmistakable black and white uniform of the Picnic-a-maid.