Comic artist William Heath Robinson was enthusiastic about romance and dating, but finding a partner and getting to know one another was extremely difficult 125 years ago, when he was 20 years old. There were several reasons for this:
- There were no night clubs.
- Women simply did not go out alone, and never went into pubs.
- A man who wanted to see a woman would have to go to her house and present his card.
- If he was invited in, he would be allowed to talk to her in the parlour, in the presence of her mother and probably the rest of her family.
- The only chance of meeting her outside was at a public event such as a tennis tournament or a concert.
- If he was eventually allowed by her parents to take her out, they would always be accompanied by a chaperone, who might allow them to hold hands and gaze into one another’s eyes, but would make sure they never kissed.
- If ever they managed to escape the chaperone, they would have to make very sure they were not caught.
- If the worst came to the worst, they might have to elope and get married in secret.
In a heroic attempt to improve the situation, he actually invented a dating machine. In my new book Very Heath Robinson there is a whole section on courtship.
In his autobiography Heath Robinson describes how his brothers courted their ladies: “After dinner, those who were engaged to be married departed in silk hats and frock coats to meet their fiancées, and to bring them home, where we gathered again for tea… The young men … were resplendent with luxurious growth of hair and heavy but well-trimmed moustaches. They were rather uncomfortable in their high stiff collars and clothes that must not be creased. The girls were charming in high coiffures, blouses with wide leg-of-mutton sleeves, and flounced skirts that rustled on the ground as they walked. After a little polite persuasion, a young lady, with becoming reluctance, would oblige by playing on the piano.”
Sadly, he avoids all mention of his own courting. He seems to have been a mild and gentlemanly sort, and probably went through all the angst and unrequited longing experienced by most teenagers and twenty-somethings. He simply states “Our wedding took place in the year 1903, after a long engagement.”