Mrs Rylands’ Ball, February 1909

Philip Jeffs continues his blog exploring the Glazebrook-Rylands family archives…

After the dangers of smoking and the threat of cholera, I thought you might like a slightly lighter-hearted blog entry. So today I have chosen the dance card and menu from a ball held by Mary Isabel Rylands of Highfields, Bidston, Birkenhead.

Mary Isabel was the wife of John Paul Rylands, the man whose memories of his school days we looked at earlier in the blog. John Paul was by this time a reasonably wealthy man, he had his share in Rylands Brothers wire works, which had been become a large concern under the patronage of his father and uncle (the brothers in question), and was a Barrister at Law in his own right.

Part of life for the Rylands family now was keeping up appearances. John Paul had followed the example of his father and uncle and built himself a large, state of the art house. He named it Highfields after the house his father had built at Thelwall. The family took part in a constant circuit of visits, dances, parties, and lunches.

The event shown here is a ball, held by Mary Isabel at St. Anne’s Rooms, on 9th February, 1909. We have two dance cards from this ball, but sadly neither have been filled in, so either we have the dance cards of two wall flowers, or these items were kept as left over copies to remember the day by. The date of the dance doesn’t match up with any major events in the life of the Rylands family, but with the diaries of John Paul showing that the family were hosting or attending events at least a couple of times every week, there perhaps needs to be no reason beyond enjoyment.

What amused me most with this dance card was the way it captured a moment, at the beginning of the 20th Century, when the traditional, staid music popular in the 19th Century was giving way to the precursors of popular music. Note the two step dances, the “Rooster Strut” and the “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”. It’s hard to imagine the older generations of the Rylands family, with their rigid beliefs in abstinence from luxury, self-sacrifice to please God, and self-control at all times, dancing the “Rooster Strut”. John Paul’s grandmother Martha, whose diary entry from during the great cholera outbreak was an earlier post, had recorded in her diaries how it was disgusting and sinful to be glad that you were alive and how dying painfully from cholera was a blessing as it brought you to God quicker and let you appreciate the Sacrifice of Jesus more in the meantime. So perhaps the Teddy Bear’s Picnic was not for her.

The next little snippet we have relating to this ball is a menu card. Decorated in the same pattern as the dance card, this menu lists the five course meal that was held as part of the event. I have to say that the menu sounds quite impressive and most of the items could easily be found on a posh menu today. With six options for the main course and seven options for dessert, I think everyone could have found something to eat. But still, with twenty items on the menu, an extra one has been added, grilled bones. Grilled bones are an option I could do without, I confess, but I am sure that one of you readers out there must like scooping the marrow out of bones.



This article was originally posted on Wednesday, July 30th, 2014.