Between 1 and 2pm, when the sun is high in the sky London’s green spaces are often swarmed with hungry workers enjoying their lunch in the open air. As they enjoy their sandwiches, what these crowds probably don’t consider, is that they are participating in a long tradition of British picnicking that stretches right back to the Middle Ages.
Originating as a Medieval outdoor feast enjoyed before hunting, it was the Victorian era that saw the picnic rocket in popularity, as the expanding middle class embraced the idea of dining outdoors. The artistic, literary and philosophical ‘Romantic’ movement felt that the bloody events of the French Revolution, industrialisation and urbanisation had proved that civilisation should be abandoned so that man could return to the simple pleasures of nature.
The work of poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and artists including John Constable highlighted the beauty of the natural world to the Victorian public, who began to embrace the great outdoors. Victorian families flocked to enjoy sumptuous food in the company of nature and meals included components as lavish as iced Champagne and lobster tails in mayonnaise, often accompanied by the obligatory cups of tea prepared on a kerosene burner.