by Donna Hatch
Few rooms are as quintessentially English as the Drawing Room. The very word Drawing Room inspires a host of images, doesn’t it? “Drawing room” is a shortened version of the term “Withdrawing room” for that time after dinner when ladies withdrew to allow the gentlemen to discuss manly pursuits not considered proper in mixed company such as politics, sports, news, etc. By the Regency Era, the term had shortened to simply “drawing room.”
During the day, a British host or hostess often received guests in the drawing room or parlor. During chilly months, they partitioned off one end of the room with screens to keep in the warmth, and gathered together near the hearth. When not entertaining, ladies went to the drawing room of paint or sketch, sew or tat, do crafts such as glue ribbons or feathers on hats, or shell or beadwork, write letters, or keep journals. Evenings when British families stayed at home together, they gathered to read aloud or silently, play music or games, or simply talk–all in the drawing room.
For entertaining, they opened up the entire room and filled it with guests dressed in their finery, enjoying drinks, making business deals, making matches (also often business deals), and delighting over the latest on dits.
The drawing room also served as a ballroom for those houses without a dedicated ballroom. If the dance occurred spontaneously, servants—and sometimes guests—moved furniture to the edges of the room and rolled up the carpets to allow room for dancing.
For formal balls, all this preparation was done ahead of time, with chairs placed against the walls and perhaps a few small tables where ladies might leave their reticules or fans or shawls while they danced. Married and older ladies generally occupied these chairs so they could gossip with their friends while the younger folk enjoyed the often vigorous dances.
If a house or castle did not have a formal drawing room, the great hall, also known simply as the hall, served this purpose just as well.
Can’t you just imagine these rooms filled with ladies dressed in silk ball gowns dancing with gentlemen in their fine tailcoats?