Recently I stumbled upon this interesting article about the changes in dinner time. Here are some excerpts about dinner times in the eighteenth and nineteenth century:
Capitalism, colonialism, and then the industrial revolution were changing the world’s economy. People had more money, and in the cities at least, more goods were available, including candles and lamps. People began staying up later with the better lighting, and many of them didn’t have to get up so early in the morning anymore. There was also more to do at night.
Artificial lighting allowed for later mealtimes. In Fritz Syberg’s Supper, a working-class family sits down to a meal of porridge with the clock in the background reading 8:25.
With these late hours for entertainment and parties, and with more artificial lighting, many people in the cities began going to bed later and rising later in the morning. Mealtimes were pushed back as a result. In London, by the 1730s and 40s, the upper class nobles and gentry were dining at three or four in the afternoon, and by 1770 their dinner hour in London was four or five.
In the 1790s the upper class was rising from bed around ten a.m. or noon, and then eating breakfast at an hour when their grandparents had eaten dinner. They then went for “morning walks” in the afternoon and greeted each other with “Good morning” until they ate their dinner at perhaps five or six p.m. Then it was “afternoon” until evening came with supper, sometime between nine p.m. and two a.m.! The rich, famous and fashionable did not go to bed until dawn. With their wealth and social standing, they were able to change the day to suit themselves. The hours they kept differentiated them from the middle and lower classes as surely as did their clothes, servants and mansions.
By 1800 the dinner hour had been moved to six or seven. For early risers this meant a very long wait until dinner. Even those who arose at ten a.m. or noon had a wait of anywhere from six to nine hours. Ladies, tired of the wait, had established luncheon as a regular meal, not an occasional one, by about 1810. It was a light meal, of dainty sandwiches and cakes, held at noon or one or even later, but always between breakfast and dinner. And it was definitely a ladies’ meal; when the Prince of Wales established a habit of lunching with ladies, he was ridiculed for his effeminate ways, as well as his large appetite. Real men didn’t do lunch, at least not until the Victorian era.
Since the middle classes were still eating dinner in midday for the most part, they had no room for luncheon in their day. In the late 1700s and the 1800s, that began to change with the development of factories and then trains and streetcars. People began to work further from home, and the midday meal had to become something light, just whatever they could carry to work. The main meal, still usually called dinner, was pushed to the evening hours after work, when they could get home for a full meal.
Indoor gas or oil lighting came to many homes in the 1800s. It was getting easier and easier to stay up in the evening. By the 1840s dinner had been pushed back to as late as eight or nine for the wealthy, People once again grew hungry in the long interval that was now eight hours between new lunch and late dinner. And women once again led the way in mealtime inventiveness. Tea with biscuits and pastries had been popular since the 1700s as a refreshment to serve visitors. Now ladies began taking tea and snacks of light sandwiches and cakes around four or five in the afternoon, regardless of whether or not they had visitors. At first they had this snack in relative privacy, in their boudoir or private sitting room. But by the 1840s they had established afternoon tea as a regular meal in drawing rooms and parlors all over Britain.