Inspired by The Cumberland Hotel’s glittering 1920s past and seduced by the elegance of the period, we’ve created a fabulous guide to help you step back in time and relive London in the roaring 1920s. To find out where to eat, sleep and party like it’s 1923 (and not 2013), read on…
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London in the 20s
After the horrors of WWI, the bright young things of the day began to let their hair down, enjoy their newfound wealth and dedicate themselves to a spot of hedonism. The 1920s were a wonderfully colourful, fun and stylish time, especially in London. The city was a hotbed of intellectual and cultural thought and a leader when it came to social progress and cutting edge design.
Being a woman in the 1920s
Flappers were a new breed of young women who were bolder, more modern and were all about having a roaring good time. They threw out their restrictive corsets, wore shorter hemlines (usually with a drop waist), controversially bobbed their hair, drove cars, smoked cigarettes and generally scandalised the stuffier, older members of society who weren’t entirely comfortable with the pace of change in the 1920s.
So many women lost their men to war or faced a slim prospect of finding a husband given the shortage of men. This is what Dr R. Murray-Leslie blames for the rise of “the social butterfly type… the frivolous, scantily-clad, jazzing flapper, irresponsible and undisciplined, to whom a dance, a new hat, or a man with a car, were of more importance than the fate of nations.”
But it wasn’t all frivolity — there was a growing suffragette moment too as women started to demand similar freedoms as men, and the London’s Women’s Library opened in 1926 to give women access to all the books and knowledge they desired.
A gentleman’s 1920s
Men in the 1920s were very fashion conscious, especially in certain circles. Oriental influences could be seen in the clothes they wore, and suits became slimmer with a narrower leg thanks to the popularity of jazz music.
Gieves and Hawkes became the first Saville Row tailor to offer ready-made suits, but buying one of these was something to keep a secret in those times as having your suit made to measure was a lot more fashionable.
Journalist and travel writer H V Morton, writing in the 1920s, described London as being the most masculine city in the world. This could certainly be seen in London’s gentlemen’s clubs which men retreated to, almost all of which barred women.
The Charleston was the dance of the 1920s. It originated in North Carolina but the craze (along with the popularity of jazz music) spread all over the world and was famously performed by It girl Josephine Baker in Paris which set tongues wagging all over Europe.
We’re excited to see that young Londoners are rediscovering this energetic dance, and there are numerous venues offering to teach enthusiasts the steps.
The Cumberland Hotel in the 1920s
Guests are always seduced by the décor here, which originates from the 1920s when The Cumberland Hotel was first built. It was the very first hotel in London to introduce direct dial telephones and en suite bathrooms in its bedrooms, something entirely revolutionary for the time.
Have a look at the photo we’ve unearthed from our archives of the Centre Court from the 1920s and perhaps pop in for a look at what the hotel looks like today?
Food and drink
Arabella Boxer, author of Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food, argues that a revolution in food took place in 1920s Britain. The palates of the upper classes become more refined and closer attention was paid to balancing flavours and creating more refined dishes.
Cocktails (often whisky based) were the drink of choice for the younger generation, but tea also became increasing popular, as did a variety of new cakes.
The luckier segments of society sipped champagne from elegant champagne saucers, which have since been replaced by flutes. We think that while flutes are better at keeping the bubbles bubbly, there’s something very elegant about the saucers.
Art Deco was the influential design movement which sprung from France and encapsulates the look and spirit of the 1920s. Although it has roots in Art Nouveau, it really emerged as a response to the rapid pace of technological progress and reflects the excitement felt in the 1920s at the prospect of technology making lives better.
There are countless Art Deco features and buildings in London, although it took until the 1930s for Art Deco to really take off in the city. The OXO Tower is a fine example, and there are many Art Deco features to be spotted on the London Underground.
Why not discover 1920s London for yourself with our guide to the era? Is there anything we’ve missed that you think should be added?