The History of the Great British Picnic

Beautiful picnic blankets

As the weather gets warmer, the draw to dine alfresco is greater than ever! Whether it’s soaking up the rays, prepping (and, of course, eating) the perfect spread, or spending time in nature that’s your main priority, enjoying a well-timed picnic or two is certain to be the activity of choice for many during the coming months.

The art of picnicking is synonymous with British summertime and has been for as long as we can remember. But where did the tradition of dining outdoors – preferably on one of our beautiful picnic blankets – come from?

We look back at the origins of the great British picnic and how you can bring your picnic bang up-to-date with just the right accessories.

The word ‘picnic’ gives us a hint of its origins

Whilst the word ‘picnic’ cannot be directly translated into English, its links to Europe bring us to the very beginnings of this now popular pastime. We’ll let Word Origins explain more:

“The English word picnic ultimately comes from the French pique-nique, although it may have come via German. The French word originally referred to a meal where everyone paid for or contributed their share of the food, but later came to mean a meal eaten outdoors. The pique comes from the verb piquer, to stick or sting, to bite like an insect. The nique means ‘nothing whatsoever’.”

The ‘pique-nique’, or picnic, gained popularity in 17th century France, with the sharing of food particularly fashionable. It wasn’t until the 18th century when the picnic really came into its own, however.

Our obsession with picnics really started in the 18th century

Picnics were still primarily an indoor affair during the 18th century, with aristocrats, in particular, hosting picnics and encouraging guests to share food at home as well as in extravagant hired spaces. During this time, picnic guests would bring a dish or drink as a contribution to the wider spread or pay part of the cost.

As picnics became more and more elaborate, hosts would introduce music and dance. The result was a posh picnic that had more similarities to a ball than the picnic we know and love today. Word of picnics spread quickly throughout Europe, with aristocracy referring to them as ‘Subscription Balls’ in Germany.

Fun at a picnic

The French Revolution saw the picnic reinvented

As the first restaurants were introduced to society, the picnic had to evolve to stay in favour. It was the French Revolution, a movement that took place between 1787 and 1799, that changed the face of picnics for good. During this time, the aristocrats that spent their time picnicking fled to other parts of the globe, and took their love of picnics with them.

It was only on their arrival to London that picnics began to be enjoyed outdoors, with the reason for their more alfresco setting still largely unknown. While outdoor picnics were popular in London, this wasn’t the case elsewhere. The indoor picnic theme continued globally for another 100 years.

The modern-day picnic – alfresco dining at its best

Picnics may be more informal in the modern day, but the freedom and flexibility they offer are extremely liberating. In addition to having tons of picnic recipe inspiration to explore – including tantalising treats for meat lovers as well as those going veggie – the range of picnic accessories on offer makes a picnic somewhere lovely an extra special treat.

Our picnic blankets add a touch of luxury and cosiness to proceedings. Using a 100% waxed cotton underside and a 100% Merino wool upper, you can create the perfect picnic spot wherever you go.

Browse our picnic blankets and picnic accessories today to discover all the supplies you need to do that great British picnic justice!