15. Hawkins Hostess Trolley

By Kate Schneider (@sonicteeth)

We fondly remember the hostess trolley as a relic of the 1970s, trundled ceremoniously into the dining room for special occasions, with its misted-up Pyrex dishes filled with damp Christmas dinners and near-sliceable gravy kept warm for hours before serving.

This was its heyday: a key prop in middle-class dinner party choreography. An electric hotplate on wheels, its plywood predecessor was the 1935 ‘Dinner Wagon’. For the 1956 Ideal Home Exhibition, Alison and Peter Smithson built a speculative ‘house of the future’, kitted out with fictitious labour-saving devices. They predicted a prototypical service trolley with a built-in toaster, an infra-red griller and an automatic hot plate dispenser.

Ten years later and the Ideal Home Householders’ Guide from 1966 advised party-planning housewives to load up their now aspirational trolley with meals cooked ahead of time so they wouldn’t have to jump up from a pre-dinner drink with their guests to supervise last minute details. In this way, ‘a hostess is not simply a convenience; it is also a mood enhancer’.


Ben Highmore, The Great Indoors: At home in the modern British House (Exmouth: Profile Books, 2014)

Image: Science Museum Group. Hawkins hostess trolley, model 1050, c 1966. 1999-314. Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed November 25, 2019. https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co497460.

Kate Schneider @sonicteeth

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