Tea found its way into Europe, via Venice, in the 1560’s, but it was the Portuguese who first began shipping it in commercial quantities. Charles II, while in exile in Holland after the beheading of his father, became a confirmed tea drinker and brought the habit with him when restored to the throne in 1660. A few months after his coronation the famous English diarist Samuel Pepys first mentioned drinking tea in his entry for 25 September 1660. He wrote that he had been discussing foreign affairs with some friends, ‘And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never drank before’.
When Charles married Catherine de Braganza of Portugal two years later tea mania began gripping the country, taking its cue from the royal court – it became the beverage of choice in English high society, replacing ale as the national drink. What’s more, British merchants gained access to the tea trade through the Portuguese colonies. Part of Catherine’s dowry included the city of Bombay (now Mumbai), which he rented to the East India Company. They rapidly exploited his patronage and their monopoly to create a huge volume of trade from Asia that included everything from tea to spices.
The exorbitant level of import duty levied by the government, and the fact the East India Company, with a monopoly, kept prices artificially high, soon created a huge trade in smuggled tea. Highly-organised smuggling networks were developed and the popularity of tea-drinking meant that many people were prepared to turn a blind eye to their ruthless brutality. By the later eighteenth century it is estimated that more tea was smuggled into Britain than was brought in legally!
While tea was part of the staple diet of the poor, among the rich tea-drinking was evolving into an elaborate social occasion. Afternoon teas probably had their roots in the ladies tea-parties of the seventeenth centuries, but evolved during the eighteenth century into something of a national institution.
Tradition has it that afternoon tea was ‘invented’ by Anna Maria, the wife of the seventh Duke of Bedford, who in 1841 started drinking tea and having a bite to eat in the mid-afternoon, to tide her over during the long gap between lunch (eaten at about 1 o’clock) and dinner (eaten at around 7 o’clock). This swiftly developed into a social occasion, and soon the Duchess was inviting guests to join her for afternoon tea at 5 o’clock.
By the 1860s the fashion for afternoon tea had become widespread. Such teas were elegant affairs, with the best china and small amounts of food presented perfectly on dainty little plates.
As with any fashion, the hostesses did their best to outdo each other. Bread and butter were soon replaced by sandwiches filled with exotic ingredients such as lobster, smoked salmon and roast beef, served alongside scones, crumpets, teacakes, and English muffins. By the late 1800’s no well brought up young English woman could consider herself socially acceptable unless she knew how to make and present Afternoon Tea.
Summer Lodge transports you back to this golden era – the house is much as it was at the turn of the 19th century, and the Drawing Room, in which it is generally served, was designed at that time by Thomas Hardy himself (his first profession was that of an architect). As Henry James remarked “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea” – and few settings as perfect for indulging in that unique pleasure as the beautifully peaceful surroundings of this genteel Victorian Dower House. Whether you take Traditional Afternoon Tea, Cream Tea or Champagne Tea, the experience is one you are sure to treasure for many a year to come.
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