With thanks to Sue, a Volunteer at Shire Hall for writing this article.
Often seen as quintessentially British, many of you may be considering preparing an afternoon tea to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, but when did we start eating sandwiches and cakes in the afternoon? Learn about the history of afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea was said to have been started by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1984. In the 1800s it was fashionable for aristocratic families to have just two main meals a day – a substantial breakfast and evening meal, supplemented by a light lunch. However, industrialisation (including gas lighting) meant that for the wealthier classes living in towns were having their evening meal as late as 9.00pm having had lunch at mid-day.
The Duchess of Bedford, who was one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, found that she became hungry in the afternoon and requested that some tea, bread and butter and cake was brought to her in the late afternoon. This became a habit, and she began inviting friends to join her.
Very quickly becoming a fashionable event amongst the upper-class, the women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their tea served in the drawing room about 4.00 o’clock. The tea would consist of a selection of dainty sandwiches, scones served with clotted cream and preserves, and tea poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.
Queen Victoria loved the idea and began to enjoy having a light cake with buttercream and fresh raspberries – the Victoria sponge – with her cup of tea.
Once summer came, the tradition was often moved outside to the high society gardens and the men of the house were encouraged to take part in this activity. Tea was still an expensive delicacy so serving it to a large number of guests showed off your wealth.
Nowadays afternoon tea is a treat for most of us, but it remains a royal tradition with Queen Elizabeth II reportedly taking afternoon tea every day.
If this has whet your appetite for an afternoon tea then come enjoy one at Shire Hall!