ANNA, THE DUCHESS OF BEDFORD AND AFTERNOON TEA
Anna, the Duchess of Bedford and Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea, that most quintessential of English customs, this tea-related ritual has been a part of Britain since the early 1840s when it was introduced by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. The Duchess would become hungry at around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served at eight o’clock, leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked for a tray of tea, bread and butter with filling and cake to be brought to her room during the late afternoon as a mini meal to keep hunger at bay and anticipation for her evening meal at 8pm.
This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her. This started out as a private and social event, It was only when Queen Victoria a life long friend of the duchess engaged in this Afternoon Tea ritual, that it became a more fashionable and formal occasion also known as ‘tea receptions’. These receptions were enjoyed by middle and upper class women, who would wear long gowns, gloves and hats to attend this social and delicate affair.
Afternoon tea, a meal that consists of carefully made and well presented sandwiches, cut delicately into ‘fingers’, accompanied by petite sweet pastries and cakes. Scones were not a common feature of early Afternoon Tea they were introduced in the twentieth century with clotted cream and jam. For me scones are a must, my second most favourite part of the experience, my most favourite being the delicate china and elegance of the ritual.
A great deal of our overseas visitors still imagine that us Brits stop for tea, that old saying ‘at half past three, everything stops for tea’. Nowadays Sadly, Afternoon Tea has morphed into a short pause or a welcome break shaped with a mug of tea, a cozy sofa and a choccy biccy or other for dunking but on the odd occasion we still indulge, its now a luxury- a celebration or sort, likely to be a birthday treat in a fancy pants hotel or country cottage pub.
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