Welcome to the middle of July, frequent readers! At this point,we at the museum have been hosting our famous Saturday Afternoon Teas for a few weeks now, and for those of you who are regular guests, you may have noticed that we follow a very particular routine, right down to the way we build our tres populaire cucumber sandwiches.
And since we’re a museum, and this is a history blog, I bet you know where I’m going with this post. And yes, it is extremely possible to dig up histories on things like Afternoon Teas. (A side note– there is not, in fact, an available history on the Strawberry Social, but that’s a completely different story.) If you’ve got time, sit back, relax, and let me explain a few things.
The Afternoon Tea, practiced in North America and born in Britain, is something that has occurred since at least the 1840s. In its early days, the tradition actually had a very practical purpose. You’ve listened to the doctors and fitness gurus exhaust themselves reminding people to eat regular meals spaced out over the course of the day, and if you haven’t really been one to listen to those sorts of things, you’d at least know what it’s like to try to get through the last three hours at work before supper without something to nibble on. I know I couldn’t go longer than that without a little snack, but these Victorians–with all of their silly customs–only really ate twice a day. There was breakfast in the morning, and then you wouldn’t have another meal until supper at eight pm.
Regardless of how many people believed that this was fashionable and “right,” our friends in the nineteenth century were still human, and humans have a tendency to get hungry every few hours. The natural rumbling of the tummy is extremely hard to ignore, and this is something that Anna, the Seventh Dutchess of Bedford, discovered in the early 1800s. Unable to stand the uncomfortable pangs in her abdomen in the late afternoon, she began to request a pot of tea, and a few small snacks in her room to be enjoyed privately a few hours before her usual dinner time. As Anna turned this into a tradition of her own, she began to invite friends over to join her. Pretty soon they had to move their gatherings into bigger rooms, and eventually, the practice spread.
Suddenly, people all over the Victorian world were making themselves tea and finger foods a few hours before supper, and the Afternoon Tea was born. As the practice grew more popular, it began to develop some universal customs of its own. Afternoon teas are usually supplemented by sandwiches cut into fingers–cucumber sandwiches were very popular back in the day, I’m telling you!– scones with cream and jam and a variety of different cakes and pastries. Here at Randall House, we’ve gone and consulted the customs thought to be proper in the traditional tea settings and replicated them on Saturday afternoons to ensure authenticity.
In their early days, Afternoon Teas were private events, but when Queen Victoria, monarch and trend-setter extraordinaire, started hosting tea receptions between 4:00 and 7:00pm –these receptions could see up to 200 guests!- they transformed into public gatherings. Of course, now, with more frequent customary meals, paired with the hectic work day of the modern adult, Afternoon Teas have become less of a common daily ritual, and more of a special treat saved for those days where there is actually time to relax.
And on that note, I would like to invite you, esteemed guest, to Randall House this Saturday at any point between 2:00 and 5:00 pm to partake in this lovely– and scrumptious, if I do say so myself– tradition. You’ll get to live out some history while getting to enjoy great conversation, a wide selection of teas and treats, and service with a smile.
Hope to see you there!