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Modern-day tea drinking (part five)One of the most significant tea-related developments to impact the second half of the twentieth century was the appearance of the tea bag. Like a few other great inventions – including, most significantly, penicillin – the origins of the tea bag were the result of chance. In the early twentieth century, New York tea dealer Thomas Sullivan created tea samples for his clients by placing small amounts of tea into little silk bags. Some mistakenly infused the bag, rather than taking the tea out of it first, and even went as far as reporting back to Sullivan that the silk was too fine and should be replaced by a different material. Soon Sullivan was producing specially designed gauze tea bags, ideal for infusing in boiling water.
Modern-day tea drinking (part four)The interwar years were a particularly innovative time for tea wares. After the First World War, more and more potteries focused on catering for the mass market. Companies such as Poole Pottery, Shelley and Susie Cooper created affordable tea sets with simple shapes and stylized decoration. Clarice Cliff produced some of the most memorable art deco tea sets. Perhaps her most wacky design was the Conical Early Morning Set, whose solid handles were virtually impossible to use comfortably. But what is lacked in practicality, it made up for in humour. Cliff’s use of vivid colours, bold and often exuberant shapes and patterns were extremely popular, particularly between the wars. This was also the heyday of novelty teapots. Designed with fun firmly in mind, they came in every shape imaginable – from racing cars, trains, tanks and aeroplanes to Donald Duck, Humpty Dumpty, comical human faces and quaint country cottages.
Modern-day tea drinking (part three)For those people not keen on dancing but still desirous to enjoy a cup of tea outdoors, there were many other options. A few London department stores created wonderful roof gardens where shoppers could take a break. Now sadly lost, the pergola-clad roof garden restaurant at Selfridges served morning coffees, lunches and teas. So too did the magnificent roof garden restaurant at the Derry & Toms department store. Now known as Kensington Roof Gardens, they are something of surprise on busy High Street Kensington and well worth a visit.
Modern-day tea drinking (part two)Founded in Kensington in 1892, Fuller tea rooms were the ideal choice for tea drinkers looking for smaller, quieter and more elegant surroundings. As Claire Hopley, author of The History of Tea, explains, ‘Friends met in cosy alcoves; tea came in elegant cups with beribboned tongs for sugar’. Other small tea-room chains opened across the country, including the famous and still operating Betty’s of Harrogate, founded in 1919 by the Swiss confectioner, Frederick Belmont. Branches of Betty’s later opened in other Yorkshire towns, such as York, Skipton and Ilkley.
Modern-day tea drinking (part one)The rise in tea drinking continued unfettered in the early part of the twentieth century. By the early 1930s, and despite the high unemployment and destitution of the Great Depression, tea drinking reached its peak, with over 10 lb consumed per person per year, equivalent to an average of about five cups of tea a day.

In times of hardship, it seems that most Britons turn to tea for solace. This was certainly true of Gordon Comstock, hero of George Orwell’s 1936 novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Impecunious and living in a grimy bedsit, Comstock finds comfort in secretly drinking cups of tea, which are banned by his despotic landlady.
Tea democratised (part seven)At the end of the nineteenth century, a major development was the appearance of tea rooms. The first tea room is said to have been the brainchild of a manageress working for the Aerated Bread Company (known as ABC). The story goes that while working at the ABC shop on Fenchurch Street in London, she started serving free tea and snacks to her best customers. This proved so successful that she asked the directors whether they would consider establishing such a practice on a commercial basis. They agreed and the first tea room was born. By the end of the century, there were at least fifty ABC tea rooms. Other companies followed their example, including Kardomah, Lockharts and the Express Dairy Co., but Lyons was without doubt the most successful. After starting life as a tobacco business in 1887, Lyons quickly branched out into catering. By 1894 the company had established a chain of tea shops – and, from 1909, Lyons opened its famous corner houses, more of these later – which were to become an important part of daily life for many British workers.
Tea democratised (part six)Queen Victoria, the inspiration for the famous Victoria sponge, enjoyed tea perhaps more than any king or queen before her. Her endorsement certainly helped establish the habit of taking afternoon tea, which by the 1860s had become widespread amongst the rich and by the end of the century was also common amongst the middle classes. The wealthy, again possibly inspired by the habits of Queen Victoria, were also fond of larger and more formal versions of afternoon teas, known as tea receptions and ‘at homes’. These could cater for up to two hundred guests and usually took place between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m, during which people could come and go as they pleased.
Tea democratised (part five)Tea was seen as such a marketable commodity that a few businessmen used it as a means to advertise or boost a separate enterprise. David Lewis, founder of Lewis’s department stores (first in Liverpool and later in Manchester and Birmingham), started selling ‘Lewis’s Two-shilling Tea’ in the 1880s. By buying straight from the tea ships at Liverpool docks, Lewis was able to offer affordable tea to his customers. Within three years of launching it, Lewis was selling about 20 000 lb of tea a week. When he opened his Birmingham store in 1885, he cannily placed the tea counter right in the centre of the ground floor where it would act as a magnet for tea-craving customers.

Tea democratised (part four)John Horniman was one of the earliest retailers to see the potential of this approach. In 1826 he was the first to sell pre-weighed, pre-packaged and labelled tea. This had a number of advantages. While the tea was guaranteed to be unadulterated, its weight was clearly marked on a foil-lined packet which kept the leaves fresh and safe from dirt. Another advantage was that Horniman could use the packet, together with targeted advertising campaigns, to promote his name. Horniman’s Tea soon became a recognisable and reliable brand.
Tea democratised (part three)The tea produced in India and Ceylon was mainly black, whereas Chinese tea was both black and green. Over the course of the nineteenth century Britain became – and still is today – a nation of black tea drinkers. At the same time, tea, since it was now manufactured as an industrial product often in huge plantations, became cheaper and more widely available. Some tea merchants, including Thomas Lipton, went as far as buying their own tea plantations. By cutting out the middleman, they were thus able to reduce prices. In 1890, Lipton bought four tea estates in Ceylon, after which he adopted the slogan ‘Direct from the Tea Gardens to the Tea Pot’, which appeared on colourful tea packets and advertisements. He made sure his name, which soon developed into a successful brand, was placed on as many items as possible, including the wooden boxes of tea carried by the elephants and the tea pickers’ baskets.