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Stone handaxe
THIS small handaxe is one of the most beautiful in the British Museum. It is made from quartz with attractive amethyst banding, a difficult material from which to make tools because it is extremely hard. The toolmaker would have had to hit with considerable force and accuracy to remove flakes. Such a high degree of difficulty makes the thin, symmetrical shape of this piece a masterpiece of the toolmakers’ art.
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Tea democratised (part six)
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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 six)

Edwardian tea gowns often featured attractive lace inserts and allowed more freedom of movement than other more corseted dresses.

Tea was so much part of a woman’s social agenda that by the 1870s tea gowns had started becoming fashionable. Made of light, flowing fabrics, these dresses were designed to be worn indoors in the intimate company of friends or family. They were less formal than day dresses or evening gowns and, being looser, much more comfortable as well. They may have helped bring about the more free-flowing shapes in women’s dress that appeared during the early part of twentieth century. Tea gowns, albeit in different styles reflecting changes in fashion, remained fashionable until the 1950s.

Tea democratised (part six)

This portrayal of The Wife at Home appeared in The British Workman newspaper in 1863.

While the rich had their ‘at homes’, the lower classes developed their own tea-drinking occasion. Although they drank tea during the day, the working classes had very little time to enjoy anything as leisurely as afternoon tea. When they returned from the factory, mine or fields in the early evening, what they needed was an invigorating meal to satisfy both thirst and hunger. This meal, which became known as ‘high tea’ and was usually taken at about 6 pm, featured cold meats, pies, cheese, potatoes, and bread or crackers supplemented by a pot of steaming tea. Why was it described as ‘high’ tea? A possible explanation may be that while afternoon tea was mainly enjoyed in low, easy chairs (and was sometimes known as ‘low tea’), partakers of high tea would sit up at a table. Ironically, the rich developed their own more elaborate version of high tea – a perfect meal for times when servants were either at church (on Sundays, for instance), away or unwell. This type of high tea mixed ingredients from afternoon tea (cakes) with those of high tea (cold meats and pies) and extra luxuries such as pigeon, veal, salmon and fruits.

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