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Tea democratised (part seven)
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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 seven)

Art Nouveau ornamentation and furniture abound in this 1905 postcard displaying one of the elegant tea rooms at the London Coliseum.

While tea shops and tea rooms sprang up across the country, Glasgow was a particular hotspot. As Perilla Kinchin explains in her book Tea and Taste: Glasgow Tea Rooms 1875-1975:
The tea rooms filled a ‘felt need’, as their proliferation at the end of the nineteenth century shows. They were called into being by various things: by the strength of the temperance movement in the West of Scotland; by a native tradition of fine sweet baking; by the Scottish high tea; but most of all by the practical demands of a busy mercantile city.Established in the 1830s, the temperance movement certainly had a strong influence – not just in Glasgow, but throughout the country. Temperance meetings, held across Britain, were designed to encourage people to swap beer, spirits and other ‘intoxicating’ drinks for non-alcoholic beverages by ‘taking the pledge’. Tea, which was served during these reunions and at special ‘tea festivals’, almost became a symbol of temperance. As Prime Minister William Gladstone, himself a fervent tea drinker, once said: ‘The domestic use of tea is a powerful champion able to counter alcoholic drink’.

Tea democratised (part seven)

This Art Nouveau silver caddy spoon was designed for Liberty and Co. in 1901.

With their strong adherence to the temperance cause, many Glaswegians were ready for an alternative to the public house. This led to the opening, from the 1870s, of a string of wonderful tea rooms, the most famous of which are the Willow Tea Rooms opened in 1903 (and still running today) with splendid interiors by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Tea democratised (part seven)

The two fashionable ladies in Summertime: Afternoon Tea (1889) by Rhoda Holmes Nicholls are enjoying what might be an impromptu cup of tea on the banks of a river.

Tea rooms were just one choice of venue when going ‘out of tea’. Department stores also had wonderful tea rooms, allowing shoppers to take a break and meet friends, and encouraging them to extend their time in the store. Hotels, too, created their own tea rooms, such as The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. Established over 170 years ago, it is one of London’s very best - and most quintessentially English – venues for afternoon teas.

A housemaid serving tea – but is the cup for herself or the photographer?

Strange as it may seem, tea played an important role in the emancipation of women. At a time when there were very few places a lady could enjoy a drink or a meal on her own or see friends outside the home, these new tea rooms offered a safe spot in which to go out without a male escort.
Tea drinking was not just an indoor pursuit. When the weather was fine, tea would be taken in the garden, or even in woods and orchards. The growing popularity of picnics led to the appearance of special portable tea sets, while in cities tea stalls offered workers a chance to grab a drink ‘on the go’. Even in the winter, a few avid tea drinkers drank it ‘al fresco’ while enjoying a spot of skating.

Tea democratised (part seven)

What could be more pleasant than a woodland setting for enjoying afternoon tea?

Tea democratised (part seven)

Even the freezing weather – or the fear of slipping and breaking a leg – did not deter some nineteenth-century skaters from enjoying their favourite drink on the ice.

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