The history of afternoon tea
Offering a delicious combination of finely cut sandwiches, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, a range of exquisitely presented cakes and pastries and loose leaf tea, it comes as no surprise that afternoon tea at The Petersham has always been a popular affair. And with panoramic views of the famous bend of the River Thames and the lush Petersham Meadows, it’s simply the perfect spot to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea with friends and family.
Now a Great British tradition, the practice of afternoon tea has a very interesting history dating back to the 1800s. To celebrate National Tea Day on 21st April 2017, as well as our love of afternoon tea, we thought we would put together a timeline noting the all-important dates in the history of afternoon tea.
‘At half past three, everything stops for tea’
During the 18th century, dinner could be served as late as 8.30pm, so Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, began to request a pot of tea and a light snack in her boudoir during the afternoon in order to curb her hunger.
The Duchess slowly started to invite friends to join her in the country house of Woburn Abbey over the summer, and this practice proved so popular she continued her teatime gatherings when she returned to London.
Picking up on these social events, other hostesses and elite influencers started replicating the Duchess’s parties and the routine soon became a fashionable and prestigious event, with elegant dress codes and etiquette expected.
By the 1920s, the social phenomenon of afternoon tea had hit its peak and high-end parties were often celebrated complete with talented musicians, silver teapots, fine linen, dutiful servants and the best tea money could possibly buy.
Tea rooms, a venue where tea, refreshments and hot meals were readily available, were one of the first socially acceptable public places that ladies were able to visit without a male escort. With their growing popularity, by the 1920s these venues were extremely widespread.
Although still an extremely popular practice, afternoon tea in the 21st century is usually celebrated as a treat or for a special occasion in a high-end hotel or restaurant, rather than a daily ritual at home or in a tea room. A glass of champagne is also popular as an extra special add-on.
Known for its relation with the royals and being a quintessentially British tradition, partaking in afternoon tea has become a very popular tourist attraction for those visiting the United Kingdom.
Themed afternoon teas are also on the rise in celebration of larger events and for those seeking out a unique twist to the classic afternoon tea.
The Petersham will be offering ‘Royal Afternoon Tea’ between the dates of 22nd May and 2nd July, ‘Wimbledon Afternoon Tea’ from 3rd July and 16th July and ‘Festive Afternoon Tea’ from 1st – 31st December.
We recommend booking early to avoid disappointment, book your table online or contact our restaurant on 020 8939 1084 to reserve your table.