The following is a guest post.
The long-standing tradition of afternoon tea dates back to the bone china cups and saucers of the early nineteenth century and still remains in the hearts of modern society.
Afternoon tea is a British tradition known around the world and written on the to-do lists of UK tourists, but hidden beneath the hype is the story of woman who decided to break tradition in order to start a new one. Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is accredited with developing the ritual during her reign as Duchess in the early 1840s while living with her husband, Francis Russell, the 7th Duke of Bedford, at the family estate, Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.
The Abbey is a picturesque stately home, fit for a Duke and Duchess, sitting upon 3,000 sprawling acres of land. In 1970, the 13th Duke of Bedford converted a portion of the estate grounds into the Woburn Safari Park in an effort to improve the finances of the Abbey and repair the damage done to the estate by World War II. In addition to the home of a such a historical English family, Woburn Abbey is now home to lions, tigers, and bears just to name a few!
Within the walls of Woburn Abbey in it’s original glory, the Russells followed societal traditions of the time. Anna, her husband Francis, and their children would take breakfast in the early morning, luncheon at midday, and dinner in the late evening. Picturing the daily routine of the Russell family is likely to be somewhat similar to that of a well-known television family that also inhabits an abbey: The Crawley’s of Downton Abbey.
After becoming Duchess, Anna found such a routine unsuited to her liking, particularly the long hours between a midday luncheon and a late evening dinner. In order to appease her tired mind and growling stomach which often plagued her in the height of the afternoon between meals, Anna decided to take a small meal of tea, sandwiches and cakes in the late afternoon in the privacy of her chamber.
As Anna incorporated this light meal into her daily routine, she began to favor the ritual so much that she decided to turn it into an occasion and began inviting others to join her. Anna’s high title and social circle allowed her idea to take flight and transform from a simple snack to an upper class pastime. Queen Victoria was one of Anna’s lifelong friends, to whom Anna served as a Lady of the Bedchamber from 1837-1841!
From a hungry Duchess in the East of England to what costs £45 at The Palm Court of the The Ritz in London, afternoon tea has reserved its place in society, past and present, as one of Britain’s favorite pastimes. Something about the tradition of fine china filled with hot tea, finger sandwiches, cakes and scones spread with clotted cream and jam pulls at partakers heartstrings, as well as the strings of another organ, which sits beneath the heart and prompted a Duchess to begin this tradition 200 years ago.
Devin Smith is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in English and working in the bridal industry. She became smitten by Britain as a result of her semester abroad in London, where she developed a fancy for tea, Strongbow and Primark, among all things British. She particularly enjoys a fruit infusion after work or before bed (or both!) and Cadbury chocolate bars from her hometown in rural Connecticut.