This past Sunday I was asked to volunteer for an organisation called Friends of the Farm. These are the people who help with keeping up the ornamental gardens at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa and I had helped them in the past in the peonies and rose gardens.
They also organize quite a few fundraising events during the year. One of them is the Victorian Tea, which is a two hour affair where anybody in town can come and have afternoon tea and snacks while listening to live music. Here is the print-out of a little history of the afternoon tea, which the volunteers left on the tables:
“Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford is often credited with the invention of the tradition of the afternoon tea in the early 1840s. In those days, dinner was usually not served until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening and even later in the summer. Anna would become hungry by mid-afternoon and so would sneak small cakes and biscuits and other niceties to her room where she would indulge herself in secret. Once found out, she was surprised to learn that rather than being upbraided for her unladylike behaviour, she was applauded for her ingenuity.
It seems she wasn’t always the only lady to crave sustenance in the afternoon. Long before this, tea gardens were introduced in London. Women were allowed to gather in these places, often outdoors, with a male escort where they could relax and chat among themselves while enjoying delicate foods. In the early 1700s tea was an expensive indulgence and so these tea gardens were frequented by the upper classes only.
(George Morland – The Tea Garden, 1790 – source: Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum)
It was common for the lady of the house to serve the tea herself since it was such an expensive commodity not to be trusted in the care of servants. And, she alone would hold the keys to to tea cupboard. Today, we take tea for granted but we do enjoy it so.”
The Victorian Tea at the Farm is a nice reminder that heritage events of leisure are still possible in a world full of haste. Initially, only the servers dressed up in period costumes.
More recently, people have started to show up with amazing hats and fascinators, and even dressed up in 1890s original costumes.
The event is a joy and the weather this year truly cooperated.
Some might be quick to say that this tradition of the afternoon tea is a British colonial reminder which many would like to put behind. However, one cannot disregard the sensible nature of the British: tea is tea and an afternoon snack makes sense. Plus, these events have always had a very clear healthy role in socializing. So today, being Thursday, I urge you to try find the spots in your part of the world which give a glimpse of a past worth remembering in some respects. Go out and enjoy!