• -

History of the English Cup of Tea

‘Britain and the Tea Trade’

Tea is now ubiquitous in Britain. We are known as a nation of tea drinkers, and together we drink millions of cups of it each and every day. Breaks taken during the working day are often called ‘tea breaks’, and we have even christened a meal ‘tea’. But how did this happen? Why did tea emerge as our drink of choice? How long has this love affair lasted?

Cup of tea

The vast majority of the tea we drink is grown elsewhere, especially in China and India. The truth is that tea was never uniquely British. It has been drunk in China for thousands of years, and it arrived in other European countries at roughly the same time, or perhaps slightly earlier, than it arrived in Britain. When Charles II’s Portuguese wife Catherine of Braganza brought with her a small consignment of tea as part of her huge dowry, most Britons had probably never tasted tea because it remained expensive and its supply was irregular. At this stage, in the 17th Century, tea was a curiosity and most coffee houses sold more coffee and hot chocolate than they did tea. Samuel Pepys was not even moved to give a verdict on tea when he recorded having tried a cup in his diary.

In the 17th Century and beyond, the British East India Company was almost solely responsible for importing Chinese tea into Britain. The Company was an astonishingly powerful organisation, and it took full advantage of the virtual monopoly which it held on the trade of various commodities, including tea. What began as a trickle gradually became a flood, and, as the 18th Century wore on, tea drinking amongst Britons really began to take hold. The government stood to gain a huge amount of revenue by virtue of the tea trade, and high taxes encouraged widespread smuggling and adulteration of tea. Indeed, it was estimated at one stage that ten percent of government revenue was provided by tax paid on imported tea.

By the time the 19th Century began, the tax regime had been rethought and legally imported tea became more affordable. The British East India Company continued to import tea, but unscrupulous merchants and possibly even those connected with the Company itself were using the profits from illicit opium sales to finance the purchase of tea. This led to the First Opium War between Britain and China, and thereafter the ceding of a number of Chinese ports to the British gave merchants a firm foothold in the region and a base from which to export tea. Meanwhile, in the years which followed, the Company began to look towards India as a further source of tea production, given that India was at that time a British colony. Assam tea borrows the name of the Indian province in which it is grown.

The 19th Century saw the fascination with tea in Britain grow. High society ladies enjoyed taking tea together, and the 7th Duchess of Bedford became accustomed to drinking tea and enjoying delicate finger sandwiches and sweet pastries. It is the Duchess who is often credited with inventing ‘afternoon tea’ in the 1840s, since she was one of the first to make this meal a social occasion. This meal had a practical advantage though: it served to fill the gap between breakfast and dinner. Soon the Duchess’s fashionable friends were also asking for refreshments at 4pm, and ‘afternoon tea’ became a popular pastime. Consequently, the ‘afternoon tea’ is perhaps the most British of all the tea-drinking ceremonies. Its popularity has endured, and nowadays hotels and tea rooms often offer either an ‘afternoon tea’ or a ‘cream tea’ which is a West Country variant. The ‘afternoon tea’ has been transformed into a celebratory treat often enjoyed as part of a day out.

Block of tea leaves

Once the taking of tea had become popular amongst the upper- and middle-classes, tea sets became highly prized and much-envied possessions. Sets included tea pots, ornamental jugs, and sugar bowls. Drinking tea with sugar, though, was a British preference; the Chinese usually drank tea without it. Sugar was imported large-scale from the West Indies, and it helped to make the black tea with which it was mixed more palatable. New mid-19th Century technology brought tea leaves from China to Britain in record time, and although the age of the tea clipper was brief, it captured the attention of the public like nothing else. ‘Cutty Sark’ is a later tea clipper, although she struggled to compete with steam-powered vessels which were less reliant on large, elaborate sails.

Even before the excitement of the ‘Great Tea Clipper Race’ of 1866, tea consumption amongst the working classes had firmly taken hold. The poorer British citizens proved themselves extremely receptive to tea, and it was drunk not only for aspirational reasons but also because a cup of tea provided a measure of warmth and comfort. Because of this, householders were prepared to make tea one of their more expensive acquisitions. Even in difficult times, a small supply of tea could be eked out with more water; tea leaves could also be dried and reused if necessary. Whereas the wealthy elite at tea parties used elaborate tea sets laid out on specially-made tables, and were determined to showcase their best manners, the working classes cared less for these customs and contented themselves with the drink itself.

Nowadays, the majority of the tea drunk in Britain comes in tea bag form. Our tea bags are the modern forerunners of the small, silk bag used in America to carry enough tea to allow the customer to sample a particular variety or blend. Although much of the ceremony originally associated with enjoying a cup of tea has disappeared, tea drinking is so prevalent that today the National Grid has to engage in complex planning to ensure that the mass switching-on of electric kettles during TV advertising breaks does not interrupt the electricity supply to our homes. The health benefits associated with tea, and the seemingly endless varieties and blends which have been developed, mean that the age of tea drinking in Britain is not yet over.

Written by Museum Volunteer, Nicholas Cumberworth.


  • -

COAM Craft Ideas for the Easter Holidays Part 2

Tags : 

In this final installment of family learning resources, we’re providing you with some fun Springtime inspired craft ideas to try during the Easter Holidays. Download the resource below to find out more about the crafts and how to make them. 

Download: COAM Craft Ideas for the Easter Holidays Part 2

A big thank you goes to our wonderful Terrific Tuesday volunteers for providing the craft ideas for this instalment. Our Terrific Tuesday events are always planned with our volunteers’ help and support and we all hope that we’ll be able to welcome you back on site for more fun at some point this year.

We hope you have enjoyed this series of family and home learning resources. Did you miss any? You can find a complete list of the resources here: https://coam.org.uk/learning/home-learning-resources/. If you did enjoy these resources or if you have any comments or ideas for future resources please do let us know as this helps us to develop new ideas with you in mind. We are currently working on planning safe onsite Terrific Tuesday event days for May half term and the Summer Holidays. We hope to see you then, so long as COVID guidance allows us! Make sure to keep an eye out on social media and the website for more information when it becomes available.

 


  • -

COAM Craft Ideas for the Easter Holidays Part 1

Tags : 

Flower Easter craft

For our second to last installment in this series of family learning resources, we’re providing you with some fun Springtime inspired craft ideas to try during the Easter Holidays. Download the resource below to find out more about the crafts and how to make them.

Download COAM Craft Ideas for the Easter Holidays Part 1

Easter craft bookmark

A big thank you goes to our wonderful Terrific Tuesday volunteers for providing the craft ideas for this resource. Our Terrific Tuesday events are always planned with our volunteers’ help and support and we all hope that we’ll be able to welcome you back on site for more fun at some point this year.

We hope you enjoy this week’s craft ideas. Make sure you come back next week for our final resource in this series of home learning resources where you’ll find more fun springtime inspired craft ideas to make at home.

See more home learning resources


  • -

Lesser-known Easter Traditions

From orange chasing to football matches, with the Easter period approaching we investigate some of our lesser-known traditions.

Whilst the stories of hot cross buns, Easter eggs, and Simnel cake are well known, there is a huge array of more unlikely customs that a look into our history reveals.

Eggs

We cannot delve into our Easter past without stumbling upon egg-related stories. A more exerting variation of the traditional Easter egg hunt are the egg chases that take place across the country. Chasing, or hunting, eggs is a clear reference to the story of the resurrection; not only do eggs represent new life, but the emphasis on their discovery is evocative of revealing Jesus’ empty tomb. Chasing after hard-boiled eggs down a hill, known as Pace egging, is a tradition that is said to derive from the Pagan festival of Ēostre that welcomed Spring and new life. Like so many of our traditions, existing Pagan celebrations were appropriated with a Christian message to bring the Christian calendar into established practices. Pace egging has thus also come to represent the stone that covered Jesus’ tomb being rolled away.

oranges

Bedfordshire has a unique take on this tradition with oranges, rather than eggs, being chased on Dunstable Downs. Oranges were pelted from the heights, with those chasing after them aiming to hold onto their fruit until the bottom. Some even went to the lengths of donning top hats to attract the attention, and the fruit, of the pelters. However, the shortage of oranges during the Second World War halted the tradition temporarily. Orange chasing was reborn after the war but increasing health and safety concerns and waning support from local businesses meant the custom could no longer be sustained. With the build-up of heavy scrubland on the Downs making the chase virtually impossible, the last revival attempt in 1985 looks unlikely to be repeated.

In addition to the chases, pace egg plays are a tradition that was rediscovered in the post-war revival of folklore. The plays have roots in Celtic, Syrian, and Egyptian cultures, and the word ‘pace’ itself is thought to be from the Latin ‘pasch’ (passion or Easter); typifying the melange of roots that contribute to ostensibly Christian traditions. As a battle between good and evil, with St George fighting the Slasher, the comical Toss Pot representing the Devil, and revival by a Quack doctor, the plays reflect the resurrection and older themes of new life. The pace eggs themselves, originally boiled in onion skins to give them a golden appearance, were given out at the end of the plays.

Maundy Money is another Easter tradition, with royalty distributing alms for the poor on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday). This tradition of giving relief such as clothing and food to the poor dates to the thirteenth century; royalty would also wash the feet of the poor, following Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Charles II started the custom of giving coins (a four, three, two, and penny pieces), and this became the dominant form of Maundy aid. With the coming of the eighteenth century, washing the feet of the poor disappeared, whilst gifts of food and clothes disappeared the following century. Today, those receiving Maundy Money are pensioners chosen for their services to Christian churches or the community. The number of pensioners receiving the Maundy money is determined by the age of the monarch, with one man and one woman for each year. This custom is unique in that it is the only award where the monarch travels to those receiving the money.

Finally, from chasing eggs and oranges we arrive at the tradition of Shrovetide football. This dates to the mob football played over fields and through rivers in the early middle ages. In Ashbourne, Derbyshire, their football match takes place over Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. The River Henmore divides the townspeople into two teams: the Up-Ards and the Down’Ards, coming from North and South of the river. The game is different in that the aim is to score an own goal; with each goal a millstone set three miles apart across the town. The scorer must stand in the river and tap the ball against the millstone three times to win. Far from whoever has possession of the ball, the scorer is elected en route and is typically an Ashbourne resident. This unique take on football has been given the Royal epithet since 1928, which was formally renewed in 2003.

Looking into some of our more obscure Easter customs shows that the way we mark Easter incorporates our Pagan and Christian traditions, as well as the variety of community activities across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Written by Daniel Bowles, Museum Volunteer


  • -

Learning Resource: Meals inspired by our Buildings

Tags : 

Iron Age Meal

Here at COAM we have buildings from all different time periods. From our reconstructed Iron Age Roundhouse to our 1940s Prefab. Each building represents how people lived their everyday lives in that period and all of our buildings that housed people have some form of a kitchen or place to cook food. This week, we thought we’d give you a taste of what families who lived in our buildings might have eaten. In this resource there are two recipes, one inspired by our Iron Age Roundhouse and one inspired by our Leagrave Cottages. We hope you enjoy having a go at making these recipes!

Download the Meals inspired by our Buildings Learning Resource

Leagrave Soup

Next time: On each Tuesday of the Buckinghamshire Easter Holidays (6th and 13th April 2021) we will be publishing our final resources of this home learning series. Both resource packs will include a few different spring and Easter inspired crafts for you to do at home. Check back next week to find out more!

View more Learning Resources


  • -

Learning Resource: Signs of Spring

Tags : 

Spring is definitely arriving on our site and around our local areas and there are plenty of ways to spot this! As the weather improves and we slowly ease out of lockdown, spending some time outside is great for your mental and physical health but remember to stay safe and follow the Government guidelines. Follow this guide and over the next few weeks, when you go out for a springtime walk, keep an eye out for some of the plants and shrubs listed. What can you spot?

View our Signs of Spring learning resource

Children may be back in classrooms however we will continue to release fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together every Tuesday until the end of the Easter Holidays. Brought to you by the Learning team behind our popular ‘Terrific Tuesday’ events, these resources will be a perfect way to learn new information about the natural world around us, develop new skills and stay connected to the Museum until we reopen in late March.

Be sure to check back next week for more home learning fun.

Spring flowers

 

See more home learning resources


  • -

Learning resource – the gardens at COAM

Tags : 

Chiltern Open Air Museum allotment

With the start of spring just around the corner we thought there was no better time to tell you all about the different gardens we have here at COAM and the hard work of our wonderful gardening volunteers to keep them looking great for our visitors. In our eighth installment of home learning resources you can discover the planning that goes into each garden and how we use the spaces we have available to show different time periods. Discover what a ‘day in the life’ of one of our volunteer gardeners is like and how the gardens need attention throughout the year. Finally, have a go at designing your own garden or outdoor space!

Download Our Gardens at COAM home learning resource.

Astleham garden at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Children may be back in classrooms however we will continue to release fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together every Tuesday until the end of the Easter Holidays. Brought to you by the Learning team behind our popular ‘Terrific Tuesday’ events, these resources will be a perfect way to learn new information about the natural world around us, develop new skills and stay connected to the Museum until we reopen in late March.

Be sure to check back next week for more home learning fun.

See more learning resources


  • -

STEM at COAM: How do we build our buildings?

This week (5th – 14th March 2021) is British Science Week and to celebrate the different areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) we’ve been exploring what materials and methods we use to construct the buildings we have onsite. For our seventh installment of home learning resources, discover lots about the different materials we use to rebuild the buildings onsite as well as the methods used to put them back up. See if you can spot any of these materials or methods on buildings around your local area! Can you spot any really interesting buildings, old or new?

Download the resource How do we build a building

How do we build a building family learning resource

Children may be back in classrooms however we will continue to release fun resources and activities for all the family to get involved in and enjoy together every Tuesday until the end of the Easter Holidays. Brought to you by the Learning team behind our popular ‘Terrific Tuesday’ events, these resources will be a perfect way to learn new information about the natural world around us, develop new skills and stay connected to the Museum until we reopen in late March.

Be sure to check back next week for more home learning fun.

See more home learning resources


  • -

International Women’s Day

Recognising the women of COAM’s Haddenham Cottage and 1940s Prefab

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on 8th March since the early twentieth century to praise women’s achievements, is particularly important this year due to the pandemic’s detrimental effect on gender equality in the workplace and the gender pay gap. What better way to honour the day than by recognising the contribution women of Chiltern Open Air Museum’s much loved Haddenham Cottage and Prefab made to their homes and wider society.

Despite leaving little mark on the historical record, many of the women who lived in Haddenham Cottage made integral contributions to the domestic economy and the daily management of the household through their work as dress makers and lace makers.

Lacemaking pillow

Lace making pillow in Haddenham Cottage

There was much local rivalry between lacemakers and straw plaiters, had Haddenham and Leagrave Cottage been closer together, their female inhabitants may have been seen bickering with each other in the street or marketplace. Straw plaiters frequently teased lace makers about their large bottoms, a result of their sedentary lifestyle. Unlike lace making, straw plaiting could be completed while walking around the house and seeing to other chores. The lace makers got their own back by making fun of their rough-looking mouths which were toughened and scarred from constantly wetting the straw.

Rose Family

Rose Family outside Haddenham Cottage

The land Haddenham Cottage was originally built on was owned by a woman. In 1832 Richard Kitelee left the land to his sister Jane Scott of Castle Thorpe. Had Jane’s husband still been alive, ownership of the land would have passed to him as married women were not able to own land or property in their own right until the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1882. In 1835, Jane agreed to the “absolute sale” of the land to Joseph Chapman for £30 in 1835. Unfortunately, it was stipulated that no future wife should have any right to the land. It was not until 1925 that the property, now Croft Cottage, was owned by another woman, Sarah Anne Rose. She and her husband Arthur Rose first moved into the cottage as tenants in 1901, with Arthur buying it outright in 1909 for £230. Sarah Anne continued to live in the cottage after Arthur’s death until 1936 when it passed onto their son, Reginald Edwin Rose.

Ethel Brant

Ethel Brant outside prefab

One of the women we know the most about is Ethel Brant nee Martindale who lived in the Prefab following the Second World War. Ethel was born in Stonebridge, north London in 1927 to Henry David and Amy Martindale. When war broke out in 1939, they were living in Douglas Avenue in Wembley in a house the Martindales shared with a lodger, Mr Swan. Although only fourteen when she left school in 1941, Ethel was determined to play her part in the war effort and went to work in a light bulb factory near her home in Wembley. She soon found herself in the midst of the Blitz, working under a flimsy glass roof constantly threatening to give in to the Luftwaffe’s frequent bombing attempts.

After only a short time there, Ethel left the factory to become a conductress, or ‘clippie’, for the Alperton bus company, a seemingly less dangerous occupation. She was given a uniform, a

ticket and punch machine and a leather pouch, before being put to work on the number 83 route. One day her journey was interrupted by a doodlebug which seemed to be heading straight for the bus and only missing it by a few inches and exploding in the Thames. Ethel, without any thought for her own safety hurried to the top deck to ensure that her passengers were not injured. Thankfully they were not. Even this was not Ethel’s closest encounter with the enemy. One evening in February 1944, Ethel was enjoying a quiet tea with her family in their living room, when something hit the roof of their side extension with a terrific thud. They ran outside to see what had happened; Ethel was not sure what she expected to see but it was certainly not a teenaged blond-haired, blue-eyed Luftwaffe airman. He had decided to abandon his plane when it was hit three times by anti-aircraft gunners, landing on the Martindale’s roof, ensnared in his own parachute harness.

It was only a few months after this that Ethel first met her future husband, Bob at their mutual friend’s, Geoff and Eva’s wedding. Bob glimpsed Ethel first and persuaded Eva to introduce them. They quickly became infatuated, despite Bob being five years older than Ethel. Determined to stay in touch, they exchanged letters and photographs regularly for the remainder of the war, falling more in love with every line.

Following the war and their marriage in 1946, the Brants moved into 40 Grove Hill in Chalfont St Peter with Bob’s parents and his sisters Rose and Daphne. Not overly spacious to begin with, the house soon began to feel unbearably small with the arrival of Ethel and Bob’s first child, Carol in 1947. Bob applied to the council for-rehousing, and in 1948 the Brants received the good news that they had been offered the prefab at number 6 Finch Lane in Amersham. The timing could not have been better because Ethel was then pregnant with their second daughter, Joan. Prefabricated houses were the government’s solution to the housing, manpower and money shortage following the Second World War. An estimated 750,000 homes were needed following the Blitz. The one at COAM is an example of “The Universal House, Mark 3”, designed and manufactured by the Universal Housing Co. Ltd., Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, and completed in 1947, first belonging to the Bryants.

The only furniture they had was a baby’s cot, a settee and a borrowed put-you-up bed. Ethel and Bob soon got to work creating their palace, hiring furniture from Perrings in Chalfont St Peter, acquiring rag rugs and curtains, laying linoleum, and buying bedroom and dining room suites which arrived within four days. Bob fashioned a dressing table out of an old chest of drawers and even turned an old TV set into a record player. Their home was now not only ready to live in but to entertain. They always had company at the weekends, Ethel’s mother was a frequent visitor and while her stay was enjoyed by all it did mean doubling up three to a bed.

Living room of 1940s prefab

Living room in the 1940s prefab

Great friendships were formed with the other families who lived in the surrounding prefabs, always ready to help each other out. When Ethel had a poisoned hand, her next-door neighbour, Mrs Kino looked after Carol and Joan, and when all three of them had chickenpox, Mrs Hobbs looked after them. The farmer, Mr Thomson and his son regularly drove around the estate on their horse and cart, delivering milk, vegetables and eggs to the prefab families. Ethel and Bob often paid visits to his wife, who was unwell and house-bound to cheer her up and tell her the local gossip.

By investigating the histories of individual buildings, we can represent the much-overlooked female experience of daily life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I hope this blog post has made a start to fulfilling this year’s International Women’s Day’s campaign theme, #choosetochallenge and will inspire others to do the same.

Written by Eloise Sinclair, Museum Volunteer

Eloise has her own blog where she writes about forgotten women throughout history.


  • -

World Book Day with Vix J Cooper

Tags : 

This week’s World Book Day family learning resource is brought to you from author Vix J Cooper whose books Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed and Fin and the Red Deer are inspired by COAM.

Vix has taken inspiration from the animals and nature around our Museum site to create her stories, characters and plots.

Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed Book Cover

From Vix J Cooper

Chiltern Open Air Museum has given my family pleasure for years even before I became a children’s author. Its countryside and farm animals and buildings with snippets about past inhabitants are a treasure chest.

As a farm volunteer, walking the goats (or them walking me!), cow Clementine’s reactions to me singing as I groom her and working at the top of the threshing machine, such as for BBC Countryfile’s harvest episode, are just a few of the things that have inspired my story writing.

Getting on my hands and knees to consider what an animal may see, and feeling the strength needed to squeeze water from washing with a mangle as a school workshop leader, helped shape some descriptive detail in my book Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed.

Studying birds and deer in the woods, and butterflies in the meadow and gardens, plus the thatched buildings, gave me scenery and character ideas for picture book Fin and the Red Deer. Observing generations of grandmothers, mothers and younger sheep interacting helped inspire my new book Who Did This?

Even if a particular subject such as history doesn’t appeal to someone, the museum offers such variety there’s something for most. Not surprisingly, I recommend the museum for writers and artists of all ages; or to anyone because it’s a special place.

View our Literacy Activities for World Book Day Resource


Search our site

Join our mailing list

Donate