The History of Afternoon Tea: Tradition and Evolution

  • By Matfen Hall
  • March 26, 2024
  • Uncategorised

Today, Afternoon Tea ranks as one of the most quintessentially British customs, and it may come as no surprise that this timeless tradition comes from a very distinguished background.

Our own selection of delicate finger sandwiches, handmade scones and decadent sweet treats are now served in The Drawing Room, creating a truly memorable Afternoon Tea in Northumberland. But here, we take a look into the history of this classic experience and how it is evolved into the enjoyable occasion it is today.

The Origin of Afternoon Tea  

In the 1840s, it was tradition for evening meals to be served at 8pm. To Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford and one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, that was too long a wait, having last eaten at lunchtime. As she began to began to feel peckish at around 4pm, Anna  – unwilling to wait for her evening meal – requested a tray of bread and butter, alongside a piece of cake and some tea. As time grew on, the duchess would begin to invite friends to join her for this growing custom and soon, others would follow suit. 

How Afternoon Tea Evolved

By the 1880s, Afternoon Tea would become a real event, as families would host afternoon refreshments in their own homes and the upper classes began to dress for the occasion. Purposefully changing outfits to attend, society women wore long gowns, hats and gloves to enjoy dainty sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and a selection of preserves. Tiers of cakes were also introduced, as some families requested to have their portraits painted during Afternoon Tea, to demonstrate their wealth.

By the end of the 19th century, the tradition had developed into something resembling the grand ceremony we know and love today. The introduction of Champagne made turned what was once a light snack into a real indulgence, while etiquette guidelines began to be published, informing readers of the proper way to both host and attend. 

The Difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea

For the working classes, who could not afford as exquisite an experience as Afternoon Tea, they’d enjoy High Tea. Served at 5pm, this meal often consisted of meat or fish, as well as bread and vegetables, served with a pot of tea. 

Rather than an additional meal, such as Afternoon Tea was, High Tea effectively replaced an evening meal for many classes, especially those who worked throughout the day. Its name derived from it usually being served at the high table in the kitchen, with high back chairs for the family to sit on, rather than the sumptuous parlour chairs employed by high society.

The Introduction and Impact of Tea Dances

The definitive British tradition continued to develop into the 20th Century. In the 1920s, hotels and restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic began to have music played while they served Afternoon Tea. Tea dances soon became popular with guests joining in with tangos, waltzes and foxtrots, until the Second World War began and soon enough, both Afternoon Tea and Tea Dances fell out of fashion.

Afternoon Tea Today 

In recent years, a resurgence of Afternoon Tea has seen it becoming popular again and with every generation. Our very own Children’s version was launched in March this year, allowing the whole family to indulge their senses. And, if you’re looking for an Afternoon Tea in Hexham, our distinctive selection of savoury and sweet delights is accompanied by Newby Teas or Cafe Du Monde Coffee, while Laurent-Perrier Champagne adds a touch of elegance. 

Located just 15 miles away from Newcastle, our luxury Afternoon Tea awaits, allowing you to spoil yourself with incredible views from The Drawing Room, a location that has as much prestige and history as Afternoon Tea has itself.

To plan your next Afternoon Tea experience at our estate, click here.

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