The year was 1840, and the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna – who was a ‘lady of the bedchamber’ and good friend of Queen Victoria – found herself feeling peckish one afternoon. The hunger pangs struck at around 4 o’clock, and as the household’s evening meal wasn’t until the fashionably late time of 8 o’clock in the evening (in the summer months it would be even later), the thought of having to wait four long hours for a nibble and a sip, was simply too much for the Duchess to bear. So, she asked one of her servants to bring her some bread and butter and cake on a tray, along with a steaming hot cup of tea. Having found this mid afternoon snack and beverage much to her liking, it quickly became a habit of hers, and she was soon inviting her friends round to join her. Afternoon tea then became a fashionable event adopted by other well to do folks, and the women would dress up in long gowns and hats for the daily ritual, which usually occurred in the drawing room.
When Queen Victoria came to know of Anna’s afternoon tea and cake eating activities in the drawing room, she found the idea of it greatly pleasing and soon went along with it herself, often indulging in a slice of sponge cake with butter cream and raspberries to be washed down with her cup of tea. This cake later became the famous ‘Victoria Sponge Cake’ that is still eaten and adored in England today.
Afternoon tea was a tradition soon adopted by the middle classes, too; becoming an indulgent affair that wasn’t just fit for royalty and due in part, to the price of tea going down and becoming more affordable for the average person.
In drawing rooms and parlours across the length and breadth of England, afternoon tea was celebrated between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock with a delectable selection of cakes, pastries, crust-less sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Today, afternoon tea is still indulged in by the Queen when she’s in residence at Buckingham Palace; remaining a traditional affair that has changed little over the century. Sources close to the Queen state that this is a cherished time of the day for her, and a time when she can relax and spend some quality time with her Corgi dogs. Her favourite tea blends are said to be Darjeeling and Earl Grey.