Afternoon tea at the V&A

October 29, 2018

Tea has been a ubiquitous component of English life for over two centuries, and although we’d rarely wish to swap places with our Georgian and Victorian ancestors, we’d hardly turn down the Victorian’s lavish afternoon tea ceremonies.

Victorian afternoon tea © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Legend has it that Queen Victoria’s lifelong friend Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, set the practise in motion – too hungry to wait for a late dinner, she requested a selection of biscuits and cakes to be served in her dressing room with a pot of tea.

Not surprisingly, Stanhope became rather fond of this afternoon custom and began sending invitations to friends requesting their company. Queen Victoria soon learnt about her friend’s pre-dinner ritual and quickly became smitten with it (in fact, her diaries mention afternoon tea over 7,000 times). By the late 1840s the royal household was hosting its own daily afternoon parties, which became known as afternoon tea.

Victorian afternoon tea © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Inspired by our founding patron’s passion for tea and triangle sandwiches, we worked with the renowned food historian Natasha Marks of AVM Curiosities, who helped us serve up a menu worthy of Victoria herself. Presented in our 19th-century refreshment rooms, this unique experience took place amid the teal paneling and stained glass of our Morris Room (originally called the Green Room) and, for effect, included antique cutlery and British Burleigh crockery.

Morris room, 1866 – 8. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Diligently, our menu dished the dates that various sweets and savouries became fashionable, such as crayfish and mayonnaise sandwich (1890), iced orange cake (1891) and Mrs Beeton’s cucumber sandwiches (1859). Teas, meanwhile, ran from Earl Grey and breakfast tea to the more unusual elderflower and lemon.

So whether you were looking to relax (after all, ‘A good cup makes all young’ according to one inscription on our cafe walls) or wanted to transport yourself back to the London of Victoria and Albert; our afternoon tea conjured the by-gone days when Londoners pulled up to the museum in a horse-drawn carriage for sconelets and a fragrant dish of steaming Darjeeling.

Detail of Morris room, 1866 – 8. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Victorian Afternoon Tea was served in our cafe from 2018 – 2020.

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