Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840.
The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner.
Now I expect Anna was half the size of a house if she troughed her way through lunch, afternoon tea, and an evening meal, and I doubt very much she was a member of The Nuffield Gym. Still, we all have Anna to thank for this wonderful renaissance of the 1800 tradition of cucumber finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and preserves, perfect patisserie and Darjeeling tea, and if we decide to push the boat out, a glass or three of bubbles. Sod it waiter let’s have the bottle.
The Millennium has brought with countless venues offering afternoon teas in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And of varying quality. Musical film-inspired afternoon teas, gin afternoon teas, chocolate afternoon teas and Nordic afternoon teas… even Indian afternoon tea! How fabulous would that be after a skin full on a Saturday evening… only then it I suppose it wouldn’t be afternoon tea – just a lot of posh sundries from the takeaway. My point is… the world has gone afternoon tea crazy!
There are however, only a handful of venues that can do justice to the traditions of traditional afternoon tea, and certainly high tea, in a way that Duchess Anna herself would approve of.
For a start, a modern inner-city hotel won’t cut it. A Duchess requires far more refined surroundings, away from the hair-extensions, aesthetics and heels that come with such a venue. A large, listed Downton Abbey style country pile with extensive grounds to peer out over whilst one sips on a dainty china cup of tea with the family’s coat of arms emblazoned on it. Sat in a room adorned with antiques, family portraits of aristocratic relatives painted in oil and framed in gold. Grand fireplaces, wooden panelling, huge chandeliers and heavy velvet drapes hanging from the enormous windows.
Duchess Anna wouldn’t want to be faffing around trying to work out what the hell to do with the bottle that says ‘drink me’. Nor would she want to be nibbling on a miniature samosa, or navigating around a shed load of chocolate-covered chocolate between the hours of noon and eight. She would expect to nibble on the finest selection of crestless sandwich fingers, filled with cucumber and cream cheese, the very best smoked salmon, and the freshest of egg-mayonnaise.
Of course the eggs would have come from the estate’s free range chickens. The bread would have been baked that morning by the family’s bread maker, and the salmon would have been fished from the lake and smoked in the kitchens directly below the exquisite room in which Anna was relaxing, and nibbling, and sipping tea, and chatting to lady friends with the sound of the piano in the background.
And once the perfectly adequate, delicious assortment of finger sandwiches on the freshest of bread had been slowly nibbled to nothing but crumbs, the time would come to take a freshly-baked-that-morning, fruit scone, made from a secret family recipe and placed delicately on tier two of the silver and bone china tower. Accompanying it would almost certainly be cream churned in the estate’s creamery and fresh, homemade jams made from the strawberries that grow within the extensive grounds.
Of course when one has their own pastry chef and chocolatier, the third and final tier of the grand stand is nothing short of exquisite.
You are probably reading this, certainly if you are a lady of a certain age like me, wishing that you could be transported back to days-gone-by to experience the fairy tale of afternoon tea Duchess style in regal surroundings with your closest of friends and possibly mummy in tow.
Well you can… At Yorkshire’s Carlton Towers near Selby. The ancestral home of Lord and Lady Gerald, Carlton Towers hosts a Sunday Afternoon tea several times over the course of the year – this really is the ultimate afternoon tea for those who want style and substance in regal surroundings.
It’s the stuff fairy-tales are made of.
The next afternoon tea is open to the public on Sunday 9th July. Bookings must be made in advance.
Choose from one of 2 delicious options, selectively put together by our wonderful in-house Chef. Most of our produce is lovingly home-grown and home-reared within the grounds. For the rest of the menu we use locally sourced ingredients. We’d love for you to come and enjoy the Carlton Towers Experience.
Find out more and view the menu for afternoon tea and high tea HERE
For a very special occasion – think baby shower, hen party of special birthday, you can have the house all to yourself – all you have to do is commit to a minimum of six of the exquisite rooms for a minimum of one night. Prices for overnight stays are from £150 per person, per night on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis.