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History of the  Tea Parties

We will be sharing a scone recipe, plain this time, as well as how Royal tea parties developed and
the History of the Boston Tea Party

The history of the Boston Tea Party:  in North America, tea holds considerable power to this day as a beverage that united a country in revolution.  Tea was so heavily taxed in the American colonies, (imposed by Britain), it angered the people to such an extent that on December 16, 1773, fifty men disguised as Indians and armed with pistols and hatchets attacked the three tea ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbour. It was coined The Boston Tea Party. From having been the favourite American drink, tea now became the symbol of oppression and people started to drink coffee instead. This, along with other problems, ultimately led to the American Revolution.

Boston Tea Party

2. Royal Tea Parties

In 1861, Queen Victoria lost the love of her life, when Prince Albert died. She was grief-stricken, and as time passed, she was encouraged to start inviting friends to tea as a way to distract her from her sadness and move back into the public eye. As the Queen took tea, so did the rest of society. She started introducing Royal tea parties in the form of garden parties known as ‘breakfasts’ in 1868. She continued this ritual, hosting elegant afternoon tea parties in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. The table would have been an impressive sight indeed with fine bone china, linen napkins, silver teapots and teaspoons, and food served on silver tiers. Black tea, Darjeeling or Earl Grey, would have been the choices. If you have come across afternoon teas  being called “Victorian Teas", it is from this association with Queen Victoria.

The Royals today have kept this tradition alive by holding three Royal tea parties in the Rose Garden of Buckingham Palace every summer, and one at Holyrood House in Edinburgh. Guests arrive at the palace around 3pm and mingle with other guests within the forty-two acres of the palace garden, drinking more than 27,000 cups of tea and dining on dainty tea sandwiches and pastries. Every year around 32,000 Britons receive hand-written invitations from the Lord Chamberlain’s office at Buckingham Palace to attend this event. By invitation only, one must be appointed by a royal approved sponsor. Members of the Royal Family arrive at 4pm and circulate among the guests for several hours.

3. What time is tea time in the UK?

To understand what time is teatime in the UK today, we have to go back a few hundred years to see how tea parties developed. Tea parties, usually an after-dinner gathering, had already been taking place prior to the mid-1800s. Tea was taken at the end of dinner to settle the stomach after a heavy meal that would last four-to-five hours starting at around noon. After dinner, the ladies would withdraw and the gentlemen would linger for two or more hours in the dining room, indulging in wine, tobacco, and male conversation of some variety.  The ladies would move to the withdrawing room to talk, read or embroider to pass the time until the men joined them for an hour or so for tea. The interval between dinner and tea could be tedious for the ladies as conversation could be numbingly boring. This was depicted so beautifully in many of Jane Austin’s novels. The master of the house would then ring the bell for tea and would join the ladies. A little music was given, cards and other games were often played.  Guests would begin to leave around 10.30pm.


The servants would never pour the tea; they would carry in the tea equipage and any food to be offered but it would be the lady of the house, or her daughter who would brew and serve the tea.

4. Women's tea parties

Ann Russell, the Duchess of Bedford and her friends would have attended tea parties after meals in each other’s homes. By the mid 1800s, dinner shifted to around 7.30pm or even later, leaving a long gap between lunch and the evening meal. Only a light repast would be served at luncheon usually around noon. Ann Russell found afternoon tea so essential to her well-being that when she visited friends at their place of residence, be it at a castle or palace, she took with her a silver kettle and other tea accoutrements packed together with her trunk and hat boxes. Her all-female tea gatherings were built upon the evening tea party but they were far more informal and intimate that which took place in the afternoon, rather than the evening, when the men were busy. It was one of the few occasions where women could gather and exchange ideas, opinions and a healthy dose of gossip, often centered around their husbands! There is one amusing Georgian print which shows husbands, not invited, creeping up to the window to see what their wives were saying about them.

5. Nursery Tea Parties

Nursery tea was a variant on afternoon tea, and took place around 4 or 5pm. It was a combination of the afternoon tea meal and the dinnertime meal. In wealthy, Victorian households, children lived at the top of the house, and were were looked after by their nannies who saw to their daily needs.


If the children were going to school, they would have nursery tea when they returned home. Otherwise it was taken by younger children in the afternoon after their day’s activities. The meal would include simple dishes like egg and soldiers (boiled eggs with bread and butter); sardine sandwiches; muffins, scones, or biscuits; banana sandwiches; and gingerbread and fruitcake. Tea parties were reserved for special occasions when the children’s friends would join them for a meal to celebrate a birthday or a similar event.

Mad Hatters tea party in London.
Mad Hatters Tea Party in London


225g self-raising flour, plus extra to dust

75g butter, chilled

40g golden caster sugar
1 large egg
2-–5 tbsp buttermilk or milk, plus extra to glaze


Preheat the oven to 220ºC (200ºC fan oven) mark 7. Sift the flour into a bowl, add a pinch of salt and mix. Add the butter, cut into small cubes, then lightly rub in with fingertips until mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add sugar and stir in.


Put the egg into a jug, add 2tbsp of the buttermilk or milk and beat together. Make a well in the centre of the crumble and add the egg mixture. Using a round-bladed knife, mix the egg gradually into the crumble. As the dough forms, bring it together with your hands; it should be soft but not sticky. If it feels dry, add extra buttermilk or milk, 1tsp at a time. Shape the dough into a rough ball, then pat into a round.


Lightly flour a clean work surface and a rolling pin. Gently roll out the dough to at least 2.5cm thick. Dip a 5cm cutter in flour. Cut out each scone by placing the cutter on the dough and giving it a quick push down-wards. Don't twist the cutter; just lift it and ease the dough out. You'll get five or six scones out of the round. Gather the trimmings, re-roll to the same thickness and cut more, repeating until you have a total of eight.


Dust a large baking tray with flour and arrange the scones on it. Lightly brush each one with buttermilk or milk, then dust with a little more flour. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 10-12min, or until well risen and golden. Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool for 5min or until just warm. Slice them in half and serve with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Recipe: Good House Keeping

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