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Monday, October 11, 2021

Day 60

By the time Queen Victoria ascended to the throne it was long fashionable for aristocratic families to have two main meals a day: a substantial breakfast and an evening meal. As kerosene lamps became widespread in households, the evening meal started to be served later and later in the day and by the early 19th century the normal time was between 8pm and 9.30pm. To help fill the gap, an extra meal was taken at midday, known as luncheon, though this was usually a very light meal and left people to endure the long afternoon with no refreshments. Complaining of a “sinking feeling” around 4pm, Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford introduced in yesterday’s post, ordered a tray of tea (Darjeeling), some sweet breads, including scones, and sandwiches to her rooms when staying at her country house - Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire - during the summer of 1840, and found it to be the perfect refreshment. She was so delighted by the whole affair that she began ordering tea every afternoon and continued the practice when she returned to London. The Duchess started to invite friends to join her and soon afternoon tea quickly became an established and convivial pastime enjoyed in drawing rooms of women of the upper middle and upper class throughout London, taken at precisely 4pm. As the trend set in, so too did the popularity of all the paraphernalia that went with it - Chinese porcelain tea cups, tea pots, caddies, etc. - and furniture makers rushed to capitalise on the movement, designing and making special tea tables and chairs. By the late 1840s Queen Victoria was hosting ‘fancy dress’ afternoon tea parties, which always ended by 7pm to allow time for the guests to prepare for their evening meal. The working class soon followed suit, adopting the practice of enjoying a “meat tea” or “high tea” (usually involving meat broth, as tea remained an expensive import and a mere luxury until the end of the 19th century) at 5pm, the end of the work day - later the 8pm meal was dropped and the tea meal in the early evening became dinner. Alongside afternoon tea, scones served with jam and cream, as we know and enjoy today, also gained popularity.