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In our hectic modern lives, afternoon tea is often regarded as an indulgence; something reserved for special occasions or times when you want to allow yourself a special treat. However, this hasn’t always been the case, as the custom of afternoon tea was once an essential daily undertaking. The idea of afternoon tea is generally believed to have been conceived in the early 19th century by the seventh Duchess of Bedford and was initially nothing more than a small meal between breakfast and dinner. The story goes that the Duchess of Bedford, began a daily afternoon ritual of taking tea and a snack. She lived during a time when it was common to eat only two main meals a day, with breakfast being served early in the morning and dinner occurring late in the evening. Struck by hunger pangs each afternoon the duchess used to complain of a ‘sinking feeling’ and so took a dainty meal and a pot of tea in the afternoon, this private routine was firstly done surreptitiously in her bed chamber, but over time she began inviting friends to join her between 3pm and 5pm and so the tradition of afternoon tea was born. There is evidence that suggests that afternoon tea was already an established tradition, but I am not one to spoil a perfectly good story and it is certain that Anna did help to evolve afternoon tea.

Over the next few decades, the custom of afternoon tea became firmly established as a part of the British culture and enjoyed great popularity, but as lifestyles became faster paced the popularity of taking afternoon tea declined and became the remit of those with more leisurely lifestyles. Today afternoon tea is back in fashion and I for one am glad to see its return in popularity. Now special occasions are regularly celebrated by booking an afternoon tea and it is undoubtedly a good excuse for a social gathering that appeals across the generations. It is undoubtedly a sociable, slightly decadent and fun occasion.

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,” concurred the Victorian novelist Henry James in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’, a sentiment I whole heartedly share. I can think of nothing better than taking time over good tea, cake and sandwiches. If you do partake in afternoon tea you’ll be in good company as Her Majesty the Queen takes tea at 5pm, each day, rigidly observing a tradition that goes back centuries.

At the weekend I was taking tea in a very Regency style as I prepared a display of high tea, afternoon tea and a Regency style breakfast at the Botanical Gardens, Carmarthen. The visitors to the gardens got to sample some seed cake made to an authentic recipe and got to look at dishes that included salmon in aspic, milk jellies, syllabubs, pound cake, ginger cakes, rose biscuits. The Regency tea party was held in conjunction with a project to restore the fabulous Regency parkland of Middleton Hall, now the home of the Botanic Garden.

The weather was a mixture of bright sun and showers, but this didn’t deter the visitors and they seemed to enjoy partaking in tea on the lawn a glance at what it was like to take tea in Jane Austen’s era and even indulge in a game of croquet.

So, after a busy weekend I now have turn my attention to washing up that dinner service and getting my props back into an organised state. I had a wonderful time being a Regency lady for the day, but now the washing up bowl and the jam pan are calling.