The habit of drinking tea dates back thousands of years but didn’t become popular in England until the 1660s. However, it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.
In 1840 afternoon tea was introduced by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford.
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.
The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.
This pause for tea caught on and became a fashionable social event for those with the leisure to enjoy it.
As Henry James said, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
These paintings capture the mood for afternoon tea perfectly.