The History of Afternoon Tea
In 1840, Anna 7th Duchess of Bedford ordered a small meal of bread, butter, tarts, cakes and biscuits to be served secretly in her boudoir along with a pot of tea. At that time it was usual to eat just two meals a day- breakfast and a late dinner at around 8:30pm (Even later in the Summer) so at around 4pm, she found that she was feeling hungry.
After a while she began to send invites to her friends during her stay at Woburn Abbey and continued the custom on her return to London. When her secret of taking afternoon tea was exposed, she was not ridiculed as she had feared as the practice had caught on among other hostesses, making it respectable and tea was then moved to the drawing room.
During 1880's upper class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea, which would be served in the drawing room between 4pm and 5pm. The middle and lower classes would take high tea, which was a more substantial meal served between 5pm and 6pm in replacement of a later evening meal. ('High tea' came from the height of the table used, which would have been the dining table.)
A traditional menu for Afternoon Tea consists of dainty sandwiches (including thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches), scones with clotted cream and preserves, cakes and pastries. Tea, which would be grown in India or Ceylon would be poured into delicate bone china cups.
It is a wonderful custom which thankfully has become popular again today as people enjoy the sociable custom of taking tea and cakes with their friends and family.