The always informative and entertaining Everybody’s Best Friend (n.d. but c 1939) devotes many pages to modern etiquette, some of which reminds us today of how much has changed over the intervening years.
Take, for instance, the etiquette of social occasions. ‘ At Homes ‘ were once common. Here is some advice.
I am attending a formal “At Home “ shortly. As this will be my first experience of this event, what may I expect the procedure to be?
Unless you receive a card stating a particular hour, do not arrive at the house earlier than 3.30 p.m., nor later that 5.30.A heavy coat or a rain-coat should be left in the hall, but the hat is not removed. You will be greeted by your hostess and introduced to other guests.
Usually the hostess will offer a cup of tea and a morsel of bread and butter or cake.
A visit on an “ At Home “ day normally lasts for twenty minutes to half an hour. You should not stay longer unless especially asked to do so by your hostess. Take your leave quietly. Friends who arrive later will not be leaving at the same time, so you do not want to interrupt the proceedings by your departure. Shake hands with your hostess and just smile and bow to the others.
There were specific rules for tea parties too.
I am thinking of asking to a little tea party some of the girls in the office where I worked before marriage. What sort of invitations should be issued and what should I put on the table?
Invitations to a tea-party take the form of little notes something like this:-
“ Dear _____,
“ I am having a few friends to tea on Saturday next, December18, at 4.30p.m., and should be happy if you would join us.
Found in Old Inns of Suffolk, an often consulted work by local historian Leonard P Thompson, is a complaint about the ‘catchpenny ‘afternoon teas served up by typical road houses and other mediocre eating places.
Writing in 1948,Thompson argues that excellent and value for money teas can still be found in Britain, but that the ones offered by hotels and similar outfits are invariably unimaginative, mean and ridiculously expensive.
Thompson begins his complaint with a eulogy to a tea he once had at The Fleece, Boxford, near Sudbury, once the home village of the late Peter Haining, the doyen of paste and scissors anthologists, from whose archive ( now owned by Jot 101) Old Inns of Suffolk may have come.
‘It was a Tea of an essentially home-made order. There was plenty of bread-and-butter. There was potted meat and home-made jam. There were biscuits, there was cake. And there was a pot of refreshing, honest to-goodness tea. The price was extraordinarily reasonable. And it all pointed to this moral: if one country inn can observe the ancient traditions of its proud place in England’s social history, so can others. Some, indeed, do, but they are all too few; and of that few, the majority are completely unimaginative. Hotel Teas display the least imagination; two or three wafers of rather dry bread, lightly smeared with a mixture of margarine and butter; perhaps a couple of diminutive sandwiches of indefinable and often dubious content; a piece of dry cake, or an equally dry and hideously plain bun. Such is the usual composition of the average Hotel Tea . Continue reading
From the Good Cuppa Guide by Jonathan Routh (1966) in the ‘Tea in the City’ section. Jonathan Routh (1928-2008) was a hoaxer and practical joker, most famous as the presenter of ITV’s Candid Camera. Previous to this he had successfully invented a fictitious 18th Century poet, gaining him a mention in the TLS. As well as his guide to tea shops in London he produced the Good Loo Guide (1968); the New York version was called the Good John Guide. He was also a prolific, and eccentric, painter – Queen Victoria was depicted trying to lose weight using a hula-hoop. Some of his paintings occasionally turn up in auction..
The Leadenhall Tea Room and Billiards Salon
(Licensed for Billiards and Tobacco)
21 Lime Street
This vast subterranean arena which hasn’t changed one iota since 1880 is one of the weirdest sights in England. In it are maybe two hundred men drinking fivepenny cups of tea – which is all that’s served for their refreshment – watching another fifty on the billiard tables. It seemed only right that, in purchasing my cup, I should have received change for my 6d with an Edwardian penny. I felt, too, that at last I’d stumbled across what that ‘Something’ is that people who are ‘Something in the City’ do. As I say, it’s weird; and it goes on from 10 in the morning to 9 at night. Just the click of cue on ball and spoon on cup. An absolute must for those who like to take their tea in surroundings that are different.
From - The Fingerpost: A Guide to Professions for Educated Women, with Information as to Necessary Training.
(Central Bureau for the Employment of Women. 1906.) A useful guide to the practicalities and economics for women considering opening a tea room at the dawn of the 20th century. A persistent dream, in one Agatha Christie story (Miss Marple?) a woman is willing to bump off several relatives to get the money to open a tea room..
Tea-Room Management. Gertrude Limb.
In choosing a suitable place for a tea-room, it is wise to bear in mind two things: position, and the number of residents and visitors who may by customers. Even if an extra outlay of capital is required, I am convoked that it is well spent on a good position. The old adage, "Out of sight, out of mind", is especially applicable to a tea-shop. Then it is "the number that pays," and it is best t choose a place favoured by tourists as well as residents, and if it is place by the sea where boards call, so much the better.
To open a tea-shop without previous experience and training will in all probability spell failure, for to be able to make tea charmingly in one's own drawing-room does not necessarily mean that one has all the many gifts necessary for success in business. Embryo pupils write to me - "I am considered attractive socially." "I have made cakes at home for year." "I have good taste, with a correct eye for form and colour," and probably when the socially attractive pupil enters she has no idea that flower glasses require to be washed, that coffee must be ground, that chairs and tables must be policed, and, for the girl who has made cakes at home, she has yet to learn that cake making as a business is a very different matter.
Then how many girls who think they can run a tea-shop can keep the simplest accounts correctly?
From The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book (Odhams, London 1933). It called itself 'the book of a million facts' and was a sort of Google of its day. It advertised itself as covering 'the main interests of humanity…no essential subject is left out.' To test this I checked if it had instructions for making tea, as few things are more essential. Sure enough a third of the way through at page 414 it has this:
TO MAKE GOOD TEA
It is the easiest thing in the world, yet nine people out of 10 do not manage to make a success of it. First of all the water must be freshly drawn from the tap. That left already in the kettle is flat and lifeless. It must be quickly boiled and poured over the tea just as it reaches boiling point. Give preference to a pot of either earthenware or aluminium ware, as the two kinds that make the best brew, and let the pot be thoroughly heated before the tea is put in. This is generally accomplished by pouring boiling water into the pot and then pouring it out again. A way that comes to us from China, and an excellent way too, is to put the tea into a perfectly dry pot, and let pot and leaves get hot together by leaving it on the rack or any other warm place.
That's it. They might have added the measurements - usually one heaped teaspoon for each person and 'one for the pot.' Once the water has been poured (during a 'rolling boil') 4 or 5 minutes is the brewing time and a tea cosy can be used - but they seem to have fallen from favour. The fresh water should be taken ('drawn') from the cold tap; the Queen Mother is said to have had her tea made with still Malvern water. The pouring of the water while it is boiling is the quintessential bit. The writer Kyril Bonfiglioli, in one of his Jersey based thrillers, has a character say something along the lines of 'you can kill me or you can give me tea made with water that hasn't come to the boil…'