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Home of Afternoon Tea continued

Bedford is proud to call itself "Home of Afternoon Tea"! Download our guide to some of the best and most interesting places to enjoy it!

By the early part of the 19th century tea consumption had perhaps reached the peak of its popularity and it was about this time that Anna Maria Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford complained to her butler at Woburn Abbey of "having that sinking feeling" during the late afternoon.

It was usual at this time to take only two main meals a day; breakfast and dinner at around 8 o'clock in the evening. The solution for the Duchess was a pot a tea and a light snack, taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon. Later friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey and this summer practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London either in her house in Belgrave Square or in one of the Royal Palaces when she was in attendance to Queen Victoria as Lady in Waiting. She sent cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." Other social hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move it into the drawing room. Before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.

Since then afternoon tea has spawned various derivatives including high tea, low tea and even cream tea. Today up and down the country countless hotels, tea rooms and coffee shops offer their version of afternoon tea but traditionally it would consist of a selection of delicate sandwiches (originally these would have been filled with cucumber, watercress, ham, smoked salmon or perhaps fish paste) along with a selection of fruit and other homemade cake and pastries or the more modern addition warm scones served with jam and clotted cream; of course accompanied by lots of hot tea served in china cups, traditionally served between 3pm and 5pm

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