Elsie & Fleur

Back in the mid to late 1800s afternoon tea was an important social activity and the perfect way for ladies to make a good impression on their friends and neighbours.

While it might be appealing to have an old-fashioned tea and to go back to those times, it wasn't all fun. The teatime niceties were actually a way of exposing people from the 'wrong' class and it was also a means of social control and segregation.

An afternoon cuppa these days with finger sandwiches and cakes on vintage crockery is a much pleasanter affair.

Back in the 1860s if you were a young bride of a member of the aristocracy it was your role to entertain the other ladies in the district and they could be very intimidating.

If you didn't make a good impression on your guests it could mean you husband was socially ex-communicated and neither of you would be invited to the best London parties during the season in town. And your husband wouldn't be asked to hunt while at your country residence.

Here are a few of the rules for afternoon tea that the ladies had to abide by in those days:

  • If you intended visiting another lady for tea you had to always send your calling card first – dropping in unexpectedly was thought to be ill-mannered and embarrassing for the host.
  • No proper gentleman came to tea and no real lady would have allowed them too either.
  • When taking your tea, the sugar went in first and milk last.
  • While out to tea it was deemed poor breeding to peer at the china to see who made it – ladies should ask their hostess and not turn the china upside down to look for makers marks.
  • Drink you tea and leave as soon as you have drunk it. Hanging about was considered rude too.
  • It's very bad form to stick your little finger out while drinking tea and a sure sign of being one of the 'common' class.
  • Avoid gossip at all costs , even if your hostess or guest entices you.
  • Keep your political opinions to yourself and leave this sort of conversation to the menfolk!
  • Eye contact was considered frightfully rude when drinking tea – you should look down into your cup and nowhere else!
  • If someone else calls while you're visiting your friend or neighbour, leave immediately to allow the new guest to take the star seat.

Written by Cherry Pullinger — August 09, 2017

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