During the early-19th century, it became fashionable for the evening meal to not be served ‘til around 8 o’clock – far later than it previously had been. As a result, people became peckish in the gap between luncheon and dinner and so it was that one afternoon in 1840, Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, asked for a tray of tea and light refreshments be brought up to her room to stave off her pangs of hunger before the evening meal. It wasn’t long before she invited friends to join her for this in her rooms at Woburn Abbey and she continued the practice upon her return to London. By the 1880’s the pause for ‘tea’ had become a social event in its own right and respectable enough to now be served in the drawing room. The upper classes would take afternoon tea around 4 o’clock before a fashionable promenade in Hyde Park and by the late 19th century, tea rooms were all the rage as places for ladies could meet. With the addition of music, ‘tea dances’ began to take place in the most stylish hotels – a practice which continued right up until the Second World War.
And now, nearly 200 years after the Duchess of Bedford’s innovation, the custom of taking afternoon tea remains synonymous with enjoying a light refreshment with friends in elegant surroundings – a tradition that The Wolseley in particular is proud to uphold to this day.