Tea Clippers. In the early 1800's ships carrying tea from the Far East to Britain could take over a year to bring home their precious cargo. When the East India Company was given a monopoly on the tea trade in 1832, they realized the need to cut the time of this journey. The Americans actually designed the first "clippers", or streamlined, tall-masted vessels, but the British were close behind. These clippers sped along at nearly 18 knots by contemporary accounts - nearly as fast as a modern ocean liner.
So great was the race for speed that an annual competition was begun for clippers to race from the Canton River to the London Docks. The first ship to unload its cargo won the captain and crew a hefty bonus.
The most famous of the clipper ships was the Cutty Sark, built in 1868. It only made the tea run eight times, but for its era it was a remarkable ship. The Cutty Sark is now on exhibition at Greenwich.
Tea Customs. Afternoon tea is said to have originated with one person; Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford. In the early 1800's she launched the idea of having tea in the late afternoon to bridge the gap between luncheon and dinner, which in fashionable circles might not be served until 8 o'clock at night. This fashionable custom soon evolved into high tea among the working classes, where this late afternoon repast became the main meal of the day.
Tea Gardens. The popular pleasure gardens of Ranelagh and Vauxhall in London began serving tea around 1730. An evening of dancing and watching fireworks would be capped by tea. The concept caught on, and soon Tea Gardens opened all over Britain. Usually the gardens were opened on Saturday and Sunday, and an afternoon of entertainment and dancing would be highlighted by serving tea.
Tea Shops - that oh, so British establishment, can be traced to one person. In 1864 the woman manager of the Aerated Bread Company began the custom of serving food and drink to her customers. Her best customers were favoured with tea. Soon everyone was asking for the same treatment. The concept of tea shops spread throughout Britain like wildfire, not in the least because tea shops provided a place where an unchaperoned woman could meet her friends and socialize without damage to her reputation.
Tea and Pottery. What connection, you might be excused for asking, does tea have with the growth of the British pottery industry? Simply this: tea in China was traditionally drunk from cups without handles. When tea became popular in Britain, there was a crying need for good cups with handles, to suit British habits. This made for tremendous growth in the pottery and porcelain industry, and the prosperity of such companies as Wedgwood, Spode, and Royal Doulton.