Remembering The Dead, A Mourning Tea The Origins
Between the late 1830’s and 1840’s, the tradition of the afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna Maria Russell the 7th Duchess of Bedford. In the early 19th century it was customary to take an early breakfast and a late supper, which usually took place between 8 and 9 pm. The Duchess found this long gap between meals resulted in a “sinking feeling” at about 4:00pm. As legend has it, Anna requested her maid to bring her a pot of tea and a small meal comprised of slices of bread and butter to her private quarters. The idea quickly became a daily routine as she found it to be enjoyable and refreshing. She soon began to invite her friends to delight in tea, cakes, sandwiches, and conversation. Shortly after her invitation the afternoon tea became a tradition amongst the fashionable socialites.
As the afternoon tea evolved from quelling off hunger pains to becoming a daily social event. The Queen fell in love with this newly found past time and became an influential supporter of the afternoon tea. As noted in history, Queen Victoria and the Duchess were lifelong friends.By the late 1840’s Queen Victoria hosted daily lavish tea parties for the aristocrats. A typical menu consisted of a selection of freshly prepared finger sandwiches, warm scones with clotted cream and preserves, a variety of homemade cakes and pastries and a choice from a range of teas. This trend gained popularity throughout the Victorian era.
There was also a darker side to the Victorian period. The Victorians were the last generation to make a pageant of grief. The Victorian culture could be viewed as being morbidly fascinated and obsessed with death. But with good reason, they were consistently surrounded by a high mortality rate. Many people died in that period due to Scarlet Fever, Typhoid Fever, Cholera and child birth. Mourning etiquette was executed by wearing black clothing, creating elaborate funerals and ornate tombstones. Social behavior was curtailed for a period of time to honor their dearly departed. It was also customary for families to go through elaborate rituals to commemorate their dead.
Women usually bore the burden of the mourning customs in the victorian era. Reflecting British society and the British Royal court, widows were expected to wear various styles of mourning dress over a period of two years. In addition widows were required to adhere to strict mourning practices by remaining home and minimizing social interactions. While in isolation widows suffered added anguish and loneliness during the mourning period and beyond.
After death relatives and friends of the deceased would go into mourning, a practice taken up wholeheartedly by Queen Victoria. In 1861 Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert succumbed to Typhoid Fever. His death was devastating and pushed her into a deep depression. Queen Victoria mourned his death by wearing black for the remaining 40 years of her life. Her depression kept her in seclusion for many years and she rarely made public appearances. Mourning dress consisted of whole outfits that informed others of their state of grief. This meant for Victorians with the high mortality rates persisting that mourning dress would often be worn for most of women's lives.
As the afternoon tea became the daily ritual, this gave the bereaved women the opportunity to gather and feel closer to their dearly departed by allowing the expression of their grief and keeping memories of their loved ones alive. There is the connection between how afternoon tea can be used in relationship to coping with death. Tea has been used as an ingredient in food and in cocktails but in this instance we take a look at how tea was used as the mourning process. Hence “The Mourning tea” evolved. The grieving women shared stories, pictures and mementos during the tea ritual.
The Victorians reveled in the thought of visiting spiritual mediums to contact and communicate with their loved ones. The Victorians reveled in frightening tales. More than that, they embraced the culture of death, many visiting spiritualist mediums, or commissioning spirit photographers.
Particularly this time of the year and specifically the night of October 31st still holds allure. Within the month of October, All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve, better known as Halloween is observed. This time of the year is dedicated to remembering the dead including Saints, Martyrs and all the faithfully departed. There is a belief that spirits of the dead would cross over into the other realms, the divisions between the living and the dead were said to draw back the veil allowing the supernatural and the dead to reenter the world.
The Victorian afternoon tea as well as the Mourning Tea is still a tradition that is a part of our lives. Tea houses and lavish hotels across the world, especially in British providences are still serving afternoon tea between the time of 3 and 5 pm. When one thinks of tea time, thoughts of Victorian class and elegance comes to mind.
As we reflect on the Afternoon Tea/ Mourning Tea history, there is something very special and ever so Victorian about this ritual.
Remembering the Dead, A Mourning Tea harkens back to this timeless tradition of honoring and calling forth our loved ones from the grave while sipping traditional tea and partaking in lavish desserts.