A brief history of the Victorian "low" tea
(excerpt from The British Museum blog)
It’s the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell, who we have to thank for the invention of afternoon tea, sometime around 1840. Due to increasing urbanisation and the rise in industrialisation (including the spread of gas lighting in England), the evening meal was becoming later and later. Whereas in rural farming communities the day had an early start and finished when the sun went down, wealthier classes, unhindered by such practicalities, were now having dinner closer to 9pm – with lunch many hours earlier at midday.
The Duchess of Bedford, who was one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, was having none of it. Describing a ‘sinking feeling’ at about 5pm, she became despondent at the void between lunch and dinner. She requested that some tea, bread and butter and cake was brought to her room in the late afternoon – and with that one request of a lady’s grumbling stomach, an afternoon ritual was born. Needing very little prompting to find an occasion to squeeze in another cup of tea and a piece of cake, the upper classes ate it up and the fashionable custom soon spread across Britain.
Low Tea/Afternoon Tea — A light meal including savory treats such as sandwiches and scones, delectable sweet treats, and tea. Known as “low tea” because guests were seated in low armchairs with low side-tables on which to place their cups and saucers.