I have been ‘decluttering’ and have come across so many bone china cup/saucer and plate sets. Those shown below belonged to my mother-in-law Jean, who lived in Hobart. On a dairy farm outside Ulverstone my mother had collected even more.
Back in the 1950s and 60s this delicate English china was displayed in almost every Australian home, brought out from display cabinets when visitors came for afternoon tea.
Jean’s own mother clearly did things in style, as I discovered this boxed set of silver teaspoons and sugar tongs.
WORDS ON THE SUBJECT FROM AN EARLIER ERA
I have reproduced the following 19th century article in full, because it is such a social history treasure. Apologies to my English, but more particularly my American friends. It was published in the Illustrated Sydney News, August 30, 1888.
Afternoon Tea, that charming institution, is subject to changes of fashion as much as say any other meal in this variety-seeking century. The chief attractions of five o’clock tea have hitherto been its simplicity, and the absence of any fuss or ceremony about it. Good tea, pretty cups and saucers, fresh milk, and cream, if possible, with dainty plates of scones, cake and thin bread and butter – what more can the mortal desire who has lunched at one o’clock and intends to dine at seven? But we hear that in England the accompaniments to the meal are becoming much more complicated; fruit and every variety of cakes and confectionery being served up in many houses. The climax has, however, been reached in Philadelphia, where five o’clock tea consists of oysters, cold game, soup. sandwiches, ices, champagne, punch, coffee, chocolate and lemonade. To add insult to injury, no tea whatever was served on the occasion.
Now here comes the final arrow into American hearts;
Americans generally overdo it in the matter of food; they don’t eat more than, indeed not as much as. English people, but they are always eating, and the iced drinks and constant bonbons certainly impair their complexions.
AFTERNOON TEA IN TASMANIA
My mother would have served a cream filled, iced sponge cake and home made slices and biscuits. Definitely no scones….they were for lunch baskets, sent out to the paddock with tea in a billy. 😎
I have such strong memories of arriving home from school to find a snowy cloth on the dining room table and my mother entertaining a neighbour. My siblings and I were a wild little lot, but always behaved impeccably on such occasions, chorusing;. ‘Good afternoon Mrs Dobson‘ (we were surrounded by lovely Dobson families). Due to a mixture of shyness in company and good manners, we never dreamed of just helping ourselves from the table. We waited until offered a slice of cake and a glass of cordial. To be part of that formal little ceremony of afternoon tea was very special.
Mum was so proud of her china collection, which was added to on birthdays, Christmas, and Mother’s Day. She especially loved the landscape patterned Shelley cups and saucers (long since discontinued). Not one piece was ever broken, demonstrating how much our whole family cherished them. In due course the sets were shared between my sister and myself. I am wondering how on earth I will be able to part with mine. Maybe I won’t. Instead of coffee with friends in the village it will be afternoon tea chez moi, with a white cloth on the dining table.
The image above reminds me that I have a photo of my father and his little brother enjoying afternoon tea in my grandmother’s garden at North Motton (Tasmania), circa 1925.