Taking a Bit of History with Your Tea

It has become something of a tradition in my family to seek out both heritage sites and tea establishments when we spend time together. Fortunately for us, the two often come together. Almost every sizable National Trust property, and many other heritage sites, has a café where you can take tea and sample delicious baked goods. Here you can find the heritage-going British public enjoying a cup of tea after strolling around an eighteenth century mansion, or, on a dry day, the gardens that these properties often include.  But sometimes the balance seems to shift. You might find yourself heading to a heritage site to enjoy their tea as much as, or more than, to see the house, gardens, or museum. When this state of affairs arises, I call it taking a bit of history with your tea.

V&A Museum Café
V&A Museum Café

There are countless good places to enjoy both history and tea, but I’ll mention just the few that I re-visited on my recent trip home to London. If you like the historic house and accompanying gardens model, Osterley Park and House and Ham House are two properties in Greater London that have tea rooms in the outbuildings of the main property. At Osterley, the café is in the stables, and at Ham it is in the Orangery at the end of the kitchen garden. There is also the museum model: at the Natural History Museum you can sit in the Central Hall Café under the Romanesque vaults of the Waterhouse building, and the V&A Museum Café is located in stunning nineteenth-century rooms from the Arts and Crafts period.

And then there is the tea room that comes with its own history, not needing the surroundings of a designated heritage site to provide it. One such example is the Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire. This spot is a favourite haunt of Cambridge students seeking a bit of respite from the University, and this tradition dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. Early twentieth century patrons of the Orchard include a number of well known figures such as Rupert Brooke, Virgina Woolf, and Wittgenstein, and it is claimed that more famous people have taken tea there than anywhere else in the world (they have a list to prove it). When I was visiting my sister, we stopped here during an afternoon walk in March. We sat out in the orchard (it is not just a nice sounding name—it is actually an orchard) under a calm grey, overcast sky to enjoy our tea and scones. It has definitely become a heritage site of sorts in its own right and, judging by the large tour group we encountered, tour buses seem to now include it on their routes.

So, whether your preference is for houses, gardens, museums, or just for tea, taking tea with your history (or history with your tea) is an experience I would definitely recommend.

See also: Tea Tourist

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