It’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve been winding down my piece for the Vocalo Storytelling Workshop and preparing to act as matron of honor at a wedding in a week in a half. So I’ve been a little preoccupied to write blog posts. Now that I have a moment to breathe, I’ll keep talking about our amazing trip.
For the last half of my speech, I talked about tea and Twinings. Tea became fashionable in England when Catherine of Braganza of Portugal was married to Charles II in 1662.She had grown accustomed to the habit and it spread amongst the top ranks of English aristocracy. It was extremely expensive so only the very rich could really afford it. Britain went from shipping 6 tons of it in 1699 to 11,000 tons a century later when it was 1/20th of the price it had been previously! Households would keep tea under lock and key to prevent servants and others from stealing the precious commodity!
East Indian Trading Company rose with the popularity of tea. At one point it was 60% of their trade (and 10% of that went to taxes). Tom Standage of A History of the World in 6 Glasses points out that while Catherine of Braganza made it fashionable, East Indian Trading Company made it possible.
It was a new way to socially distinguish oneself with tea sets, new set of manners and more. Tea gardens began to open in 1730s like Vauxhall Gardens, where you could meet members of the other sex for tea. (How scandalous!)
Thomas Twinings opened Twinings in 1706 in an old coffeehouse. He was a weaver who had learned the tea trade with an East Indian merchant Thomas D’Aeth. It became exclusively a tea shop in 1717. Later the Twinings family played a crucial role in getting some of the taxes lifted on tea and other items in 1784. People noted that the tea that ended up in the Boston harbor was not Twinings. Earl Grey was supposedly invented on a voyage in 1831. In 1837, Queen Victoria gave the company a royal warrant to supply tea, something they have until this day.
Those are just a few interesting tidbits from my talk. Next year, I’ll be speaking on the history of the London Underground.
Afterwards, we of course made a stop at the Twinings shop, very close to the Middle Temple where we were doing our talks. It’s a long lean store. I think it was close to being the original shop though I think there was a place before it.
Then we trekked off to the Sir John Soane museum nearby. It’s a free museum of the house of the eccentric architect who liked to collect things. So rooms are filled with precious (and not so precious) treasures. The backroom is an atrium, two levels, covered in marbles and fakes from all over the world. The basement has a giant Egyptian sarcophagus! He has a picture gallery that it is maybe 10 by 10 but it has a 100 paintings it, including HOgarth’s A Rake’s Progress. He built it so walls swing up and out. The basement has a study that he dedicated to a fake monk he created. Yes.
He has a kinda tragic life but it appears of his own doing. He was very disappointed that his sons failed to follow him into architecture. One was a writer and ended up in debtor’s prison. His father did little to assist him. IN revenge, his son wrote a scathing article lambasting his father’s architecture. Allegedly, Sir John Soane’s wife read the article and died 8 days later. Sir Soane blamed his son for his wife’s death. And kept the article as a reminder of his son’s treachery! Later he stipulated in his will that three packages were to be opened on anniversaries of her death. There was a lot of fanfare and anticipation for each one but they were filled with ordinary items: letters, a pair of gloves, an empty ledger. Newspapers called it the greatest practical joke. I think Sir John Soane was very serious about it all.
I’d recommend checking it out!
Then we wandered to the British Library, which was not too far from the Sir John Soane museum. They had a free exhibition on Alice in Wonderland, which I had been keen to see since I heard about it in the summer. And it was everything I could have wanted. It had early texts of Alice in Wonderland, including Alice in the Underground. There were early editions of the book with Tenniel’s illustrations. The book was an instant bestseller and that hasn’t really changed. They had recordings of various performances of the books, including someone singing about the book accompanied by the CHicago Orchestra Symphony! THere was a video game that had been developed for the exhibition. And there were lots of beautifully illustrated books, aligning with the era that they were created. For instance, there were some dark and foreboding ones that were drawn during wartime. Very cool!
The permanent collection is also really neat. It’s so cool to see the handwriting of Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, James Joyce… And the illustrated manuscripts are breathtaking> I like to tip my hat at the Gutenberg Bible as well. Respect.
That’s all for now!