Thursday, July 26, 2012

A London Tea!

Becky is away, and I'm playing hooky - but thought we'd treat you to a listing and description of a few places to have tea in London.  Maybe you're lucky enough to have been enjoying the Diamond Jubilee celebrations - or maybe you're heading out later this summer for the Olympic Games!  Either way - you'll need to know where to find that most genteel of British offerings - the afternoon tea.

Now, as long as I'm up here on my soapbox, let me bring up a couple of my pet peeves:  Please don't call the fancy tea served in the afternoon and comprised of finger sandwiches and tiny cakes "high tea".  High tea is what most of us in America call either dinner or supper, depending on where we live.  It's an early evening meal, served at the high table in your dining room or kitchen - quite substantial, often consisting of meat and potatoes.   Afternoon tea is a frothy affair and served on a low tea table, and earlier in the day.  It's original purpose was to "tide you over" until the evening meal, but it has become so large and intricate, that most of us agree you wouldn't be hungry in a couple of hours after one of these productions! 

My second pet peeve is what is passing for Devonshire cream here in America.  Many restaurants provide whipped cream with their scones (which is fine, but don't call it Devonshire cream on your menus).  And the only one who can "make" it is a cow from Devon!  Mixing whipped cream with cream cheese or sour cream is probably what's left most Americans wondering what the fuss is all about?  Let me assure you - this tastes NOTHING like Devonshire cream.  The real thing is a wonderful, artery-clogging invention that I can't even begin to do justice to in a description.  It's creamy - the consistency of soft butter, slightly sweet, but clearly not because anyone put sugar in it - it's the quintessential ingredient in a cream tea and can make or break a tea experience!  (I know - I really should just let this go - but really....)  You can buy it in tiny jars here - you'll look at the price and gasp - but buy it - it goes a long way and it's just so wonderful. 
Let's explore Knightsbridge and Belgravia a bit - first stop is Harrods - a good look around the food hall and you get an idea of what everyone raves about - there is everything under the sun to eat here - all beautifully presented. 

We bought a bit of cheese and pate to have back at the flat, then wandered a bit through the store, then off to walk in the area. So many beautiful buildings here - many of them are foreign embassies! Now we're tired, and are just outside Harvey Nichols, which is also touted as having a great food hall, so we check it out. I think I might like this one a bit better, even. 

So many gourmet delights - and we decide to have little rest and a cup of tea in one of the cafes.

Then we find the tube and head off to Hyde Park Corner - and promptly get lost looking for Park Lane (which you would hardly be able to credit, if you could see the map, but we did it!)

Finally find the right way to go and head off down Park Lane beside the park (naturally) and go by so many grand hotels, until we find The Dorchester. We have decided that our first afternoon tea will pull out all the stops! We are ushered into The Promenade – a golden-glow of a room with much marble and gilt!

The waiters are all in tuxedos and the seats are all plush banquettes with pleasingly-plumped-pillows! Sink back against them and prepare to be dazzled. While there is a fairly limited selection of teas, there are a few each of black, green and herbal teas to choose from, and they are all served as loose-leaf teas. I choose Paris – a lovely scented black tea with hints of caramel.

I love an afternoon tea that pays as much attention to the savories as the sweets, and this one does itself proud! Five different types of finger sandwiches are offered and offered and offered again, so that only when you are really ready to move on do the sweets begin to arrive. Of course, they are heralded by the presence of the hot scones, two kinds of preserves and clotted cream. What a delight. Next came a dizzying array of tea cakes and confections. Finally, after several hours of pampering, we were ready to head home. Back down the street to the Hyde Park Corner tube station, and home we come.

The Orangery

Saturday morning, we found that the rainy weather had cleared and we had a pretty, sunny day. So we set off for a little bit of shopping and then some time in the park – this time Kensington Park (our own neighborhood park and the site of the Kensington Palace). This was another residence for royal families through the times, and the most recent resident was Princess Diana. You can tour the state rooms, and there's an exhibit of her formal gowns there, but we opted to spend the day in the gardens. The grounds are lovely, and on a sunny afternoon, a perfect place to people watch and to feel a little apart from the crowded streets of London.

As we toured past some of the other grand homes in the area (many of these were also embassies), we found ourselves wandering toward the Orangery. This is a wonderful restaurant in the park. We expected it to be very informal, and it was, in that people certainly dropped in after wandering about in the park in their Saturday rambling clothes, but it is an elegant, airy atmosphere. And one where afternoon tea is served. So, of course, we partook! This was less fancy, but still delicious – cucumber sandwiches, scones and clotted cream and a wonderful orange sponge cake made up the food selections, and there were a few teas to choose from. The shadows got long as we whiled away a couple of hours in this busy, bright spot!

The following week, we decided to find Brown's Hotel. I'd been reading about this hotel - supposed to be "the best afternoon tea in London". It will have to go some to beat the Dorchester! 

We found the lovely old hotel in Mayfair - and headed into the beautifully appointed room - sumptuous!

We were ushered to our table, and ordered our teas (Splendid Oolong for me, and Brown's Afternoon Blend for Vern). A lovely three-tiered tray is brought with wonderful sandwiches on the bottom tier, scones on the top and several cakes and tarts in the middle. A generous helping of clotted cream and strawberry jam with the scones, of course. 

The sandwiches were terrific - and a second helping was brought - and a third offered! More scones were also offered, and after we'd started to make some headway into the cakes, a trolley was brought around to offer more cake - a wonderful cream/sponge cake or a fruit-cake. We sampled the sponge...

We left two hours later absolutely sated. As we ate and chatted, a pianist played old standards - we had a lovely afternoon listening to him "tickle the ivories". About 5 p.m., we pulled ourselves away and trundled home again.

Now - you can find afternoon tea almost anywhere in London - it's not hard - but these were the very best I found.  It's not inexpensive - well, the Orangery was, actually, quite affordable, and more of a snack than the hotel teas.  The thing was, at the hotels - this was a lot of food - so you could afford to blow the whole day's budget on that meal - you wouldn't be wanting much else all day long!  So now tell me - where have you had the BEST afternoon tea?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Images of Norfolk...

I am amending this post because there is an urgent need for action, and I didn't want it to wait for the next posting (as you know, we often don't get back to post every week).  

This is an urgent appeal from the Loudoun Museum in Leesburg, Virginia. On July 9 the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors' Finance Committee voted to recommend elimination of funding for the Loudoun Museum. If the recommendation is adopted, the museum will close and its collections dispersed. One-third of the Loudoun Museum Collection consists of textiles made in Loudoun County and northern Virginia between the 18th and 20th centuries. The collection includes schoolgirl samplers, quilts, coverlets, costumes, historic clothing, needlework tools and accessories. The Loudoun Museum sampler collection owes its existence to Betty Whiting Flemming, who worked tirelessly to acquire, document, and promote girlhood embroideries. In 1995, forty samplers were displayed in an exhibit curated by Betty. In the exhibit's accompanying catalog, "Threads of History," Flemming wrote, "Most of the embroideries were made by girls in Loudoun County between the years 1792 and 1860." Pam Stewart, former curator of the Loudoun Museum, provides this additional information: "The LM sampler collection, in addition to those made in Loudoun, includes a number of Quaker girl samplers, as well as a 1799 English silk map sampler, a Virginia centennial sampler featuring Jack Jouett, the Susan Constant, and other key VA historical sites, a Janney sampler, several sewing samplers and a knitting sampler from Germany. Another highlight is the Esther Shivers sampler, beautifully worked on dark linen - a real eye-catcher." Help keep the Loudoun Museum open and the sampler collection intact. What can you do? Email the County Board of Supervisors and argue for continued funding of the museum. Their email is:

As most of you know, we are now in the thick of putting together a major book on the samplers of Norfolk, England.  We won't tempt you with many details just yet, but as we have been spending the last few months immersed in this subject, we can't help but share some of the wonderful things we've found as we worked away.  Besides images of the samplers, in all their glory, the book is filled with information and "slices of life" from Norwich and the surrounding area.  One of the most fascinating sites we found was the George Plunkett site. George Plunkett is a man who took photographs (it seems like he must have taken them all day every day) between 1931 and 2006 of Norwich and the surrounding areas. By doing this, he captured the changing cityscape while keeping alive forever a way of life that is long gone.  Mr. Plunkett was obviously a man with a vision and a passion for his home and he recorded it lovingly throughout his life.  His son has taken up the torch by making all of his beautiful photos available online - to look at or for your personal use.  If you want to use it for more than that, write and ask permission.

V & A   House on the Square, King's Lynn, 1942

I came across a similar kind of thing while looking through the V & A collection archives online.  You could spend days wandering there - but one of the loveliest things I've found was the "Recording Britain" scheme - here is what the V & A say about it:

This work is from the 'Recording Britain' collection of topographical watercolours and drawings made in the early 1940s during the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country's finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder, were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of buildings, scenes, and places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns and villages, churches and country estates, rural landscapes and industries, rivers and wild places, monuments and ruins. Northern Ireland was not covered, only four Welsh counties were included, and a separate scheme ran in Scotland.

The scheme was known as 'Recording the changing face of Britain' and was established by Sir Kenneth Clark, then the director of the National Gallery. It ran alongside the official War Artists' Scheme, which he also initiated. Clark was inspired by several motives: at the outbreak of war in 1939, there was a concern to document the British landscape in the face of the imminent threat of bomb damage, invasion, and loss caused by the operations of war. This was allied to an anxiety about changes to the landscape already underway, such as the rapid growth of cities, road building and housing developments, the decline of rural ways of life and industries, and new agricultural practices, which together contributed to the idea of a 'vanishing Britain'. Clark also wanted to help artists, and the traditional forms of British art such as watercolour painting, to survive during the uncertain conditions of wartime. He in turn was inspired by America's Federal Arts Project which was designed to give artists employment during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Over 1500 works were eventually produced by 97 artists, of whom 63 were specially commissioned. At the time the collection had a propaganda role, intended to boost national morale by celebrating Britain's landscapes and heritage. Three exhibitions were held during the war at the National Gallery, and pictures from the collection were sent on touring exhibitions and to galleries all around the country. After the war, the whole collection was given to the V&A by the Pilgrim Trust in 1949, and it was documented in a four volume catalogue published between 1946 and 1949. For many years the majority of the collection was on loan to councils and record offices in each county, until recalled by the V&A around 1990. The pictures now form a memorial to the war effort, and a unique record of their time.

Breaking Camp at Sunrise - Alfred Jacob Miller - between 1858 and 1860

Becky reminded me that we have at different times, had similar programs here in the United States.  When the Oregon Trail was being traveled, there were artists along who recorded the entire trip for posterity.  And while no artists accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition, William Clark's journals are filled with amazing drawings that record what they saw.

Black and White Pheasant - William Clark's Journal

I wonder sometimes what will happen as technology continues to change so much that all the wonderful photos I'm saving on Pinterest won't be available anymore!  Here are pictures from long ago just as vibrant as if they were drawn or painted yesterday!

But I am thrilled that not only large organizations like the V & A have made a real effort to put their images online for all to see, but so have individuals - like George Plunkett's family, who have kept his work alive with their website.

Original lost - photograph by Dr. Chris Mullen
Here's another we found - and so amazing that now it's the only record of these tradesmen's cards... Dr. Chris Mullen photographed many tradesmen's cards from Norfolk and other areas in Britain to have them available for a website - and lucky he did as later, the boxes of original cards were destroyed so these are now the only record of them - they are beautiful and we are again indebted to an impassioned individual who has single-handedly kept these artifacts available to us for study and appreciation.

1797 Faden Map - courtesy Andrew Macnair

In 1797, William Faden, Geographer to His Majesty, drew a map of Norfolk which is a thing of beauty.  To own a 1797-era copy of such a map would be prohibitive, price-wise.  But an enterprising fellow named Andrew Macnair has digitally redrawn this map to provide a clear and good image for people to see - and as long as he was doing that, he has also uploaded images of the original map.  These are there to be explored in painstaking detail - so incredible to see what people do.  I sometimes marvel that not everyone is sitting and stitching or writing blogs like I seem to be all the time, but they're doing all kinds of marvelous things, and it's wonderful to share their enthusiasm!

The V & A is not the only large organization that makes their images available so readily - many have their images posted online, though also, for the most part, the images are copyrighted and not to be used in any manner without permission.  The V & A makes their images available to everyone for private use and study - which is a tremendous help to people conducting research.

Page from Thomas Starling's Book of Drawings - 1683-1719 US Library of Congress

Another such organization is the Library of Congress here in the US.  In fact, they go one better, and if an object is of such age that it is in the public domain, and their image is simply a true and faithful representation of the original (in other words, a photograph) - they claim no ownership of the image.   Keep in mind, though, that most images you find online ARE subject to copyright.  Check thoroughly before you use them and ask permission.  Many people are happy to share their images, but you need only think how you would feel if something you worked very hard on were taken without asking, to realize that asking permission is always the right thing to do.  And if you can't figure out who to ask, or how, then don't use the image.  There are always others to be found.   

We haven't shown you many products lately, but we are busy working on a whole raft of things for the late summer, early autumn.  Meanwhile, those who have been having the Tokens of Friendship items appearing on their doorsteps have only a month or so to wait for the next one.  For the rest of you, we'll tease a bit by showing the latest token to go out in the spring - if you'd like to sign up for next year, watch the blog starting in mid-November - we'll be doing this again - it's been so much fun!

Here's the package everyone received....

With this cute tag....

And in the package was the Royal Splendor Jacket etui!

 And when you open the jacket, you find beautiful pearl-headed pins, needles, and a bejewelled needle-threader nestled in a bed of 100% wool felt.

We've been inspired by all things Elizabethan lately, and it shows - but I don't think anyone minds.  :D

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