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Unlikely John Montagu (1718 – 1792) & Anna Maria Russell (1783 – 1857) ever met, as Mr Montagu would have been in his 60s when Anna Maria was born. But if history and urban myth is to be believed, the pair are unwittingly responsible for a quintessential British institution, that in recent years has taken the capital by storm and created a thriving countryside industry that revolves around cucumbers, egg mayo (cress optional), smoked salmon-&-cream cheese, scones-&-jam, dainties-&-fancies & pots of tea. That’s because they are The Earl & The Duchess who put the sandwich on the table, afternoon tea on the menu and turned tea-for-two into an occasion & something of a celebration.

A delicious double act
As with all myths-&-legends, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich didn’t actually invent the sandwich as such. The Arabians had been stuffing meat inside pitta bread for centuries before the Earl came up with his delicious snack. But he’s the chap who made it popular. And the famed-fave lunchtime staple was christened with his name. Anna Maria Russell, The Duchess of Bedford, was a life long friend-&-confidante of Queen Victoria. Apparently she was prone to hunger pangs around 3pm-ish and as dinner could be served as late as 9pm she would order a feast of tea, bread-&-butter and cakes to be served in her room. As she clearly wasn’t the only one in polite society to feel a little peckish mid-afternoon, the habit caught on and became, as Henry James observed in Portrait of a Lady, a perfectly pleasurable way to pass the time:

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

The business of Afternoon Tea
During the Victorian era afternoon tea assumed many guises-&-disguises. From informal feminine gatherings to elaborate ornate events attended by hundreds. The custom of afternoon tea played a unique role in British life and was enjoyed throughout the Empire. However, two World Wars and tea rationing resulted in afternoon tea taking a back seat to become little more than a morsel of faded British tradition to dangle before tourists during the latter half of the 20th-century. Fast forward to today and it’s become a movement in its own right. And even has a whole week in August dedicated to celebrating a great British Tradition.

Are you an afternoon tea afficionado?  If you’ve found the perfect spot (anywhere on the planet) that serves the best-ever afternoon tea with a twist, don’t keep it to yourself.