|Tea box, with key hole|
Tea was so valuable that it was used and re-used by the family, then when it was done, it was given to the servants, who used it until it was really done, and THEN, the servants mixed it with sawdust and went to peddle it to the servants of lesser households.
I was told at an event at the Jane Austen festival that it is this practice which gave rise to the use of the phrase "char lady" to refer to the cleaning lady. "Cha" is Chinese for tea. I have also considered the alternative explanation for this term, which is that old tea leaves were used in cleaning floors. If you have read Longbourn by Jo Baker, you might recall her description of this activity.
|Georgian Tea Set |
Note the large slop bowl at top right, and the handleless cups
As I have said before, tea was not always synonymous with British life. I read one story in Bill Bryson's book "At Home" (an excellent read, which I thoroughly recommend) about the early days of tea in England. He shared a letter from one society lady to another thanking her for sending the tea, saying that she wasn't quite sure what she was supposed to do with it, so she boiled it up and spread it on toast, but found that it wasn't really to her taste. Thanks anyway.
Melanie Kerr is the author of Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice
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