March 22, 2022
This year Mother’s Day (in the UK) falls on Sunday 27th March. It’s one of those dates that moves around from year to year, largely because it was originally a religious festival, tied into Lent.
Most importantly, it marked a break from 40 days of fasting: the one day when cake was back on the menu. Reason enough to celebrate!
The tradition of taking gifts of flowers and cake to your mother began to emerge as early as the 1600s, which is about the same time as tea took off in this country. A coincidence? Well it turns out that tea has played quite a big role in the social history of women in the UK.
Legend has it that the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell, invented afternoon tea in about 1840. Basically, she got too hungry to wait for dinner at 9pm when her spouse came home. There had to be some way of filling the gap…
Unable to cope with that “sinking feeling,” she asked for tea, buttered bread and cake to be ferried to her room. The rest is history.
Today’s Afternoon Tea is a ritual often observed on Mother’s Day in the best hotels in London. Charles II’s Portuguese wife, Catherine de Braganza was the first royal to make tea drinking fashionable, but back then only the very rich could afford a cuppa. By the 1700s the government had reduced its tax on tea and the working classes could join in, finally finding a substitute for gin, which was much cheaper and ruinously popular in those days.
Whereas coffee was once largely a boy’s drink, tea steadily became the preserve of the ‘at home’ and the female of the species. But don’t go away with the idea that tea drinking was a demure, little-finger-in-the-air affair. It often ballooned into crowded, lively afternoon salons where women could entertain both men and women without their husbands standing guard. Even the clothes worn by women for their liberated tea ceremonies allowed them more freedom, being more comfortable, with fewer corsets and (inevitably) more laughter and gossip.
Others have commented that if the business lunch was the mark of a man’s world, the fashion for afternoon tea gave women an unexpectedly powerful outlet for all kinds of radical thought – even politics.
Which is something to consider as you hover over the savoury tarts and worry about whether it should be cream or jam first on your scone.
Aside from sipping tea and nibbling cake on Mother’s Day in London, you might want to stretch your legs and take a tour of London’s excellent Sunday Markets. Which is a good enough reason to take advantage of those London hotel offers. The trend towards weekend city breaks is proving very tempting, and let’s face it, London is a great place for a stroll, with plenty of opportunity for people watching and monument spotting.
Sights and Sounds: London’s Sunday Markets
One of the best of the Victorian Market Halls is the historic Spitalfields building. It attracts devoted Sunday shoppers on the look-out for clothes and accessories from emerging young designers. Plus the stalls are flanked by restaurants and niche stores selling delicious cheeses and wine. On Sundays Spitalfields Market is open from 10am to 5pm.
Brushfield St, E1.
On the other side of town, very close to Victoria Station, is Eccleston Yards. A treasure trove of unique children’s books, hand-made candles, studio pottery and jewellery. Food stalls, too. Open from 11am to 5pm on Sunday.
Eccleston Place, SW1.
Close to London Bridge Station is the wonderfully named Vinegar Yard. Here you’ll find a Sunday vintage and makers’ market full of stalls selling vintage wares, retro clothes, crafts and antiques, vinyl etc. Also plenty of opportunity to eat and drink thanks to the pop-up street food stalls. Art installations, too.
St Thomas St, London Bridge.
Brick Lane street market on a Sunday is more old school, more East End working market, but it’s full of stalls selling bargain bric-a-brack and its lively. Brick Lane food isn’t just confined to fruit and veg stalls either. There are street food vendors on a Sunday, as well as nearby Asian restaurants and Jewish bagel shops (Brick Lane Beigel Bake is open 24/7). Also UpMarket, the Brick Lane food hall, and Brick Lane Vintage Market. Get your bearings by logging onto the link accompanying the Old Truman Brewery below.
Don’t overlook the Old Truman Brewery’s markets: includes the Backyard Market (jewellery, prints, accessories); Sunday UpMarket (fashion, art and food); and Vintage Market (retro clothes). Open 10am to 5pm. Close by Liverpool St Station and Aldgate East. See link to map below.
This is a haven for all gift hunters: The Apple Market (British made crafts and accessories); East Colonnade Market (magic tricks, sweets, you name it); The Jubilee Market (arts and crafts on a weekend). The first two markets mentioned open 12pm to 6pm; Jubilee from 10am to 6pm. Covent Garden Market is next door to theatreland, close to the National Gallery and endless restaurants. Plus Covent Garden is the first UK home for the Marriage Freres tea emporium and restaurant. Fabulous tea lineage from France, beautifully presented: King St, WC2.
When it comes to the best places to shop, there’s little to rival the “golden threesome” that is Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street. From the boutiques of Soho and Carnaby, to landmark stores like Selfridges and Liberty, there is so much to explore, either with the family, or on a girls’ day out. Walkable, entertaining and historic, these famous streets also have plenty of restaurants, cafes and pubs where you can take a break.
As for places to stay in London this March, Blue Orchid Hotels has a reach that spans London from east to west. Tower Suites, with its boutique apartments overlooking nearby Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, is also close to Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, St Paul’s Cathedral, as well as historic Spitalfields Market and Vinegar Yard.
Blue Orchid’s Buckingham Palace Hotels (The Wellington and The Rochester, both on leafy Vincent Square) are near Victoria station and St James’s Park tube, making Central London shopping and sightseeing easy, and Eccleston Yards is within easy reach. Relax and enjoy your city break or Sunday Funday, knowing that you don’t have far to travel to one of the top hotels in London.
The Tea Ceremony
AFTERNOON TEA AT SKETCH GALLERY
One of the most popular additions to the food scene in London: just off Regent Street, this converted 18th Century building is part of David Shrigley’s programme of artist-conceived restaurants. There are 91 of his own works on the walls and his drawings even feature on the ceramic tableware. Shrigley is Turner nominated and a Fourth Plinth commissioned artist whose subtle humour informs his every project. The menu is devised by leading French chef Pierre Gagnaire, and Mother’s Day afternoon tea will be served from 25th – 28th March, from 11.30am to 4pm. Sketch Gallery was highly commended in the Afternoon Tea Awards in 2016.
Conduit St, W1.
JAPANESE AFTERNOON TEA AT GINZA ST JAMES
Nestled between Mayfair and London's West End, Ginza St James combines British tradition and sophisticated Japanese cuisine for its afternoon tea for two. Beautifully presented, you can savour a selection of Japanese teas as well as an assortment of sweet and savoury foods. Tuck into lightly grilled teriyaki beef, black cod croquette with wasabi mayonnaise, wagyu burger with Japanese pickles, chocolate brownie and more. Plus a glass of Champagne each.
Bury St, St James’s SW1.
For some of us, the great British tradition of Afternoon Tea is probably the apex of human happiness. We’re all familiar with the conventional offering of miniature sandwiches and exquisite cakes, overseen by formidable matriarchs; but in a London first, Blue Orchid has come up with a delicious addition to the menu, the nutritional afternoon tea. Cashew curd quinoa, candied hazelnuts, sweet potato and orange or cocoa chia with cayenne pudding. A unique luxury treat close by the Tower of London, and a charitable donation with every mouthful.
100 Minories, EC3.
Within the iconic Shakespeare’s Globe, the Swan Bar & Restaurant offers up stunning views of the River Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, plus an eclectic mix of sweet and savoury treats inspired by Shakespeare's Midsummer Night’s Dream or Romeo and Juliet. So if you like the idea of a theatrical buzz then this is the place for you. Complemented by a selection of teas and a cocktail or mocktail each.
Just a short walk from Aldgate Station is the Gherkin, and right at the top is Helix by Searcys. Tea is served from 1pm to 5.30pm every day, and chef Darren Deadman’s menu includes finger sandwiches, fresh scones with jam and clotted cream, plus passionfruit mousse and lemon macaroon. Also limitless Lanson champagne, if you want to gaze at the London skyline with the bubbly stuff.
St Mary Axe, EC3.