12/01/2018 Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Earliest reference to tea in the UK discovered at West Yorkshire Archives

aab6b113-c73a-4e25-bd2b-37110d8bbefa

One of the earliest references to tea in England has been discovered in a West Yorkshire Archive, in a document which suggests that the residents of Temple Newsam House in Yorkshire might have been among the first in the country to enjoy the now universally popular beverage.

Rachel Conroy, curator at Temple Newsam House, was at the West Yorkshire Archives researching for the forthcoming Beer: A History of Brewing and Drinking exhibition when she found an apothecary bill for medicinal ingredients bought for the estate in 1644.

Join the Family Tree community  
Follow us on facebook
Follow us on twitter
Sign up for our free e-newsletter
Discover Family Tree magazine​

Included in the English Civil War era shopping list was an order for a number of bottles of “China drink”, which was the old name for tea, with each bottle priced at four shillings.

The bill is thought to be one of the earliest known written references to tea in England, predating the famous text by noted diarist Samuel Pepys, who in 1660 wrote “afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before.”

First to enjoy tea

Rachel said: “This document is an exciting discovery which shows the people who once lived at Temple Newsam were real northern trend-setters of their day and were among the first in the country to enjoy a cup of tea centuries before it became such a staple in all our homes.

“Although it may be strange today for us to think of it as an unusual, exotic drink, back in the 1640s, tea had only just begun to make its way to England and would probably have been something of a novelty and quite a status symbol.

“Discoveries like this not only help us to build a more complete picture of what life at Temple Newsam has been like over the centuries, they also remind us how many amazing stories are still buried in archives and records waiting for us to find.”

The roots of Britain's tea obsession

Tea is believed to have spread to Europe from its Asian homeland in the mid to late 1500s, but didn’t become popular in Britain until much later.

London coffee houses were among the first to introduce the drink to British patrons, and by the late 1650s, it was being sold at six and ten pounds per pound and was touted as having properties including "preserving perfect health until extreme old age" and "making the body active and lusty".

In the 1600s, a skilled craftsman like a stonemason or a carpenter could expect to earn around seven pence for a day's work, so the even the price of the bottles purchased by Temple Newsam would have been somewhat extravagant.

For more details about Temple Newsam including opening times and prices, visit the website.

(images copyright Temple Newsam with the exception of the document which is copyright West Yorkshire Archive Services)

Back to News

12/01/2018 Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Campaign for early release of 1926 Irish Census

Family history researchers are urged to sign a petition for the early release of the 1926 Irish Census ...


A House Through Time on BBC2 - the story of the research

Anglia Research case manager Imogen Benneworth explains how she helped trace the history of Liverpool’s 62 ...


FamilySearch to open new family history centre in Utah in 2019

FamilySearch has this week held a ceremony of groundbreaking at its new premises, which is due to open to the ...


Remembering the sinking of HMHS Rewa a century ago

100 years ago (4 January 1918) the sinking of a hospital ship by an infamous German U-boat commander caused ...


Other News

County's libraries under threat

Family historians can have their say on far-reaching plans for changes to a county's library services, which ...


Thousands of medieval manuscripts to explore as Parker Library to become accessible online in 2018

The oldest surviving illustrated Latin Gospel book, known as the Gospels of St. Augustine, can be seen ...


How has the UK changed since 1957? Check your knowledge with these interactive graphs

Discover how the UK has changed with these interactive charts from Office for National Statistics which cover ...


Get ready for a busy year of family history conferences in 2018!

Find out what fantastic family history events 2018 has in store