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

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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.

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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)

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