The Newcastle firm Ringtons Tea was part of the inspiration for The Tea Planter’s Daughter. My husband, Graeme, worked for them during school holidays when he was a sixteen year-old school boy in Wallsend, and I was always intrigued about this family business whose delivery vans are such a feature of the North East – seen in this film from the time of my teenage years:
Rington’s was established in 1907, so I’m sure you can see the close links with my character Clarissa Belhaven – the story of The Tea Planter’s Daughter starts in India in 1905. Prior to the problems with her father’s plantation, I imagined her life being fairly similar to my mother’s and uncles’, who were brought up in India in the 1920s and 30s when my grandfather was a forester in the North of the country:
My uncles photographed with the gardener in India
Mum and her brothers in Lahore
Clarissa returned to Tyneside shortly after (at about the time Ringtons were making their first delivery) with dreams of opening her own tea room to be a safe haven for the locals amidst the grinding poverty of the time.
In Edwardian England everyone shopped in the high street, but many firms ran a home delivery service – something that’s still the cornerstone of Ringtons. When they started out it was horse-drawn vans:
Ringtons is still based on Algernon Road in Byker:
It was through a conversation with the man who in the 1940s drove the last of Ringtons horse-drawn vans in Blyth that I decided to write about the tea trade in the North East of England. As I got further into the research, I visited Ringtons and spoke to the current generation of the company’s founding family, the Smiths, who were very helpful in my research, telling me about the early history of the firm.
You can read more on the history of Ringtons on their site – do make sure you take the time to look at the images at the bottom of the page!