A Jolly Nice Cup Of Tea

You’d never know it, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, when I was writing last week’s post about Ringtons Tea, I was actually sitting in a salon de thé in Antibes. We were over there taking a few days well-earned R&R.

Tea shops suddenly seem to be quite the thing in France – très chic in fact. Trendy boutiques sell everything you could need to make a really good cuppa – I bought one of these little tea infusers, which now that we’re home, I’ve been using to make endless cups of green tea:

The only thing you can’t buy is a tea cosy – maybe with the warmer weather in the South of France, they don’t think they’re necessary 😉

In the salons de thé, things are obviously quite different from a British tea room like one run by Clarissa Belhaven Tyneside. There’s none of the ritual that we have – when you order a cup of tea, you get a tea cup full of hot water, with a tea bag on the saucer brought to the table. Once, the waiter even forgot to put the tea bag on the saucer – much to his embarrassment!

Maybe they could all do with learning the secret of how to make a brew – as shown in this film from 1941:

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Tea On Tyneside

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!

More Census Evasion

I’ve no idea how I missed this one – the TV Show, “Find My Past” had an episode in December about the relatives of Suffragettes:

The programme’s web page features a number of defaced census forms. These include Emily Wilding Davison‘s record as a “resident” of the House of Commons on census night (she was hiding in the crypt as a protest):

One with a leaflet posted over it, and the words, “No persons here, only women!” written in:

And finally, this one, “No vote – no census. House deserted (April 2nd to 3rd) by Suffragist who demands the vote. Considers that if she is intelligent enough to fill up this schedule she can surely make a X on a ballot paper” – a statement that gets to the crux of the matter!:

My book, The Suffragette explores the issues these women were protesting – this was a national movement, so I set the Suffragette in Tyneside to provide a backdrop of working class realism for what is sometimes portrayed now as a middle / upper class struggle.

My Family’s Links To The Suffragette Movement

We made a short video, explaining some of the background to my book, The Suffragette! This was filmed in Morpeth in Northumberland, with the grave of Emily Wilding Davison as the backdrop:

The Suffragette movement was a broad church, with some people getting involved just through personal lobbying, while others, like my Great Aunt Bel, sold newspapers to raise funds for the cause. At the other end of the scale was civil disobedience (my family was not at home for the 1910 census), or even outright militancy.

Emily Wilding Davison was at the extreme end of this scale. On 4th June 1913 she was run down by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby, and died of her injuries several days later. Although her exact motivation for entering the race track was never resolved (had she simply intended to cross it? Was she trying to fix a banner or flag to the horse, so that it would cross the line carrying the WSPU colours? Did she intend martyrdom?), footage of the incident was captured by Pathé News, and remains to this day a potent symbol of how desperate was the struggle for women’s suffrage: