In week 4 of ‘The City, Modernity and Network Culture’ course, we visited Bristol Museum in search of a Global Object. An object that has been imported into our country; we were then told to search for a product from a shop on the surrounding high street that we could compare the ‘Global Object’ too.
The object that I chose from the Museum was part of a display that as I walked into the hall struck me. It had light shining directly down upon it; as it sat proudly in the glass cabinet. The display was Georgian Tea Serving sets; which included a Tea Casket, Kettle and Burner, Teapot, Milk Jug, Two Tea bowls and a Tray.
The piece that caught my eye was on the top of the display which was arranged much like a pyramid with the two top items towering above everything below; this piece was the Tea Serving Casket. This item for me screamed hierarchy and class; made of solid silver and lined with a green suede/felt like material. The casket contained a Tea Canister, Sugar Basket, 12 Teaspoons, Sugar Tongs and it also included a ‘Mote’ spoon which is something that I have never seen. It was used to remove skim and tea leaves floating on of the surface of the tea. Even the spoons and tongs had fine detail as too did the casket itself; which shows the quality of this piece.
Tea was first imported into Britain in the mid 1600’s from China but by Georgian Times it had become an obsession for the Wealthy; it would later become a truly British drink. At the time it was an expensive commodity that would only be enjoyed by those rich enough to purchase it. The high quality serving sets; like the casket are testament to its value and prestige at the time.In 1784 the government was was forced to slash the 119% tax on tea the reason for it being so prestigious. Its popularity meant that smugglers had started to import tea illegally; this was causing problems so the then Priminister William Pitt was forced to slash its tax rate to 12.5%; suddenly tea became affordable and smuggling stopped overnight. This was also when Tea could finally be enjoyed by the masses.
We now enjoy tea daily and its popularity is astonishing. As I walked out of the museum, directly opposite was the American Fast Food chain ‘Subway’. I entered the restaurant with the main objective of ordering a sandwich but to accompany it I ordered a Tea for a incredibly small price. The quickness and brashness of the way in which it was served to me was one that totally rivaled the whole experience of Tea that Georgian’s presented. It was served in a cardboard cup which was shoved under the machine that blasted hot water onto my teabag which was thrown into the bottom of my cup; I was then handed it along with my sandwich. Supposedly to add the milk and sugar.
“The lady of the house would blend and brew the tea in the drawing room, the vessels associated with tea were decorative and made of expensive materials.”
This is a quote taken from below the Georgian display of tea in the Museum. It is clear that tea in the 1700’s was much more of an event; today it is taken for granted which could mainly be down to its price and popularity. You could argue that tea is still enjoyed by a group of people in an event like way. Most nights in most living rooms across the country, the kettle is boiled and families sit around the television and enjoy it together but it is never the sole focus; in the 1700’s it was.