Queen Victoria’s 200th Birthday Tea- Looking back

by Susan Jarrett

May 2019 marked Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday and we celebrated in grand style! Let’s look back at our Victorian Inspired Tea held in the historic town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

Queen Victoria of England
Portrait of Queen Victoria in her Wedding Gown by F. Winterhalter.

Born May 24, 1819, Queen Victoria inherited the throne at the youthful age of 18. Under Victoria’s rule (1837-1901), Great Britain and The United Kingdom enjoyed relative peace and stability. Queen Victoria was one of the first female monarchs to have children while in the palace and thus became one of history’s first “working mothers.”

Queen Victoria ruled the United Kingdom until her death in 1901. In fact, until she was surpassed by her contemporary Queen Elizabeth in 2015, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch in history!

Queen Victoria and her people enjoyed the rise of leisure-time activities. Perhaps the most well noted of these was “tea time.” And since a 200th birthday only comes around once, we here at Maggie May Clothing decided to throw a party in grand style! And we also decided to donate all proceeds from our event to 2 local charities!

Here’s a look back at our Tea fit for a Queen.

Tea Fit for a Queen
Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday Tea party!

I knew when I began planning this event, I wanted it to be as an authentic experience as possible. I spent a great deal of time researching the type of foods that would have been served during the Victorian era and the different types of English teas. I even enlisted the help of Nottingham native (now local resident) Freda Stevenson as co-hostess to make sure everything was up to British standards!

Together, we decided an Afternoon tea menu would be best suited to our event. I sorted through period recipe books and accounting ledgers and came up with this authentic Victorian Era afternoon tea menu.

Queen Victoria's afternoon tea

History tells the story that “the very British ritual of ‘Afternoon Tea’ as a meal found its ‘raison d’être’ in the dressing room of Anna Maria Russell, née Stanhope, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, one of Queen Victoria’s Ladies of the Bedchamber and a lifelong friend.

Anna, who was too hungry to wait for dinner (which, in 19th century, used to be served as late as 9:30pm…) requested a little bit of bread with butter, biscuits and cakes, to enjoy with a customary cup of Darjeeling tea. She invited her friends to the dressing room, and when The Queen learnt of this activity, she instantly loved the idea. Victoria herself enjoyed having light cake with buttercream and fresh raspberries – later known as Victoria Sponge Cake – to accompany her precious spot of tea. The tradition of Afternoon Tea was born.” (Clelia Cane, The royal tradition of Afternoon Tea: From Queen Victoria to Elizabeth II; royalcentral.co.uk)

This intimate meal amongst friends is a tradition that has carried on. In America, tea time enjoyed popularity amongst the upper class beginning in the 1860s. It hit its peak at the turn of the century but was severely curtailed by the outbreak of WWI- when tea was scarce but coffee was plentiful. After the war, Afternoon Tea in America was limited to hotels, high end restaurants, and a handful of tea houses.

Queen Victoria adored fine foods! It is documented her favorite fruit was pineapple and noted she always had a fresh supply growing in the palace hot houses. Like the Victorian palace cooks, I too made sure everything served was locally sourced and fresh from the greenhouse!

Queen Victoria’s 200th Birthday Tea tablescape.

I knew the tea itself was going to be the shining star of the event and was delighted when I found an original Victorian era tea by Murchies (a century old tea merchant in Canada) who offers an original 1890s blend entitled “Queen Victoria.” It was truly the keystone of our event!

Next, I knew we needed just the right location. In order to ensure an authentic experience, we needed a historic venue. And I found the perfect site just down the road in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

South Pittsburg Legion Hall
Fully restored American Legion Hall in South Pittsburg, TN.

Built in 1925, The American Legion Hall in South Pittsburg, Tennessee was purchased from Sears Buildings of Chattanooga and is in the Egyptian style. The Hall has served as a schoolhouse, the first library, and a community center for the town of South Pittsburg. The Hall was fully restored in 2017 and still showcases all its original 1920s era woodwork. The South Pittsburg American Legion Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is an interesting connection between Queen Victoria and South Pittsburg, Tennessee. The town was originally established by English investors in 1876 in hopes that pockets of coal and iron in the surrounding mountains would make the town “The next Pittsburg of the South.” However, this planned community did not take off as anticipated and was sold in 1886 to a Nashville banker. With his intelligent marketing and adept planning, the town of South Pittsburg attracted many new industrialists including a man by the name of Joseph Lodge from Pennsylvania. (The founder of Lodge cast iron).

South Pittsburg Legion Hall
Restored interior of South Pittsburg’s Legion Hall.

With the menu set and the location reserved, it was time to work out all the “little details.” Ms. Freda, a skilled Nottingham lace maker, began gathering up antique and original pieces from her collection. We put them on display for guests to enjoy!

Lace display

I decided it would be fun to make a replica of Queen Victoria’s wedding gown- to scale and with materials as closely resembling the original as possible. According to my research, Queen Victoria was less than 5 feet tall and had approximately a 27″ waist in 1840. The replica of her wedding gown was displayed on a child’s dress form that was padded out in the upper torso.

Replica of Queen Victoria’s wedding gown to scale!

We sold tickets via Eventbrite and spread the word via facebook. Queen Victoria’s Birthday tea was an open event and once ticketing went live, we held our breath in hopes someone might want to come! Here’s a peek at our event promo:

Drawing from Her Majesty’s memoirs, notes, and historical records, we will replicate an authentic Afternoon Tea as it might have been during Queen Victoria’s time. We will have a variety of yummy finger sandwiches, scrumptious scones, delicate cakes (it is a birthday party after all), good fun, and of course lots and lots of tea!

  • Attendees are welcome to come in “Victorian” fashion or modern attire- whichever suits your fancy! 
  • Children over the age of 5 are welcome! (It might be a little too much fanciness for the little ones). 
  • We will have a display of English finery (hint- It has to do with the royal wedding!)

With its English heritage as the foundation of the city, the quaint little town of South Pittsburg is the ideal location to host our Victorian Era English Tea. Neatly laid out streets with beautiful turn of the century homes sit tucked just below the Cumberland mountains. With easy access from the interstate, South Pittsburg is just 90 minutes from both Nashville and Huntsville; 40 minutes from Chattanooga; and little over 2 hours from Knoxville. Please note this event is located in the CENTRAL TIME zone.

And we waited.

And waited.

And then we sold our first ticket! And we were super excited!

And then we sold five more tickets!

And 10 more tickets!

And then a ladies group found out about the event and we sold a whopping 30 more tickets!!!

While we had “hoped for” and only planned for approximately 30 guests, by early April, we had already sold 40+ tickets and needed to increase our seating capacity! In the end, we had 56 ladies attend Queen Victoria’s 200th Birthday Tea and somehow, someway….. it came off as a smashing success!

The Ladies enjoying Afternoon Tea.
Never too young for Tea!
Dressed to impress!

Happy 200th Birthday Queen Victoria! Until next time!

In loving memory of Mrs. Freda Stevenson, our beloved Nottingham Lace Maker.

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CalicoBall is a grassroots effort to document, preserve, and present rural America’s diverse historical traditions. CalicoBall is an educational extension of Maggie May Clothing. ©2020 Maggie May Clothing.