Stirring discovery of Leeds’ first-ever cuppa

Helen Pratt, assistant community curator, in the Terrace Room at Temple Newsam House, where England's first tea may have been drunk
Helen Pratt, assistant community curator, in the Terrace Room at Temple Newsam House, where England's first tea may have been drunk
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IT may have been the first time anyone in England ever put the kettle on for a brew-up.

But the newly-discovered 17th century shopping list from a stately home in Leeds could also have had an unpleasant aftertaste.

The note to a chemist for a four shilling bottle of tea to be delivered to the Tudor-Jacobean Temple Newsam House, was found by chance among the archives.

Dated December 8, 1644, it is 16 years older than a note by the diarist Samuel Pepys which was previously thought to have been the earliest reference to what was then known as “the China drink”.

Rachel Conroy, a curator at Temple Newsam, who found the note in the West Yorkshire archive at Wakefield, said she realised its significance immediately.

“It’s really intriguing,” she said. “It’s a reference to tea before anyone knew really what it was. It shows the people who once lived at Temple Newsam were among the first in the country to enjoy a cup of tea before it became such a staple.”

But she said its rumoured efficacy at “preserving perfect health until extreme old age” and in “making the body active and lusty” may have meant it was bought for medicinal purposes.

“The receipts show that they were buying quite a bit of it,” she said. “It might have meant they were enjoying it but it could also have been a sign that someone in the house was really ill.”

Temple Newsam was owned at the time by the landowner and politician Sir Arthur Ingram, described by his biographer as “a plausible swindler who ruined many during a long criminal career”.