All Aboard! The Railway Refreshment Room

Alresford Railway Station

Alresford Railway Station, built in 1865

The golden age of train travel has always been fascinating to me. My grandfather was a train conductor out of Union Station in Chicago and I loved hearing his tales of stars and starlets sightings, and descriptions of classy men and women dressed to the nines as they boarded his train to exotic destinations for expensive holidays.

Today in England, train travel is as popular as ever – a necessity, really – although perhaps not quite as glamorous as it once was. The Victorian train stations that remain are filled with character and charm, and some still have a refreshment room.

Alresford Railway Station Refreshment Room

Refreshment room at Alresford Railway Station

By the mid 19th century, most medium and large railway stations in England had refreshment rooms. Before the creation of the buffet car, the refreshment room was a kind of  ‘tearoom’ where commuters and travelers could get a good cup of tea and something to eat, including buns and pastries. They were owned and operated by outside entities, the catering contractors Messrs Spiers and Pond being the most well-known.

Earlier this year, Mr. Tea and I traveled to Hampshire for a special Cream Tea aboard a heritage steam train called The Watercress Line.  The train left from the Alresford railway station, and above is a picture of its refreshment room.

Alresford Railway Station

Alresford Railway Station, interior

 

The Watercress Line Ticket

Ticket for special Cream Tea aboard The Watercress Line

 

Table set for a Cream Tea aboard The Watercress Line

Table set for a Cream Tea aboard The Watercress Line

 

Cream Tea aboard The Watercress Line

Cream Tea aboard The Watercress Line

 

Steam from the engine of The Watercress Line

Steam from the engine of The Watercress Line

 

Watercress fields, Hampshire, England

Our train passing watercress fields in Hampshire

Alresford, Hampshire is considered to be the Watercress Capital of the World. Back in the day, the Mid-Hants Railway used to transport Hampshire watercress to markets in London, and it affectionately became known as The Watercress Line.  Hampshire’s prolific watercress fields still produce that lovely peppery, tangy leaf vegetable, but these days The Watercress Line only delivers nostaligic train rides through those fields, leaving the market delivery work to lorries.

Watercress is popular here, and a traditional Afternoon Tea in England will always provide an egg and cress tea sandwich on the menu.

 

Watercress fields, Hampshire, England

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘P’

This was my very first trip on a steam train and although it was an overcast day, the ride through Hampshire’s lush, green watercress fields was immensely enjoyable.  Add to that a Cream Tea accompanied by the clickety-clak of the train’s wheels, and you have all the ingredients for a tea lover’s delight.

The Watercress Line offers themed railway trips throughout the year. Because of the tea/watercress connection, I highly recommend a trip on The Watercress Line if you are looking for a unique, English tea-related experience.

 

 

The railway refreshment room is immortalised in the film Brief Encounter, a love story about two people who meet at a railway refreshment room and, despite the complications involved, fall in love. A real refreshment room (Carnforth Station) was used during the filming. The Refreshment Room at Carnforth Station is now a popular destination for film buffs, and lovers of tea and trains.

 

See the Tea in England Facebook page for more pictures of my trip on The Watercress Line.

 

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The Mock Turtle, A Brighton tea shop

The Mock Turtle Tea Shop, Brighton, England

Tell me, who can resist a tearoom overflowing with blue-and-white china, especially when it’s the Willow pattern? I certainly can’t.

There are conflicting stories behind the history of the ‘Blue Willow’ pattern. The most commonly held belief has the original engraving being done by Thomas Minton in 1790, inspired by the blue and white porcelain that the English were importing from China at that time.

There’s a pleasure eternally new, ‘Tis to gloat on the glaze and the mark, Of china that’s ancient and blue. -Andrew Lang, Ballades in Blue China, 1880

The marketing behind Minton’s Willow pattern was clever: tell everyone that the pictures in the design are based on an ancient Chinese legend about two lovers who are transformed into lovebirds. It’s a nice thought, but no such legend exists. The story is English in origin, and has no links to China.  It doesn’t seem to make any difference, however – ‘Blue Willow’ has been in production for over 200 years now and remains as popular as ever.

Speaking of china (the other kind of china), the picture above is what I call The Great Wall of China and it was taken at The Mock Turtle in Brighton, England on my last visit there.  The Mock Turtle has been a tearoom for decades. According to the authors of Fancy A Cuppa, 80-year old customers of The Mock Turtle tell the new owner that little has changed since they came for tea there more than 50 years ago.

 

The Mock Turtle Tea Shop, Brighton, England

It’s impossible to pass by The Mock Turtle and not be lured inside by its cosy front window display. It’s a very popular place and unless you get lucky, you will more than likely have to queue for a table. I happen to think it’s worth the wait.

 

The Mock Turtle Tea Shop, Brighton, England

More beautiful blue and white china, this time on the walls.

 

The Mock Turtle Tea Shop, Brighton, England

Food is homemade and has an excellent reputation for being delicious.  They carry a full breakfast and lunch menu (I have had their Welsh Rarebit before, and loved it), and serve Cream Tea, Afternoon Tea, and of course, a wide selection of cakes.

 

Cream Tea at The Mock Turtle Tea Shop, Brighton, England

On this visit to The Mock Turtle, it was the perfect time of day for a Cream Tea . The tea was loose-leaf (their own Mock Turtle blend) and although the leaves were left in the teapot to stew brew (not an unusual practice in England), a small top-up jug of hot water was included. The tea was very good.

The scones looked similar to a bread roll and despite being a departure in texture from the more traditional ‘short’ scone, they were quite tasty. Jam, butter, and clotted cream was served alongside. I have seen some online reviews of the Cream Teas at The Mock Turtle that say whipped cream is used, but it has been my experience there (several times now) to have always been served clotted cream.

Cost of the Cream Tea was £5.75 and included 2 large scones (a choice of whole wheat or white), and a pot of tea.

The Mock Turtle is a 2-minute walk from Brighton Pier.

The Mock Turtle
4 Pool Valley
Brighton
East Sussex BN1 1NJ
01273 327380 ‎

 

See the Tea in England Facebook page for related content, and more pictures of my visit to The Mock Turtle.

 

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So, this ghost walks into a tearoom . . .

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre Tearoom Table

One of the reasons my husband and I moved back to England was because we missed going places and doing things. Not that there weren’t places to go and things to do in America ….. but we missed those oh-so-quintessentially-English places. Like antiques centres. Housed in 17th century buildings.  With ghosts.  And tearooms.

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

One such antiques-centre-in-a-17th-century-building-with-a-ghost-and-a-tearoom is the Bourne Mill Antiques Centre in Farnham, Surrey. It is our favourite spot for antiquing-and-tea. The building is a former mill (a little tributary still runs alongside).

According to the Bourne Mill Antiques Centre website, it was a drinking club in the 1960s, frequented by Mick Jagger!  The club eventually closed down and the antiques centre later took over. Whilst it’s true that in some of these places you can’t always get what you want, wild horses couldn’t drag me away from here because there is something for everyone.

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

There are over 60 dealers displaying, and it has been described as an Aladdin’s Cave of Antiques. Indeed! It is a treasure trove. I love places like this, where you can rummage through baskets and dig deep behind lower shelves.

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

Oh, the temptation.

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

Is it true that you can never have enough teacups?

 

  Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England      Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England    Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

There are 4 floors to this building, with nooks and crannies everywhere.

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

More temptation.

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

You can walk around the entire building from the outside.  A building that is 400 some years old just can’t help but be enchanting, can it?  Oh look … a sign.  With the word TEA on it! Shall we?

 

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

All the antiques centres we have been to in England have had tearooms on the premises; the one here at Bourne Mill Antiques Centre is our favourite. We like to arrive as soon as the tearoom opens (10.00), have breakfast (scrambled eggs on toast), then shop till we drop. Well, the truth of the matter is that he never lets me we don’t always buy anything, but even so – sigh – one does work up an appetite so after we’ve had a good look around, it’s time for tea and cake.

 

Bourne Mill Antiques Centre, Farnham, England

Did someone say cake?

 

I hope you have enjoyed poking around the Bourne Mill Antiques Centre with me. Later this evening I am going to upload the rest of my pictures on the Tea in England Facebook page and you will have a chance to see all the other rooms and goodies.

What’s that? Oh, right, the ghost!   Here she is.

 

 

A Heavenly Cream Tea

St Anne's Church Cream Tea, Kew

There’s nothing like homemade cakes and scones – and church tearooms in England are usually one of the best places to find them. Here at St. Anne’s Church (c.1714) in Kew, the ladies of the church prepare homemade tea food. The teas can be enjoyed outside amongst the gravestones  on the other side of the churchyard, which also provides a lovely view of Kew Green. This year (2012) teas will be served on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from May 6th to September 30th.

You will notice that these are “crusts on” tea sandwiches. One of the church ladies working on the day I was there told me that ever since the war, she just cannot bring herself to cut crusts off bread, that it just seems too wasteful.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) is buried here at St. Anne’s, but unless The Blue Boy is hiding a teacup beneath that cloke, I cannot seem to find a Gainsborough tea connection.

However ….. the German artist Johan Zoffany is also buried at St. Anne’s, and his works include some rather lovely ones containing tea:

 The Garden of Hampton House with Mr and Mrs David Garrick Taking Tea by Johan Zoffany


John, Fourteenth Lord Willoughby de Broke, and his Family by Johan Zoffany


 


 James Farrell Phillips by Johan Zoffany