Visiting Bath and the Mad Hatters Tea Party

When Dorene and I stayed in London in 2011, we ventured outside the city for a day on a bus tour to Bath, Stonehenge, and Salisbury Cathedral. This seemed like the perfect way to visit some of England’s most famous sites, but our plan had one problem. We didn’t realize that the schedule for Bath would allow time for only a tour of the Roman Baths, a brief glance at some of the buildings, and lunch. This was not a satisfying experience of Bath. Disappointed by all that we missed, we decided in 2013 to enjoy Bath properly over three days.

View of Bath from the Parade Gardens. Photo by Dorene

Bath is about 100 miles west of London, and we traveled by train from Paddington Station, a trip that lasted just under 1.5 hours and included many scenic views of the countryside. Located at the Southern end of the Cotswolds, Bath was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 for its cultural significance. (To read about our earlier visit to the Cotswolds, click here.) Like the rest of the Cotswolds, the buildings were constructed from locally mined stone, in this case a type of limestone known as Bath stone. As a dense city on the slope of a hill, the uniformity of the cream-colored buildings creates a memorable impression.

View of Bath from North Parade Bridge. Photo by Dorene
View of Bath from North Parade Bridge. Photo by Dorene

Bath has almost everything that Dorene and I hope to experience when we travel:

  • Historical sites – Including the nearly 2,000-year-old Roman Baths, Georgian-era buildings (the Circus and Royal Crescent), the reconstructed Assembly Rooms (destroyed during World War II), and more.
  • Religious buildings – Bath Abbey, St. John the Evangelist Church, and a few other interesting churches.
  • Literary significance – Jane Austen! (Check back in December for much more about our Jane experiences in Bath.)
  • Museums – Along with the Holburne Museum and the Victoria Art Gallery, we also visited the Fashion Museum and a unique industrial place called the Museum of Bath at Work.
  • Photo opportunities and general sightseeing – Bath is enjoyably walkable, and bus tours within and outside the city provide additional vantage points for seeing the sights.
  • Evening entertainment – We saw a play at the Theater Royal (Noel Coward’s Relative Values) and also experienced something completely different, the Bizarre Bath comedy walk (I’ll try to describe this in a future post).
  • Shopping – Bath has typical chain stores, souvenir shops, and a mall, and also plenty of independent and local businesses, including those in Guildhall Market, the Corridor, and on Pulteney Bridge.
  • Tea and scones (of course) – On our final day in the city, we discovered what would turn out to be our favorite tea room of all the ones we visited in England (I’ll share this experience in December).

During our brief visit to Bath two years earlier, we had rushed through afternoon tea at a little restaurant with an Alice in Wonderland theme. We decided to revisit the place and enjoy it at a relaxed pace. Remembering little about it, we knew that it was somewhere behind Bath Abbey.

In a compact city with buildings made from the same colored stone, Bath Abbey stands out as a dominating structure that serves as a beacon from various vantage points. Once the site of a monastery dating to the 8th century, a Norman cathedral was built there in the 11th and 12th centuries. After the Bishop’s seat moved from Bath to Wells in the 13th century, the building slowly began to decay. The current building, a parish church rather than a cathedral, was started in 1499. This was not good timing. With religious upheaval soon arriving, the building again fell into ruin. After being salvaged in the early 17th century, significant restorations occurred in the 19th century and late 20th century. For its history, stained glass windows, interior and ceiling, monuments, memorials, wall tablets, and even contemporary artwork, Bath Abbey provides a worthy opportunity for a leisurely stroll.

Dorene at Bath Abbey
Dorene outside Bath Abbey

Behind Bath Abbey (the East End), there is a small circular park called the Orange Grove. Could there really be an orange grove in England? A nearby sign cleared up this question for me. It was named for the Prince of Orange to commemorate his visit to Bath in 1734.

In the building seen in the photo on the left, we found the Mad Hatters Tea Party.

Outside sign and seating area. Photo by Dorene
Outside sign and seating. Photo by Dorene

There are only four tables inside, two on each side of the door, and a few more outside. Given that it was a cool day with off and on rain showers, sitting outside was not an option. There was one available table inside, so we sat down to order Afternoon Tea for Two.

Dorene’s Assessment

Afternoon tea at the Mad Hatters Tea Party. Photo by Dorene
Afternoon Tea for Two at the Mad Hatters Tea Party. Photo by Dorene
  • Tea – Standard, enjoyable tea fare.
  • Sandwiches – Afternoon tea usually includes a few varieties of finger sandwiches, but at the Mad Hatters Tea Party, we each had to chose one sandwich. There were multiple options listed above the counter, which caused us a bit of confusion as we tried to decide which ones to order, finally selecting one with chicken and one with brie. The sandwiches were served on soft, thick white or brown bread, and the quality of both sandwiches was excellent. However, as an afternoon tea traditionalist, Dorene would have preferred finger sandwiches. With scones still to eat, we did not finish the sandwiches.
  • Scones – Medium-sized with plenty of cream and jam. They were not too sweet, which is how Dorene prefers scones.
  • Service – Quick and efficient.
  • Atmosphere – The small space is slightly uncomfortable, but there is an enjoyable brightness and color throughout the room.
  • Decor – The many decorations relate to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books or to the spirit of the books, including backwards clocks, a trick teapot, and reproductions of John Tenniel’s illustrations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (there are just a few references to the 1951 Disney film). The plates and teapots coordinate nicely with the theme. Visit the Mad Hatters Tea Party website for photos of the decorations inside.
  • Overall Rating

    Good place to visit
    Good place to visit

Diane’s Thoughts

As part of my ongoing initiation into the world of afternoon tea, I discovered what now seems obvious: I should not expect traditional afternoon tea at a place that pays homage to the unconventional world of Wonderland, the Mad Tea Party, and the Hatter.

The Hatter

Many tea rooms in England and the U.S. are named “The Mad Hatters (or Hatter’s) Tea Party.” Technically the term “Mad Hatter” never appears in the Alice books, although the Cheshire Cat does describe the Hatter as mad. And the Mad Tea Party occurs in front of the March Hare’s house, not the Hatter’s.

A Mad Tea Party

No matter. It’s the Mad Hatter who has survived in popular culture, and his tea party continues to inspire and delight. While there may be more traditional and comfortable places for afternoon tea, the Mad Hatters Tea Party in Bath is worth visiting for its tribute to Lewis Carroll’s books.

Even the small space may bring to mind Alice’s tendency to find herself not quite the right size.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland illustrations from www.alice-in-wonderland.net.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrations from www.alice-in-wonderland.net.

Side Hop

Not far from the Mad Hatters Tea Party and Orange Grove is Grand Parade, which offers views of the River Avon. Since the original meaning of the word “avon” is river, several unconnected rivers in England ended up with the same redundant name.

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon. Photo by Dorene
Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon. Photo by Dorene

Apropos of the unconventional, the bridge crossing the river in this photo is Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges in the world lined with shops.

Shops on Pulteney Bridge. Photo by Dorene
Shops on Pulteney Bridge. Photo by Dorene

While the bridge has architectural significance and adds to the beauty of viewing the river against the backdrop of the buildings, having only four of these bridges in the world sounds just right to me. Our inn was on the other side of the bridge, so we crossed it several times each day. Most of the time I forgot that I was walking on a bridge. Of course this illusion makes the architectural achievement even more remarkable, and without question Pulteney Bridge works as a tourist attraction. In most cities, though, I would prefer to feel the experience of walking over a river and enjoy views of water winding through a city.

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Celebrating Gavin Douglas

As I wrote about in my previous post, 2013 is the 500th anniversary of Eneados, Gavin Douglas’s 1513 translation of the Aeneid. Because the OED cites Eneados for the first appearance of the word “scone,” I decided that the scone’s literary debut was a milestone worth celebrating.

Scone at Bath Bun

Of course, beyond the single appearance of scones in the book, the most important reason to celebrate this 500th anniversary is to honor Gavin Douglas, his Middle Scots poetry, and his great translation. Even though 2013 is nearing its end, there is still time to celebrate. Several Eneados 500 events have already occurred, including a celebration in Edinburgh at St. Giles’ Cathedral (aka High Kirk of St. Giles) on July 21st, just before the actual date when Gavin Douglas finished his poem 500 years ago (July 22nd, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene). Jamie Reid Baxter, who had organized the July event, is also the organizer of a full day of Gavin Douglas celebrations taking place on Friday, November 15th, and he was kind enough to send me details of the upcoming events.

The day will include the unveiling of a commemorative flagstone honoring Gavin Douglas, readings from Eneados, a Gavin Douglas conference, and a sung Mass. The Duke of Hamilton, who is descended from Gavin Douglas’s father, will unveil the flagstone.

A day with poetry, history, music, and a duke — if there weren’t 3,000 miles in the way, I would definitely be in Edinburgh on November 15th!

Here is the flyer for the celebration. The text within the flyer is provided below so that you can read it more easily. I have also included details for the Gavin Douglas conference, which takes place from 2-5 pm.

“Scotland’s Glory, 1513”:

 three events celebrating Gavin Douglas and his “Eneados”

On the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, 1513, six weeks before the catastrophe of Flodden, the poet Gavin Douglas completed his “Eneados”, a magnificent Scots-language translation of the Roman poet Virgil’s epic “Aeneid”. In 1513, Douglas was provost of the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh.

Friday 15th November sees three events in the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, celebrating Douglas and his great poem.

11 am. – Makars’ Court, outside the Writers’ Museum in the Lawnmarket, off the High Street:  a commemorative inscribed flagstone honouring Gavin Douglas will be unveiled by Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton, a descendant of Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus, the poet’s father. There will be a short reading from the “Eneados”.

2 pm. – 5 pm.  Augustine United Church, 41 George IV Bridge:  conference “Gavin Douglas, Makar and Translatour”, with the participation of poet and academic J.Derrick McClure on Douglas as translator; scholar Dr Emily Wingfield on Douglas and Flodden; historian Dr Jenny Wormald on the culture of James IV’s Scotland; and award-winning poet Rab Wilson on Douglas as a poet.  Rab Wilson will also perform five excerpts from “Eneados” introduced and put in context by Jamie Reid-Baxter, the organiser of the Gavin Douglas celebrations. Tickets £5 (concessions £3) at the door.  There will be a short interval, tea and biscuits provided.

7.30 pm. – 9 pm.  High Kirk of St Giles: Sang Scule, directed by James Hutchinson, sing Robert Carver’s thrilling Mass for Six Voices, framed in a concert reconstruction of Procession and High Mass for St Mary Magdalene as it would have been celebrated by Gavin Douglas as provost of St Giles.  After the end of the mass, the singers will perform “The Flowers of the Forest: an Elegy on Flodden Field” (2004), by Sheena Phillips, an eight-minute piece juxtaposing the famous ballad with a Latin poem from 1512, praising the Scotland of James IV. Among the ten thousand Scots who fell at Flodden alongside their king were Gavin Douglas’s elder brothers.  – Full texts and translations provided. Tickets at the door, £10 (concessions £5).

Presented under the aegis of the Scots Language Centre/Centre for the Scots Leid, as part of Previously… Scotland’s History Festival: http://www.historyfest.co.uk/

***

Gavin Douglas, Makar and Translatour

A Conference at Augustine United Church, 2-5 pm. Friday 15th November 2013

Rab Wilson : Eneados Prologue 1, part one.

Jamie Reid Baxter (chair): welcome and link

Rab Wilson:  Eneados Prologue 1, part two.

Jenny Wormald on James IV and culture

Questions from floor

– interval (tea and biscuits)

Rab Wilson on Douglas as poet, followed by recitation of ‘Euryalus and Nisus’ from Eneados

Emily Wingfield on Douglas and Flodden

Rab Wilson:  Eneados ‘June Morning’ (Prologue XIII)

Jamie Reid Baxter on Douglas’s broader achievement

Rab Wilson : Eneados ‘Conclusioun’.

***

These impressive events speak to the importance of Gavin Douglas and Eneados, and Jamie Reid Baxter and all of the participants should be commended for their efforts in offering these events to the public.

Dr. Reid Baxter also shared with me that St Giles, where Gavin Douglas served as provost, has a crypt cafe with superb scones. How appropriate! I was pleased to learn that when he was at St. Giles for the July 21st celebration, he was able to enjoy a scone at the cafe. Though perhaps unwittingly, at least scones played a small role in the celebration that day!

Tea Along the River Windrush

Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed. –Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (part 2 of quote)

Visiting English country houses was one of the themes that Dorene had proposed for our travels in England in 2013. If this brings to mind a quaint English cottage nestled in a bucolic landscape, well…not quite. Dorene was talking about the ancestral homes of dukes and earls, houses with wondrous designs, architecture, interiors, furniture, artwork, and landscapes that would help to define aristocratic families for centuries. Still, the quaint English cottage has an authentic appeal, and we were fortunate on our second day in England to experience both types of country living. A full-day bus tour out of London brought us to the grandeur of Blenheim Palace and the picturesque scenery of the Cotswolds.

The final stop on our tour was Blenheim Palace. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the historical significance of its architecture and landscape, Blenheim Palace is home to the Duke of Marlborough and notable as the birthplace of Winston Churchill.

Afternoon tea is served at Blenheim Palace, but we would not have had enough time for it. Bus tours carry the risk of unpredictability, and our tour was no exception. Between traffic delays caused by road construction and a tardy tour member whom the guide did not want to leave stranded, we had limited time to explore the house, gardens, grounds, and gift shop. Fortunately, we had already stopped for tea in the Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds are a range of hills west-northwest of London, about 2 hours away. Our tour guide translated the word to mean “sheep farms in the hills,” although some websites suggest that “Cot” refers to Cod, a 12th-century Anglo-Saxon chieftain. (By the way, our tour guide was not really a guide. He shared some facts and history, set the timetable, took lunch orders, and arranged tickets. Otherwise, we were on our own at each stop.) Among the facts that he shared: While 60% of England is made up of farms, 80% of the Cotswolds is farmland. The region has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the bus tour rewarded us with views of expansive fields, rolling hills, grazing animals, and, of course, Cotswolds cottages, all made from stone that was mined in local quarries. (For a comprehensive website about the Cotswolds, visit Cotswolds.info.)

Our first stop was the village of Bibury, with highlights including Arlington Row, a series of cottages that originally stored wool and were later converted to weaver’s cottages; a water meadow; the River Coln; “oreo” cows; and other picturesque scenes.

Next we visited Burford, which was once named by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 10 places in Europe to live. A highlight for tourists is the church of St. John the Baptist.

The third village that we visited was Bourton-on-the-Water. With stone buildings overlooking the River Windrush and several footbridges crossing the river, Bourton-on-the-Water is sometimes referred to, with a touch of imagination, as the Venice of the Cotswolds or Little Venice. This is where we had tea.

The River Windrush in Bourton-on-the-Water, with the Green and Pleasant Tea Rooms in the background (left of center). Photo by Dorene
The River Windrush in Bourton-on-the-Water. Green and Pleasant Tea Rooms are in the background center/left. Photo by Dorene

Lunch had been served earlier at The Mermaid, a pub in Burford, so we were not looking for the full afternoon tea experience. We just wanted a snack, or more properly, “cream tea”: a pot of tea and a scone. This was not a challenge. Everywhere you turn in Bourton-on-the-Water, a tea room is in sight. The one we chose, the Green and Pleasant Tea Rooms, happened to be in front of us when we decided to stop for tea.

The Green and Pleasant Tea Rooms in Bourton-on-the-Water. Photo by Dorene
The ice cream window at the Green and Pleasant Tea Rooms in Bourton-on-the-Water. Photo by Dorene

Dorene obviously wanted to order cream tea, and a server waited on her as soon as we entered. When the server asked whether we would like to sit inside or outside, “outside” flew out of my mouth before I remembered that I needed to check with Dorene. Inside was her preference. The afternoon was cool and breezy, not ideal conditions for eating a scone. Besides, Dorene felt satisfied that she had seen and photographed enough of the Cotswolds. All that remained for her was to have tea and then finally move on to Blenheim Palace.

Dorene’s Assessment

Cream Tea at the Green and Pleasant Tea Rooms. Photo by Dorene
Cream Tea at the Green and Pleasant Tea Rooms. Photo by Dorene
  • Tea – Enjoyable, standard tea fare.
  • Scone – There were three options for flavored scones, but no plain scone, Dorene’s preference. She chose the fruited scone, and fortunately there was not too much fruit. The scone was extra large and fluffy with good volume. As at Selfridges, the scone was a little sweet. Dorene is more accustomed to U.S. scones, which are less sweet. The clotted cream and jam were in containers: Rodda’s Classic Cornish Clotted Cream and Robertson’s jam, which both seem to be popular brands in England.
  • Service – Friendly staff. The tea and scone were brought to the table within a minute or two.
  • Atmosphere – Pleasant and peaceful. We were seated alone in the front room, near the door and windows. There were people in the back room and at the tables outside by the river. It was worth sitting inside for the comfortable environment.
  • Decor – There was a pretty French/Provence theme to the decor, with both natural and artificial plants and flowers. The tea room must also serve as an art gallery, because the paintings on the walls were for sale. There were additional paintings on the floor resting along the walls.
  • Overall grade – A-

Diane’s Thoughts

Now I must make a confession. Unlike Dorene, I sometimes stray from the purpose of the Tea and Scone Hop by failing to order tea and scones. I could claim that I want the blog to include other options available at tea rooms, but in reality my devotion to tea and scones still needs to grow.

During the bus tour, our tour guide had mentioned three times that we would be able to get Winstones (pronounced Winstons by the guide) Cotswold Ice Cream in Bourton-on-the-Water. When I discovered that the Green and Pleasant Tea Rooms carried it, I could not resist. I ordered chocolate ice cream, which was served in a plain cone and produced an extra delight: It had chocolate chunks as well.

If I had committed myself to drinking tea, either within the lovely tea room itself or outside in the cool breeze beside a river named Windrush, would I have approached the noble and spiritual experience Muriel Barbery depicts in the quote at the top of this post? Probably not, mainly because we were part of a bus tour, where time is of the essence, not sublimed. Still, even though I was only an observer, I was able to appreciate the quiet pleasure that the tea experience brings, especially when sitting in a quaint English village and not next to a department store escalator.

Side Hop

While I was still deciding what to order (there were also cookies to tempt me), an older couple came in and requested two scones to go. The server asked whether they wanted clotted cream and jam, and the gentleman responded, “What is a scone without jam? Or ‘scon,’ as my mother used to say.” The server noted that she always pronounced it as “scone” (rhymes with “stone”), although the alternate pronunciation made sense to me since our tour guide had pronounced “Winstones” as “Winstons.” (Keep in mind, these people are all speaking with British accents.)

I checked the OED, and both pronunciations are correct. I was curious whether the pronunciation varied by region and found this definition, which indicates that the “scon” pronunciation is associated with northern England and the working class, while what I thought was the standard pronunciation of “scone” is associated with the south and the middle class. However, the OxfordWords blog on the same website has a post How do you pronounce scone? that tells a different story.

According to a poll they did, a slight majority of the respondents from the United Kingdom voted for “scon,” while Americans overwhelmingly favored the pronunciation that rhymes with “stone.” Several British commenters, but not all, insisted that “scon” was the correct pronunciation. One commenter even invoked Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song to make his case. Yes, Monty Python.

So a simple pronunciation inquiry triggered by a kind British gentleman in a Cotswolds tea room ended up leading me to watch TWO versions of an imaginary, tea-drinking, scone-eating (or rather “scon”-eating) lumberjack who sings about cross-dressing. So much for the spiritual side of drinking tea. I’ll include a link to one version of the song on my Twitter feed on the right side of the blog, but be warned, it is typical Monty Python.

As for “scon” or “scone,” I’m definitely going to stick with the American pronunciation.

Tea with Mr. Selfridge…and His Mistresses

The tea ritual: such  precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony…  —Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (part 1 of quote)

In the spring of 2013, PBS aired Mr. Selfridge, a miniseries about Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American who went to London and opened a department store on Oxford Street in 1909. It was an 8-part series with Jeremy Piven playing the title character. I watch many of the Masterpiece series, but this one I skipped. Dorene did watch the series and, after just a few episodes, decided that we would visit Selfridges during our trip to England in June.

Only the first day of our trip would be spent in London, which we had visited two years earlier. With a midday arrival, we decided to keep the first day of our vacation simple with limited sightseeing. After dropping off our suitcases at our hotel in the Lancaster Gate/Kensington Gardens area, we walked down Bayswater Road, which becomes Oxford Street right around Marble Arch. There is a Tube station near Selfridges (Bond Street), but since we were not on a tight schedule, a 30-minute walk along the edge of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park was a welcome way to re-energize after a long flight. Speaking of walking, this is a good time to mention an important point about the Tea and Scone Hop. Because the scones, clotted cream, tea cakes, and pastries associated with afternoon tea may not represent the healthiest of choices, maintaining other healthy practices is key. We were fortunate that our vacation involved walking each day

Not long after we passed Marble Arch, Dorene caught sight of Selfridges in the distance.

Selfridges clock and statue of the Queen of Time. Photo by Dorene
Selfridges clock and statue of the Queen of Time. Photo by Dorene

The inside of Selfridges, which looks like a standard department store, does not mirror the grandeur of the outside. It nevertheless does impress, with 6 floors that total about 10 acres; large crowds of both Londoners and tourists; famous designer collections; the ever-present yellow shopping bags that advertise people’s willingness to spend lots of money there; and a surprisingly long line of people waiting just for a chance to view Prada products.

I am not a high-end shopper and would leave without a yellow bag, but I was looking forward to eating lunch at Selfridges. As we walked around, I had to reorient myself to English floor designations. What Americans call the first floor is the ground floor in England, while England’s first floor is what we would call the second floor. The store guide proved a struggle for me, so Dorene asked a salesperson if there was a restaurant that served afternoon tea. He directed us to Dolly’s on the lower ground floor (basement level) and told us, “It’s in the middle of the store.”

And it was. We had seen other restaurants along the sides, but Dolly’s is simply a section of the display floor, adjacent to an escalator, that has been gated off and turned into a small cafe. It opened in March 2011 and was named for Mr. Selfridge’s mistresses. “He had two mistresses named Dolly?” I asked when Dorene told me this. Not quite. Originally from Hungary, identical twins Jenny and Rosie became known as the Dolly Sisters for their vaudevillian act. Click here to see the menu, which includes a rather scandalous picture of the twins.

Sign at the cafe. Photo by Dorene
Sign at the cafe. Photo by Dorene

Dolly’s has an enclosed kitchen in the center and a display case of pastries on one side. This leaves limited room for tables in narrow passages on the remaining three sides of the kitchen. Our wait for a table was about 15 minutes, and one or more people seemed to be waiting at all times. Yet in the spirit of afternoon tea, the staff did not try to rush patrons in and out.

Dorene’s Assessment

Afternoon Tea for Two. Photo by Dorene
Afternoon Tea for Two. Photo by Dorene
  • Tea – an enjoyable, standard English Breakfast Tea. Dorene appreciated the strainer for the cup that captured the loose tea leaves from the teapot.  An attached tray could be moved under the strainer to catch any dripping liquid when moved to the side.
  • Finger sandwiches (4 for each of us) – smoked salmon, chicken, egg salad, and cucumber and cream cheese. The amount of filling in each sandwich was small, but they were all good.
  • Scones – one fruited and one plain. Dorene and I both prefer plain scones, but I took the fruited one since I know how much she loves her scones. Dorene thought that the scone was small and mildly sweet. She’s more accustomed to scones in the U.S., which tend to be less sweet than those in England.
  • Pastries – one lemon and one strawberry tart. We took half of each, although Dorene was too full to eat the strawberry tart.  The lemon tart had “citron” written on top in chocolate, and the amount of lemon flavor was just right. The strawberry tart had a generous amount of strawberries.
  • Service – pleasant staff. Our waitress knew that we were visiting Dolly’s for the first time, and when we were finished, she asked what we liked best. “The scones, of course,” was Dorene’s reply.
  • Atmosphere – noisy.  While there is a novelty to ordering tea while sitting in the middle of a historic department, there’s no way to escape that you are sitting in the middle of a bustling department store, next to the escalator for that matter.
  • Decor – Dolly’s is described as having an Art Deco design. Dorene is an aficionado of the Art Deco movement and did not think that there was much to say about Art Deco at Dolly’s.
  • Overall grade – B

Diane’s Thoughts

The first sandwich I ate was the cucumber and cream cheese. I was so hungry that I finished it in just a few bites – probably breaching some form of afternoon tea etiquette. I was also concerned about another etiquette issue. After spreading the strawberry jam on my scone, I dipped my knife into the clotted cream. The remnants of jam on my knife ended up spoiling the pure color of the cream in the dish, which I feared betrayed my lack of social grace. I asked Dorene whether there should have been a separate knife for the cream. She hesitated, said that there probably should have been separate knives, but clearly had never before put any thought into the issue. Later, I figured out why this was not an issue for her. Dorene spreads the clotted cream onto the scone first and then puts the jam on top. Her knife is clean when it touches the clotted cream.

Had I been eating my scones wrong?

I googled pictures of scones, and while jam on top of clotted cream seems the more common method for eating scones, there were some pictures with the cream on top of the jam. I guess I’ll stick to my way.

While afternoon tea at Dolly’s does not invoke the “serene harmony” depicted in Muriel Barbery’s quote above, there is at least the opportunity to step away from the bustle, excess, and, yes, the absurdity. As evidenced by the variety of customers we saw at Dolly’s that day, from businessmen and tourists to multigenerational families and single shoppers, there is truth to the idea of the universality of tea. The price of 28.95 pounds for Afternoon Tea for Two does not quite support the notion of “at little cost,” but given that everything in London is expensive, tea at Dolly’s was worth the experience.

Side Hop

Like a sidebar, this section of each post will include additional thoughts or information beyond our quest for tea and scones. Here are some options for learning more about the people behind Selfridges and Dolly’s:

  • For a history of the department store, visit the timeline on the Our Heritage page of Selfridges website.
  • For a brief analysis of the relationship between Mr. Selfridge and the Dolly Sisters, visit the Jazz Age Club website.
  • Gary Chapman, author of The Dolly Sisters: Icons of the Jazz Age, has a blog devoted to the sisters, dollysisters.wordpress.com.
  • The sisters were even the subject of a 1945 movie starring Betty Grable and June Haver. IMDb does not list Mr. Selfridge as one of the characters. For a synopsis of the movie, visit TCM’s website.
  • The book that was used as the basis for the miniseries is Shopping, Seduction, and Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead.
  • For fans of the miniseries, PBS has ordered a second season, which will air in 2014. Now that I know more about Selfridges than any other store I’ve ever visited, perhaps I may get on board.