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An Empire Day Nursery Tea

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posted by alias raaen99 on Monday 24th of May 2021 10:48:09 AM

Wickham Place is the London home of Lord and Lady Southgate, their children and staff. Located in fashionable Belgravia it is a fine Georgian terrace house. Today is the 24th of May, which is Empire Day*, which is being celebrated across the British Empire in schools and homes alike. Wickham Place is no different and we are in the day nursery where, as instructed by Lady Southgate, a splendid Empire Day nursery tea has been arranged for the Southgate children, Piers and Sarah, and their Nanny. Whilst they are out walking in the square onto which Wickham Place looks, the Southgate’s cook, Mrs. Bradley, and her scullery maid Agnes set the nursery table with the tablecloth especially reserved for special occasions, Lady Southgate’s gilt Royal Doulton tea set, Nanny Tessa’s beloved floral teapot, a vase of fresh flowers from the Wickham Place garden, a jug of milk, jellies, a Victoria sponge, some Huntley and Palmer’s Empire Assorted biscuits and some beautiful patriotic cupcakes made by Mrs. Bradley which are decorated with tiny marzipan Union Jacks. Walking into the nursery, Piers and Sarah are surprised to see such a beautiful array of food set out for them on the nursery table. “Goodness!” Piers gasps. “What’s this?” The children walk up to the table and spy the Art Nouveau floral pattered china amidst all the bright festive fare. “That’s Mamma’s tea set.” Sarah observes. “Does that mean?” Piers asks, not daring to complete his question. “Yes children,” Nanny Tessa laughs. “Your Mother is coming to take tea with us today, which is in honour of Empire Day.” She looks at them seriously and continues. “Now give me your cloaks and hats and then go and wash your hands. Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The children waste no time, shrugging themselves out of their outer garments which they hand to their nanny, scurrying over to the blue and white ewer set on the stand next to the fireplace where they busy themselves washing their hands. After hanging up their cloaks and hats, Nanny Tessa walks over to the tea table and admires the fine feast Cook has provided them with as it basks in the afternoon sun pouring through the nursery windows. She knows the children will be a bundle of energy after eating such sugary treats, however she knows how much they will enjoy it and smiles indulgently at the thought of her charges enjoying themselves, especially with the added treat of seeing their mother. “Let me inspect your hands, children!” Nanny Tessa says matter-of-factly. The children stand side by side and hold out their hands which fall under the sharp eye of their nanny. She carefully checks the tops of their hands, paying careful attention to their nails to make sure there is no dirt underneath them, and then she instructs them to turn them over so she can see their palms. Satisfied, the old woman allows the children to sit at the table, but not to touch anything until their mother arrives. “How soon will Mamma be here?” asks Piers excitedly, his eyes gleaming with joy. “As soon as she can be I would imagine, Piers.” Nanny Tessa replies. “Don’t forget your Mamma is a great lady, and ladies do not rush. Do they Sarah?” “No they don’t, Nanny.” Sarah replies obediently with her head slightly lowered. “Well I hope she’ll be here soon,” Piers replies. “I’m starving after our walk in the square!” “Then you won’t have to wait for long my darling!” Lady Southgate laughs, walking through the nursey door. “Mamma!” the children gasp in delight. They both stand, as does their nanny. Piers bows and Sarah bobs a curtsey to their mother, whilst Nanny Tessa nods her head in deference to her mistress. “Milady.” she says in polite acknowledgement. “Come here my darlings!” Lady Southgate says, dropping down on one knee and opening her arms. Dropping the stiff formality that their nanny has taught them to follow when their parents visit, Sarah and Piers rush from the table into their mother’s open embrace. They lavish each other in kisses and laugh wholeheartedly. Unlike most of her British friends, Lady Southgate has a much softer approach to parenting. She doesn’t want to be a cool and distant figure, like most Edwardian parents are. She finds any excuse she can to visit the nursery and enjoys spending time with her children when she can, taking an active interest in their lives and participating with their games. Nanny Tessa, a seasoned nanny, does not entirely approve of Lady Southgate’s rather unorthodox approach to parenting, and if Lord Southgate was aware, he wouldn’t approve of his wife’s approach either. Both believe that children should only be seen for only one hour every evening, under strict supervision of their nanny, in the drawing room just before the children’s bedtime. “Happy Empire Day my darlings!” Lady Southgate exclaims, resting back on her haunches placing a hand on each child’s forearm as they smile at one another. “That walk in the square with Nanny obviously did you good,” she remarks. “Just look at those rosy cheeks.” “Did you see us, Mamma!” Piers leans back and looks earnestly at his mother. “I did, Piers,” she replies. “From the Salon windows “Ahem!” Nanny Tessa clears her throat. “Shall we have tea, Milady?” “Yes indeed Nanny,” Lady Southgate agrees, rising awkwardly to her feet, brushing out the crumples in her dusky pink serge fitted skirt front. “For I cannot stay too long today, children.” “Oh Mamma!” Sarah sighs. “Why not Mamma?” Piers asks. “Don’t you want to stay with us?” “Master Piers!” Nanny Tessa snaps. “That is no way to speak to your Mother. She is a very busy lady, and doesn’t have time to spend the whole afternoon with you and your sister.” “It’s alright, Nanny.” Lady Southgate soothes, turning first to her and then back to her children. “Piers, I’d enjoy nothing more than to while away the afternoon with you. However, what Nanny says is true children. Your Pappa and I are going to an Empire Day reception at the palace this evening, and that means that I must go and get ready soon.” She kisses both her children on the head. “And we all know that it is rude to be late, especially for our King and Queen.” “Yes Mamma.” the children reply disappointedly. “Now, let’s enjoy the time we do have together and have some of this lovely Empire Day tea that Cook has kindly provided us.” She walks over and takes her place at the table in a seat that allows her children to be either side of her. The children join her and soon they are all enjoying a selection of cakes, biscuits and jelly. “My goodness,” Lady Southgate remarks. “Cook really has outdone herself today. Just look at the marzipan Union Jacks on the cupcakes!” “She has provided a lovely afternoon tea, Milady.” Nanny Tessa acknowledges. “Thank you.” “Oh! I almost forgot!” Lady Southgate dabs daintily at her mouth with her napkin. “Children!” The children look to their mother. “I have a present for you which I asked Nanny to look after until I arrive.” “I’ll go and fetch it, Milady.” Nanny Tessa says, excusing herself from the table and walking over to the closed games cupboard. She returns a moment later with a pale blue cardboard box decorated with Britannia in all her regalia on the front, just like on the tin of Huntley and Palmer’s Empire Assorted Biscuits. Standing by a harbour full of ships Britannia looks to the distant horizon. The name of the game inside is emblazoned in red across its top. “What is it, Mamma?” asks Piers with interest. “It’s a game, stupid,” replies Sarah with a roll of her eyes. “Miss Sarah!” Nanny Tessa barks sharply. “That’s no way to address your brother. Apologise this minute.” Under the steely gaze of her nanny, Sarah apologises somewhat reluctantly to her brother. “Sorry Piers.” “It’s called ‘The Game of British Empire’, Piers,” Lady Southgate explains, ignoring her daughter’s rude outburst. “I thought it might be fun for you to play on Empire Day.” “How do we play it, Mamma?” Piers asks. Taking the box from the old nanny, the young woman reads across the top of the box. “It says here that each player starts with a cargo from London and has to deliver some and take up from the colonies what they export.” “That sounds like fun,” Piers says in delight. “We can play it after tea when your Mamma goes to get ready to visit the King and Queen.” Nanny Tessa adds as she takes back the box and props it against the vase of flowers. “Are you really going to meet the King and Queen, Mamma?” asks Sarah shyly. “Yes I am Sarah.” she replies. “It’s called a levée, which is a fancy word for a grand reception held by the King and Queen at the palace. Tonight, there will be officials and diplomats from all the British dominions presented to the King and Queen in the throne room. Their names are all called out one by one and they come forward and bow to the King and Queen whilst we all watch.” “That doesn’t sound very exciting, Mamma.” Piers observes. “What about dancing?” Sarah asks. “Is there a ball?” “No darling,” Lady Southgate laughs, raising her hand and stroking her daughter’s cheek. “This is a formal presentation, so there is no dancing. However, there is a grand dinner afterwards with ever so much delicious food to be had. And I am able get dressed up in my court dress, so I shall be wearing the Southgate diamond tiara, a ballgown and a grand train too.” “Why must you wear a ballgown if there is to be no dancing, Mamma?” Sarah persists. “Well, it’s what we ladies have to wear to court for these occasions. Your father will be all dressed up too in white tie and tails and wearing his orders on his sash.” “Will you come and visit us before you go Mamma?” Piers asks hopefully. “We should love to see you all dressed up.” “We’ll see my darling,” Lady Southgate replies with a gentle smile. “Only if we have time. Getting dressed for these occasions can take longer than usual to get ready for.” “Thinking of time, children,” Nanny Tessa interrupts politely. “Why don’t you share with your Mamma the poem I taught you for today.” “Oh yes!” they gasp. Jumping up from their seats, they scurry around to their mother and stand before her, proudly to attention. With a nod from their nanny, they begin to recite what they have learned by rote over the last week. “Brightly, brightly, sun of spring upon this happy day Shine upon us as we sing this twenty-fourth of May Shine upon our brothers too, Far across the ocean blue, As we raise our song of praise On this our glorious Empire Day” *The very first Empire Day took place on the 24th of May 1902, Queen Victoria’s birthday. Although not officially recognised as an annual event until 1916, many schools across the British Empire were celebrating it before then. Each Empire Day, millions of school children from all walks of life across the length and breadth of the British Empire would typically salute the Union Jack and sing patriotic songs like ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘God Save the King’ (later ‘God Save the Queen’). They would hear inspirational speeches and listen to tales of ‘daring do’ from across the Empire, stories that included such heroes as Clive of India, Wolfe of Québec and ‘Chinese Gordon’ of Khartoum. But of course the real highlight of the day for the children was that they were let of school early in order to take part in the thousands of marches, maypole dances, concerts and parties that celebrated the event. Empire Day remained an essential part of the calendar for more than 50 years, celebrated by countless millions of children and adults alike, an opportunity to demonstrate pride in being part of the British Empire. By the 1950s, the Empire was in decline and Britain’s relationship with the other countries that formed the Empire had also changed, as they began to celebrate their own identity. In 1958 Empire Day was re-badged as British Commonwealth Day, and still later in 1966 when it became known as Commonwealth Day. The date of Commonwealth Day was also changed to 10th June, the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth. The date was again changed in 1977 to the second Monday in March, when each year The Queen still sends a special message to the youth of the Empire via a radio broadcast to all the various countries of the Commonwealth. You might be surprised to learn that this rather delicious Empire Day nurery tea is not exactly what it seems. It is in fact made up of 1:12 size artisan miniatures from my large collection, including a couple of items that I have had since my childhood. Fun things to look for in this tableau include: The divine little patriotic cupcakes, each with a Union Jack on the top, has been made in England by hand from clay by former chef turned miniature artisan, Frances Knight. Her work is incredibly detailed and realistic, and she says that she draws her inspiration from her years as a chef and her imagination. Each cupcake is only five millimetres in diameter and eight millimetres in height! The Victoria sponge (named after Queen Victoria) is made by Polly’s Pantry Miniatures in America. The two jellies, which look so realistic you could eat them, are made by Beautifully Handmade Miniatures in Kettering. They specialise in making realistic looking 1:12 size miniature foods. They have a dizzying and ever growing array of wonderful items, but they are particularly well know for their jellies. The Huntley and Palmer’s Empire Assorted biscuit tin containing a replica selection of biscuits is also a 1:12 artisan piece from Beautifully Handmade Miniatures in Kettering. Huntley and Palmers is a British firm of biscuit makers originally based in Reading, Berkshire. The company created one of the world's first global brands and ran what was once the world's largest biscuit factory. Over the years, the company was also known as J. Huntley and Son and Huntley and Palmer. Huntley and Palmer were renown for their ‘superior reading biscuits’ which they promoted in different varieties for different occasions, including at breakfast time. The design on the tin is Edwardian and fed the British Imperialist feeling that was popular in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century. However, this design was so popular that it carried on through the 1920s. Other biscuit varieties had patterned tins in different colour ranges to aid those who couldn’t read! Nanny Tessa’s floral teapot I acquired from a specialist high street tea shop when I was a teenager. I have five of them and each one is a different shape and has a different design. I love them, and what I also love is that over time they have developed their own crazing in the glaze, which I think adds a nice touch of authenticity. The gilt Art Nouveau tea set, featuring a copy of a Royal Doulton pattern, has been hand decorated by beautifully Handmade Miniatures in Kettering. The glasses are all made of real, very finely spun glass and I have had them since I was a teenager. I bought them from a high street specialist miniatures shop, and each one being hand made is slightly different from the other. In the foreground stands a miniature Blue Calico milk jug. Traditional dark blue Burleigh Calico made in Staffordshire, England by Burgess & Leigh since 1851. It was inspired by Nineteenth Century indigo fabrics. Blue Calico is still made today, and still uses the traditional print transfer process, which makes each piece unique. ‘The Game of the British Empire – or Trading with the Colonies’ on the table is a 1:12 artisan miniature made by Little Things Dollhouse Miniatures in Lancashire. Manufactured in Britain (of course) by Glevum Games Manufacturer in Gloucester between 1912 and 1939, the game came with a board depicting a world map on which the British Empire was marked out in pink (of course). It included three lead steamers and a large selection of paper cards advertising cargo and exports from different countries as well as a cardboard dice shaker and dice. The object of the game was to take your cargo from London to the Colonies and buy what they are selling. An educational game, it was designed to teach children the importance of Empire and what imports came from what countries belonging to the British Empire. The tablecloth has been crocheted by hand and is actually a small doily that I picked up in an antique market. I imagine it is around one hundred years old. When I bought it, it was badly stained, but some bleach and lemon juice quickly righted this and brought it back to its original gleaming white. I loved it for its delicate weave. The table itself is a Jacobean style round drop leaf table of dark stained oak which I have had since I was seven. The dainty little chairs are carved from fruitwood and were part of a lot I bought at auction many years ago. In the background you can catch glimpses of the Wickham Place nursery which is papered with William Morris’ ‘Willow Bough’ pattern. In Nanny’s chair by the fire sits a big rabbit, which is one of just a number of small 1:12 size soft toys that I have in my collection. Beside the rabbit sits Malachi the teddy bear. Acquired in mid-March 2020 from a wonderful Melbourne stalwart toy shop: Dafel Dolls and Bears, when I went looking for a present for one of my goddaughters, Malachi is designed by Mary and hand-made by Wendy Joy in Australia. He has reticulated arms and legs, and an extremely sweet face. Malachi was the name he came with, written by hand on his little tag. The ewer set in blue and white Delftware I also acquired from a specialist high street miniatures shop when I was a teenager.



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  • Published 12.02.21
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