The next book in my literary suspense series, The Elizabeth and Richard Mysteries, will be A Most Singular Venture, Jane Austen's London, following on after A Jane Austen Encounter.
In March of 1814 Jane, who was visiting London, wrote to her sister Cassandra, "I am sorry to hear there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply." (It seems that a rise in prices is also one of the constants of life.)
Two generations later, in Jane Austen's time, his grandson Richard Twining built the handsome doorway incorporating his grandfather's Golden Lyon symbol and two Chinese figures.
In spite of the high prices Jane was wise to purchase her tea from a reputable dealer since unscrupulous sellers were known to cut their product with colored sawdust and even floor sweepings, although meeting the price wasn't always easy. As Jane wrote again to Cassandra, "I suppose my Mother recollects that she gave me no Money for paying Brecknell & Twining; & my funds will not supply enough." William Pitt, a friend of Richard Twining, led the bill in Parliament to reduce the tea tax from 80% to 12%, thereby making the product less attractive for smugglers and cheats.
Today there is a small museum at the rear of the shop with paintings, prints and antique tea caddies on display. To me, the most interesting was the large wooden box with a slit in the top marked T.I.P. Where patrons of the coffee house were encourage to drop a few coins "To Improve Promptness," thus starting the custom of giving a tip for prompt service.
Twinings is believed to be the oldest company to have traded continuously on the same site with the same family since its foundation. And so, 200 years after Jane Austen I was able to visit the same shop and purchase tea for my family.
To learn more about the Elizabeth and Richard series and to see pictures from all of Donna's research trips, visit www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com