A project by Dr Merv Davey, Tony Mansell and Dr Garry Tregidga
The objective of this project is to collect, preserve and share aspects of a Cornish phenomenon which spanned almost two hundred years. It clearly caught the imagination of many people, evinced by the fact that the anecdotes, memories, music and photographs are still being received. The result is this eclectic record of these hugely significant events which meant so much to the communities of Cornwall.
The project is divided into four sections:
Some elements of the annual event remained constant whilst others altered over time to reflect the changes in society. In this section we take an overview of how the celebration was enjoyed across the years.
- Across the Patch
Here, we take a trip around the chapels, churches and parishes where tea treats were held. It provides a picture of the spread of communities which enjoyed these special occasions. However, it would be impossible to collect all the available information and we have had to content ourselves with reflecting what has been submitted or what has come to hand
If you feel that your church, chapel or village is under-represented, or you are disappointed that it does not appear at all, then this can be easily remedied. You are invited to submit photographs and/or text which will be added and preserved for posterity.
Of course, some of the larger communities had a church and several non-conforming chapels so in these there may have been a number of tea treats each year, each trying to outdo the others.
To avoid this section being too long it has been split into four sub-sections:
4) Tea Treat Day
The event consisted of many aspects and required various people to contribute to its success and in part four we consider the various aspects that made up a successful Cornish tea treat:
- The Preparation
- The Procession
- The Official opening
- The Music
- The Stannins
- The Entertainment, Sports & Games
- The Tea
- The Famous Tea Treat Buns
- The Evening Concert
- The Serpentine Walk
It may not be appreciated just how significant tea treats were to the community. Everything stopped for the occasion and in some of the smaller neighbourhoods it was the biggest event on the calendar. Most people attending were local, but visitors were usually made welcome. The venue may have been someone’s large garden or a suitable field. The grass would have been cut, decorations erected and somewhere prepared for the kettle as no event would have been complete without the iconic cup tae (sic).
Tea treats arise directly from the creation of Sunday schools which seem to have first appeared in Cornwall during the late 18th century. A paper, “Sunday School Parades and Tea Treats in West Cornwall,” (1) suggests that it was in 1780, in Redruth, that the first one opened and that it was the Anglican Church that introduced the concept to Cornwall.
We feel sure that the non-conformists quickly followed and although we cannot say when they opened their first Sunday school, there are a number of newspaper reports which suggest that they soon began to address the needs of the young members of their congregations. This article from the “Royal Cornwall Gazette” of the 23rd March 1805 makes it clear that their activities were not limited to religion. “The gentlemen of Bodmin, have engaged in the laudable undertaking of establishing a free Sunday school at that place, for the purpose of teaching the children of poor persons, reading, writing and arithmetic”.
Of course, Sunday schools offered religious instruction but the chance of basic tuition in what we now refer to as the three “Rs” was a great opportunity and many parents took advantage of it. One attraction was that it was provided on a Sunday, leaving the rest of the week free for the children to contribute to the family income. The children probably liked the idea too as unlike the main services, it was directly aimed at their age group. It is reasonable to believe that these “schools” offered some sort of refreshment from the outset and there are certainly early reports of “tea-drinking” events. The use of such inducements to attend should not seem strange considering the awarding of attendance prizes and the advent of pleasurable events like tea treats in future years.
There is no doubting that the “tea treat,” or whatever name it was first given, originated as a religious procession. The annual parades, led by the banner bearers and a group of musicians, was a demonstration of the strength of the chapel and of the faith of those taking part. The gatherings began as acts of devotion, but this noble purpose was soon combined with the enjoyment of great social occasions in the life of the local chapels. They included entertainment, games, elaborate refreshments, the opportunity to parade the latest fashions and, at some unknown date, the enjoyment of chomping through the famous tea treat buns.
Cedric Appleby in “Methodist Tea-Treats in Cornwall” (1) wrote that in the early days, some Sunday schools combined to hold tea treats, but by the mid-1800s this had changed, and individual Sunday schools held their own. The type of tea treat and its location was very much in the hands of the school leaders, so any idea that there was a universal adoption of a particular type of event, or when they evolved into other formats, is not suggested. Perhaps though, there were external factors and general shifts in attitudes that contributed to a model shared by many Sunday schools across the years.
It is likely that the events, or treats, as they are now recalled, evolved rather than arrived as a blue flash and as tea often featured in these, the use of the term “tea treat” was not a huge step. It seems that the name “Gala” was used in some cases but in all respects, it appeared to be no different from a tea treat. Indeed, it has been said that in north Cornwall there were puzzled looks when the term “tea treat” was mentioned.
Our thanks go to all organisations and individuals, whether named or not, who have provided information and photographs for this project.
If you own the copyright to any of the photographs included, and have not been acknowledged, then please let us know and you will either be credited, or the photographs removed.
- See suggested further reading at the end of the final section: “Tea Treat Day”
- Cedric Appleby quotes are taken from his paper “Methodist Tea-Treats in Cornwall” written for the Cornwall Association of Local Historians Journal No. 58 Autumn 2009