To put today’s post in context, first, a bit of background.
It all started with Rutherford House. For those not familiar with Edmonton lore, Rutherford House is historic building on the University of Alberta campus, and the former residence of Alexander Cameron Rutherford, the first premier of Alberta and a chancellor of the university. He built the house in 1911, on a lot which was at that time close but not part of the campus, and named it Achnacarry after the Rutherford family’s ancestral castle in Scotland. Rutherford House, as it has since become known, is now open to the public who can view its restored period beauty and the many historic artifacts donated by the descendants of Alexander Cameron Rutherford. More importantly for my story, the building also houses a cozy tea room called the Arbour Restaurant. There, in a lovely sun room, you can partake of the delicious ritual known as afternoon high tea.
You may not know this, but I am a bit of an Anglophile, particularly when it comes to history and literature. Some of my favourite authors include Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie – and if you’re at all familiar with their works, you have probably read at least one tantalizing description of that most English of habits, the afternoon tea. It’s safe to say that, having read and re-read these classics for the better part of two decades, I have partaken (in spirit, at least) in a few dozens of them. Although my ancestors never stepped foot within a thousand miles of the British Isles, there is something about afternoon tea that feels very much like “home”.
There may be other places in Edmonton that still serve high tea – and the mandatory, oh-so-mouth-watering crustless cucumber sandwiches – but none can rival the atmosphere of Rutherford House. The setting, of course, plays a large part; but so does the presentation. Tea at Rutherford House is served in beautiful (and mismatched) English bona china tea cups of varying designs – an aesthetic choice which has fascinated me ever since my first visit. I was determined to recreate it for myself by collecting my own set of tea cups, with the goal of one day serving a very proper afternoon high tea.That goal remained unrealized for years, as such projects are wont to do. But that all changed recently.
I found my first tea cup, quite by happenstance, at the north side Super Flea Market on a Sunday afternoon not long ago. I didn’t go there looking for it, so you could say that it found me, rather than the other way around. With the wild roses in full bloom this time of year, how could I resist?
The lady who sold it to me also gave me a brief history of English bone china, most of which I have already forgotten, sadly. This particular tea cup was made under the Royal Albert brand, which might count as a happy coincidence considering my interest in the Victorian period; I decided to stick to the same brand when looking for additional pieces.
This particular tea cup has the “Alberta Rose” pattern, which seems to have been part of a series called Flora. I would love to find other patterns from the same series; the black background makes the pattern really stand out, and looks ever so elegant.
Not long after, I found my second tea cup, this time at the south side Goodwill.
I love how dainty this pattern looks – it reminds me of an old-fashioned embroidered hankie. Does anyone, beside my grandmother, still carry those?
The pattern is actually called “Jubilee Rose”; very appropriate for this year.
I looked in a few places for this next pattern (the “Petit Point”), until I managed to find it at the smaller of the two antique mall places on Gateway Boulevard for a reasonable $8; elsewhere it was much pricier. But it was so pretty, I knew I wanted it in my collection.
A word on the aforementioned antique malls; I would recommend the smaller one (further south from Whyte Ave) because the prices are far better – at least on tea cups – than at the big Strathcona Antique Mall. The latter, while it offers greater selection, has prices that are sometimes ridiculously inflated (in my opinion) – the same tea cup was $16, for example.
One more look!
My comment above notwithstanding, I did end up buying one of my cups at the big antique mall for the (relatively bargain) price of $13; not a great deal, to be sure, but I love forget-me-nots. What can I say? I’m a sucker for blue flowers.
Not surprisingly, this pattern is called “Forget Me Not”
The most recent addition to my collection also came courtesy of Goodwill. The pattern is rather more sophisticated, and has an almost Rococo flavour.
The saucer is really stunning!
This pattern is the “Lady Carlyle”, though I prefer to think of it as my “Marie Antoinette” set.
And here is a look at my entire collection as it currently stands:
My ultimate goal is to have a 12-piece set, all in different patterns, all Royal Albert of course. I am going to take my time finding just the right pieces, and hopefully not lose my head (and my wallet) in the process. Other than continuing to scope Goodwill, I am planning to diversify my search to include Kijiji, garage sales, and other second-hand shops; the hunt is part of the fun, after all. And in the meantime, next time you’re feeling nostalgic for a bit of old English charm, tea’s on me!