I am always amazed by serendipity. Two thoughts came together for me today at approximately the same time. The first was when I was rummaging through my photo archives to find the photos documenting a visit to Wilberforce House Museum in Kingston upon Hull, United Kingdom. The second came to me by way of an e-mail from On This Day with the announcement that today, on January 10, 1839, tea from India first arrived in the United Kingdom.
For those who read my post, “The Group of Twenty-Two,” you may recall that one of the twenty-two reformers who met on the night of June 16, 1824 at “Old Slaughter’s Coffee House” was William Wilberforce. What they discussed that evening had far-reaching consequences that have extended into the 21st Century. Twenty-two people believed that it was possible to stop cruelty to animals, to change the way society views other lives who share the earth. That night marked the genesis of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the first animal welfare charity to be founded in the world.
William Wilberforce was a British politician, philanthropist, and a champion of many causes and campaigns that led to dramatic changes in the way that society viewed injustice. He is best known for leading the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade. He worked twenty years towards this goal, a life ambition. He would live to see that the passage of the Slave Abolition Act 1833 was assured. He died three days later.
You can understand why I was excited about visiting the home where William Wilberforce lived and where his journal is kept. What slipped my mind, was that on the same day as our visit to Wilberforce House, we stopped by Holy Trinity Church which has now be renamed as Hull Minster. A massive restoration project was underway, but the music was playing, and tea was being served. There was a reverent welcome to all who entered.
The popularity of tea increased rapidly during the 17th and 18th century. Some believe it became the preferred choice of beverage because of its status among men as a therapeutic drink that could remedy a wide array of ailments. Coffeehouses, like the Old Slaughter’s Coffee House, where elite gentlemen met, enabled this escalating trend. Women followed the lead of Princess Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese future queen consort of England, who made tea fashionable among aristocratic women. In beginning days, tea was precious and kept safe in locked boxes.
The Industrial Revolution was in full swing. How a simple, now ubiquitous, beverage came to have major social, political and economic consequences is a wider narrative that speaks to our present-day reality. Even then, the power of globalization was felt, influencing society, consumer demand, and supplying needed capital to finance factories and providing much needed calories, via sugar in tea, for a growing workforce.
Society, nations, progress are marked by ordinary men and women who live boldly during times of transitions. Perhaps they are not that ordinary.