Shadows of Empire

Words by Kairen Kemp


Taking Tea at Preston Manor

How many times to we say “I’m dying for a cuppa”? Well Brighton Preston Manor are launching a hard-hitting interactive experience, not suitable for under 12s, exposing the reality of the tea trade through history.

Shadows of Empire: Taking Tea at Preston Manor explores the reality of the nation’s favourite drink and reveals a shocking dark side including exploitation of workers, theft and links to the nineteenth century opium drug wars.

One interactive element will be to experience a ship as it sails the tea trade route from Britain to China. Researchers have also discovered that furniture on display in the Macquoid Room in Preston Manor was gifted by Teresa Macquoid, whose family wealth came from the Opium Wars after China tried to stop the influx of opium flooding the country from Britain. Visitors will follow a trail around the house with each room introducing a different aspect of the history of tea.

One room will focus on Lady Ellen Stanford who used to own Preston Manor and donated it to the city of Brighton on her death in 1932. Like many women of her social class, taking tea was an elegant way to entertain friends and acquaintances using beautiful cups and teapots. 

Another room will describe how the East India Company stole tea plants from China to transport to India to grow in the ‘British Raj’, the countries of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and at times, Burma, Somaliland, Singapore and Sri Lanka. The plantations exploited both land and labour. The growing of tea involved extensive deforestation which harmed the environment and the lives of indigenous people were disrupted in these areas.

At the end, visitors will be invited to enjoy a cup of tea courtesy of The Tea People, an ethical social enterprise that seeks to eliminate poverty in tea-growing regions, to illustrate that we can still satisfy our urge for tea without doing harm.

Interactive elements have been created by Pier Pressure who have created escape rooms in the city and sound artist composer Helen Anahita Wilson has created the soundscape.

Joint Head of Culture Change Simone LaCorbinière said: “We’re not telling a twee story of gentlewomen daintily sipping afternoon tea. We’re looking behind the plush curtains of Preston Manor at what we, as a country, were prepared to do to keep the tea coming in”.

Saturdays & Sundays from 29 June to 27 October. Slots available between 11am & 4pm.

Steven Graham
Author: Steven Graham

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