Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A nice cup of Earl Grey anyone?

I used to listen to radio 4 then they started Radio 7 - which was largely repeats of old comedy and drama shows - and I changed my allegiance (except for the Archers and odd documentaries). Now they've changed Radio 7 to Radio 4 Extra and it's different so I'm back on Radio 4. And now I remember what was so good about it.

This morning while driving I heard a fascinating programme about Earl Grey. I think it's part of a series about Prime Ministers - yes, he was a PM. Back in the nineteenth century.

He began life as a spoiled Tory and during an affair with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was converted to the Whig party and the idea of reform. It wasn't until he was PM in his sixties that the Reform Act (RA for short) happened though.

I'm aware, naturally, of the suffragettes but the idea that all men didn't originally have the vote hadn't sunk in. Before the RA only a couple of hundred men were allowed to vote and there were anomalies: Sarum, which was non-existent by then I believe, still had two seats in parliament while Manchester had none.

Although it was called the Reform Act after it, it was still only men owning a house worth more than £10 could vote. Earl Grey himself never envisaged or wanted universal suffrage just a fairer system. But it was the start - of the rot as some Tories would have claimed - and was followed eventually by many other reforms including the abolition of slavery and the child labour act.

So Earl Grey was a very significant figure yet most of us only know of him as a blend of tea. And that's another story.

When he was PM an ambassador of his went to China and somehow managed to rescue somebody - I had to pop out of the car at this point - and the Chinese rewarded him with a cask of specially blended tea. When the ambassador returned to England he presented this to the PM who enjoyed it so much he sent a sample of Twinings Tea Company and the master blenders there recreated the blend. It was the custom then for individuals (rich I'm guessing because tea was so expensive it was kept in locked cabinets) to create and select their own favourite blends and records were kept of these under that person's name. Thus it became known as Earl Grey's blend.

I am a mass of useless information. Which will stay in my brain for about 6 hours before gradually dissolving.

1 comment:

Leslie: said...

Earl Grey is a favourite blend with lots of people I know. However, I prefer the blacker blends as I've come to prefer milk in my tea, like the Brits. And Earl Grey, in my humble opinion is better clear. Fascinating history of how the blend came about! And don't forget it...lol