Highbury Barn Tavern and its sumptuous past

Highbury Barn Tavern

For many Arsenal supporters the Highbury Barn Tavern is a place to have a drink or meal before and after a match and to soak up the atmosphere before they stroll to the stadium, but did you know this was one of the most popular and talked about establishments throughout London in the 1800’s.

Highbury Barn started life as a small ale and cake house  in 1840, during these times Londoners flocked to drink milk that was still warm from the cow, and to eat cakes dipped in cream, custards plus many other dairy dishes. Highbury Barn grew into a tavern with tea-gardens and as trade increased the barn was extended and fitted out to the highest standard.

The enterprising owners added a hop plantation and brewery and added a bowling green with trap and ball ( a very old game played in England since the Middle Ages)grounds to compliment the tea gardens. It became widely known as a hub for public dinners for corporate bodies, public charities, clubs, and many other societies and could justly boast  that this magnificent location was one of the most popular venues for food and entertainment anywhere in London or its environs. It is hard to imagine today but over 1,500 guests could be accommodated at this hostelry with 800 people at any one time sitting down to a hot dinner and where you had the sight of seventy geese roasting on the one fire.

Highbury Barn was the scene of many festive celebrations and became renowned for its public entertainment with a hotel, public gardens, and a regularly licensed theatre along with  a sumptuous dancing saloon. Locals in the area did not share or support this place of entertainment and felt the area was becoming run down as a result of the loose morals attached to this establishment. After continuous complaints and petitions from the local residents the dancing licence for Highbury Barn was refused in 1871. It is believed that the final straw came when a riotous party of students from St Bartholomew’s hospital got out of hand.

During the opulent times of Highbury Barn in the 1800’s these were the customs and ettiquette that afternoon entailed:

Cream Tea was a simple tea consisting of scones, clotted cream, marmalade or lemon curd and tea.

Low Tea or Afternoon Tea was an afternoon meal which included sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, curd with 2-3 sweets and tea, it was known as “low tea” because guests were seated in low armchairs with low side-tables on which to place their cups and saucers.

Royale Tea was a social tea that was served with champagne at the beginning or sherry at the end of the tea.

High Tea although perceived  as an idea of elegancy and regal-ness was in fact an evening meal which was most often enjoyed around 6 pm as labourers and miners returned home. High tea consists of meat and potatoes as well as other foods and tea. It was not exclusively a working class meal but was adopted by all social groups. Families with servants often took high tea on Sundays in order to allow the maids and butlers time to go to church and not worry about cooking an evening meal for the family.

The etiquette for those attending tea parties in Highbury Barn would have commenced with a greeting and a handshake, after sitting down the lady puts her purse on her lap or against the chair back, the napkin is then unfolded on the persons lap. Sugar is placed in the cup first and then a thinly sliced lemon however milk and lemon must never be mixed together the milk always goes in after the tea is poured. An old French superstition says that to put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross the path of love and perhaps never to marry.”

The correct order when eating on a tea tray is to eat savouries first, scones next and sweets last. However it is best to eat the scones first while they are hot and then move on to the savouries followed by sweets.

Scones must be split horizontally with a knife and curd and cream is then placed on the plate, the knife is used to put cream and curd on each bite then eat with fingers neatly.

The spoon always goes behind the cup and you should never leave the spoon in the cup. The correct holding of the cup is not to put your pinky finger “up”. A guest should look into the teacup when drinking never over it.

The birth of the raised pinkie goes back to ancient Rome when a cultured person would eat with 3 fingers and a commoner with five, today this 3 fingers etiquette rule is still correct when picking up food with the fingers and handling various pieces of flatware. This pinky “up” descended from a misinterpretation of the 3 fingers vs 5 fingers dining etiquette in the 11th century, in fact tea cups originally did not even have handles. Chinese tea bowls were used as the first European teacups and the English continued to make cups without handles in the traditional Chinese style until the middle 1700’s when a handle was added to prevent the ladies from burning their fingers. The saucer was once a small dish for sauce. In Victorian days, tea drinkers poured their tea into saucers to cool before sipping, this was perfectly acceptable.

Today you can visit The Highbury Barn Tavern and feast on this locations fantastic history, this traditional iconic London pub offers the finest food and drink and Footie fans can get three chances to eat during match nights with its quickie menu before the game or dining and viewing during the game, or dinner afterwards.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Highbury Barn Tavern and its sumptuous past « londonerculture | First Night History

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