History of the Garden Party

We’ve recently been working with Aspinal of London on how to create the perfect garden party this summer season. What could be more quintessentially British than a garden party? A highlight of any summer social calendar, finger sandwiches, tea and cake on a sunny afternoon has become a tradition, and we have the Royal Family to thank for it. To find out more about its origins and discover why the garden party has become so enveloped in British culture, we delved into the history, from its noble beginnings to its modern incarnation.

Victorian Beginnings

Queen Victoria laid the foundations for today’s garden parties in the 1860s when she began to host ‘breakfasts’. Despite the name, they were held in the afternoon as they are now. Open only to fellow Royals, officials and nobility, they took the place of debutante presentation parties. Despite a change in format, garden parties still offered the opportunity for debutantes to be presented to the Court and this practice continued well into the 1950s.

A Spot of Tea

As tea imported from the colonies flooded Great Britain, it soon claimed its place as the national drink and high society took to pausing for afternoon tea between four and five o’clock. Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, was the first to adopt the daily ritual in 1840 and it soon caught on, evolving from a quick pick-me-up taken privately to an established social event. When she began to host her breakfasts, Queen Victoria co-opted afternoon tea on a much grander scale and so tea and sandwiches became the traditional fare of the British garden party.

A Shift in Society

When Queen Elizabeth took the throne in 1952, the annual garden parties were still very much high society events; debutantes were presented and the attendees were strictly members of the nobility. However, the Queen sought to change this and by 1958, the debutante presentations were no more. From then on, garden parties became much more recognisable as the events we know now. A much more democratic, open affair, the palace used them as an opportunity to recognise and thank members of the public for notable contributions, whether through charitable work or the public services.

A British Tradition

Though rooted in Royalty, garden parties became a pastime to be enjoyed by every level of society thanks to the palace’s decision to extend their invitations beyond the nobility. As a result, the public embraced the tradition and it filtered down from the palace grounds into gardens across Britain; an essential facet of summer social calendars.

If you would like more information around how to create the perfect garden party menu, head over to Aspinal of London to read Alex Head’s top tips.