The streets along the River Thames during the late 1800s were teaming with vendors. There were stalls selling tea and coffee day and night. The quality of the drinks and food offered was poor and would not have attracted any but poorer working folk, but at least the workers could get some refreshment at the start or end of their day.
In 1877, John Diprose wrote in London Life,
“a cup of hot coffee at the modest charge of one penny … the dark brown muddy fluid, that bears no other affinity to the decoction you asked for … equally suspicious tea is also to be had here, and for the masticatory delights, slices of bread plastered with strong-smelling butter or grease, and dark, dusty segments of stony plum cake.”
But politicians didn’t have to mix with the workers as they searched for refreshment. The tea room and tea terrace of the House of Parliament were then (and are still) vital locations in which politicians gathered for private conversation.
In July 1896, a new caterer was brought in to manage the tea facilities at Westminster. Mrs. Moss proved a big financial success, with her strawberries, ice, tea, cream and biscuits yielding a return of over £25 per week. The Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s Gazette recorded the universal approval, especially from the temperance members “who hold that it is better for a law-giver to take tea in the open air, than whisky under cover. Tea on the Terrace is, as a daily contemporary puts it, a politician’s ‘highest education.’”
Parliament continues this little perk for its members, and commoners too can book a teatime in this historic room as part of a Houses of Parliament Guided Tour.