Whittard Chelsea 1886
A tale of wit, wisdom and a man called Walter…
Along with a fondness for sideburns, crinolines and cucumber sandwiches, the Victorians knew the value of a good cup of tea. None more so than our founder Walter Whittard, born in 1861 to a family of successful leather merchants but destined to pursue his principal passion: to source the finest quality tea, coffee and cocoa from across the globe. His was a tale of the most refined connoisseurship, inspired by no shortage of imagination…
Walter sets up shop
Back in 1886, when gas lamps lit the city streets and horse-drawn carriages careered round corners, Walter set up shop on Fleet Street at the tender age of twenty five. It proved to be one of the busiest years yet for the British tea industry: just two years later imports of tea grown by the British in India reached 86 million lbs, eventually exceeding imports from China. Cynics dismissed the trading boom as a storm in a teacup, but the floodgates had opened and the Fleet Street store was swept up in the success. Filled floor-to-ceiling with vast jars of loose leaf tea, exotic coffee caddies and tightly wrapped paper packages of cocoa, the little shop was a wealth of sights and scents…
The real secret of Walter’s success? The special blends he developed for his customers. Walter had a knack for the art of infusion and a palate to match the most cultivated of gourmands: not for him the grey gruel of plain breakfast tea or curdled coffee. He knew how to tailor each taste to his customer’s needs
A century of brave new brews
Word soon got out about the extraordinary new tastes conjured up from behind Walter’s high mahogany counter, and it wasn't long before the business outgrew its humble origins. In the 1890s Walter bade farewell to the little shop on Fleet Street and moved to London's 'Street of Tea', Mincing Lane, where his expertise was much in demand at the bustling tea auctions of the London Commercial Salesrooms.
As the new century arrived no spread of scones and sandwiches was complete without a ‘Whittard Original’ blend, and lawyers at the Inns of Court were heard clamouring for Walter’s famous ‘Barrister's Refresher’. His 'Opportunity Blend' inspired hope during the economic depression of the 1930s – so much so, that this particular tea called for its own floor of the ever-expanding Whittard warehouse.
True british spirit
War was declared in 1939, but the business marched valiantly on, even with both brothers enlisted in the army. But this show of British grit was no match for the Luftwaffe. In 1940, Blitz attacks blew the Whittard warehouses sky high – not helped by the crates of the brothers’ very best ‘Gunpowder’ green tea. It was going to take more than a cuppa to solve this one...
Undeterred, Hugh and Dick set about establishing new premises on the Fulham Road, and it didn't take long for their coterie of loyal customers to make Chelsea their new tea-time hotspot. The war passed, rations were over, and the coronation of the young Queen Elizabeth in 1953 ushered in a whole new era of tea and cake – Walter would have thoroughly approved.
- Present Day
Today we remain true to our founder’s philosophy: to buy the best and blend the brightest. From brave new brews and innovative equipment to classic chinaware and old-time favourites, our constantly expanding collection has been over a century in the making. 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