Wartime Wallington tea revealed to visitors

Tea the Trevelyan Way at Wallington.'Carol Mason enjoys an afternoon tea.'JCMH wallingtontea4
Tea the Trevelyan Way at Wallington.'Carol Mason enjoys an afternoon tea.'JCMH wallingtontea4

A TASTE of wartime Wallington is on offer to visitors in a unique new experience.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939 life changed dramatically for the residents of Wallington as they were invaded by more than 100 evacuees.

Many of the children were to stay throughout the war, only returning to their families in Newcastle for Christmas and special occasions.

However, their parents were able to visit the youngsters and one weekend the lady of the house, Lady Mary Trevelyan, known as Molly, hit on the idea of selling them tea and refreshments for tuppence a cup. She noted in her diary that she ‘made a tidy profit on the transaction’.

Now modern day visitors can get a flavour of just what was on offer to the families by taking Tea The Trevelyan Way.

A spare room in the house that was previously used as a temporary exhibition space and Santa’s grotto has been transformed into a 1940s dining room.

And for £5.99 visitors can enjoy tea or coffee, a selection of three finger sandwiches and a scone or a slice of Victoria sponge, ginger cake or Dundee cake — a favourite bake of Lady Trevelyan.

Visitor Experience Manager Gillian Mason said: “We weren’t trying to make a replica of a Lyons’ tea room from the 1940s, we wanted to capture the spirit of what Lady Trevelyan did when she served tea.

“We don’t have tablecloths on all of the tables and we don’t want visitors to expect a high-end tea served on a tiered stand. There is no matching crockery and the tables have been gathered from different places because that is what the Trevelyans would have had to do.”

The idea for the venture stems from the National Trust’s desire to breathe more life into its managed properties and find new ways of telling their stories.

As part of that process the Trust teamed up with performing arts company the November Club last year to tell some of Wallington’s tales, particularly those of the Trevelyan family, through a series of promenade performances titled Tea Cups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers.

The production included references to the evacuees, as well as a tenants’ party, which proved a winning combination.

Ms Mason said: “The National Trust right across the country is trying to bring places to life, to capture the spirit of a place and try to give a flavour of the people who lived there. We started thinking how we could tell the Trevelyan story. We started to do some of that ourselves through displays, but we also invited the November Club to create a promenade performance.

“Part of that was based on the old tenants’ tea party when everyone came together for tea. It is definitely a challenge to bring catering into a National Trust property because of the conservation aspect, but it worked.

“We were also thinking about Molly’s war diaries and read about the parents visiting the evacuees and her selling tea to them so we began to think it may be something we could offer.

“We already have the Clocktower Cafe, but that is more family orientated, with big tables where families can sit and chat together and the children can run around. Tea The Trevelyan Way would offer a different experience.

“Sometimes when people visit stately homes they tend to talk in hushed voices as they look around. We want to bring the atmosphere that the Trevelyans had back to Wallington and we thought this was a nice way to do it.”

Working with November Club researcher and 1940s expert Imogen Cloet, the team set about visiting markets, shops and warehouses to gather authentic crockery and props for the ‘tea room’. Wallington volunteers also donated to the cause, with one even handing over her parents’ wedding present china.

The dining room is now complete with a mix of antique and replica furniture, china and serving utensils, old photographs and handmade tea cosies, while wartime music plays on a mock gramophone. Waiting staff wear plus fours or 1940s pinnies, and there is even a cup and saucer that was stapled together by Lewis Casson, who enjoyed nothing more than repairing the Trevelyans’ china when he stayed with the family with his wife Sybil Thorndike.

Around the walls are pictures of some of the evacuees, which give a glimpse of what they experienced.

Ms Mason said: “The Trust took on this property in the 1960s and when people came to visit they started to tell us that they were evacuated here. We have got the stories from the visitors.

“There were 113 children evacuated here, all girls, and mostly from Elswick Road Girls’ School in Newcastle. I think if you had to be evacuated it would be one of the best places to come and most of the evacuees we have spoken to recall happy memories, apart from one who hated it and called it Cambo Colditz.

“In the photographs you can see them wearing different things, like big hats that they must have made. The Trevelyans were very much into amateur dramatics so the girls could have been putting on a show. They would swim in the Wansbeck and play on the green. Because they were on the estate there would be a lot of home-grown vegetables, rabbits and game, and in Lady Mary’s war diaries she says a lot of the girls had put on weight since arriving so they must have been eating quite well.

“Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan was a socialist and he was not in favour of war so if there was a choice of having army billeted in the house or evacuees, he would probably prefer the evacuees.”

Ms Mason hopes the tea experience will encourage visitors to ask more questions about Wallington’s history, and the Trust has also created The Wallington Post newspaper, which will be available in the tea room to show what life would have been like.

The tea will be trialled throughout the season to October and if it is a success it may be continued next year.

“We are just trying this out for the rest of the season and will then evaluate it,” said Ms Mason.

“Once we have done that we can think about continuing it, growing it or changing it. Maybe we could have this kind of tea served from 12 until 2pm, with a high-end tea from 3pm to 4pm. We’ll have to see how it goes.”

Tea The Trevelyan Way is served daily, except Tuesdays, from noon to 4pm.