The his­tory of our fa­mous tea cad­dies

Mar­garet Scott shares her fas­ci­na­tion with one of the mag­a­zine’s most pop­u­lar tra­di­tions – the tea caddy.

The People's Friend - - This Week -

OUR birth­day is­sue wouldn’t be com­plete with­out a look back at one of our most pop­u­lar gifts to read­ers – the “Friend” tea caddy. This “gift”, which had to be earned by writ­ing a let­ter to Un­cle Jack, made its de­but in 1909.

“We have plea­sure in in­tro­duc­ing to our read­ers a new and highly ac­cept­able ‘Peo­ple’s Friend’ prize. From an em­i­nent firm of tea mer­chants we have se­cured a large num­ber. The tea is of the best qual­ity.”

Be­fore Un­cle Jack set up the Let­ters Page, read­ers sent in queries which ap­peared in the back pages of the mag­a­zine. Un­der Un­cle Jack, they were en­cour­aged to in­dulge in a longer, more en­ter­tain­ing cor­re­spon­dence.

Dur­ing the war years, the tea caddy to be won car­ried images of war heroes – there was one of Kitch­ener in 1915 – and Un­cle Jack had sharp words for some who were avoid­ing their pa­tri­otic duty . . .

“There are thou­sands of ‘strong young men’ who haven’t gone yet, and ap­par­ently have no in­ten­tion of go­ing. They be­long, for the most part, to the com­fort­able and well-off classes. Our work­ing lads have done their duty nobly.”

His “nieces and neph­ews” wrote on all man­ner of top­ics, in­clud­ing what they did, how they lived, anec­dotes or sim­ply points of view.

“I first saw the Peo­ple’s Friend in a farm­house in On­tario. In sum­mer Cana­dian farm­ers have to ‘make hay while the sun shines’, so the pa­per was laid away for week­end read­ing. In the long win­ter evenings all the back num­bers were brought out and read again.”

One fas­ci­nat­ing as­pect of the let­ters is re­vis­it­ing his­toric events through the pen of an or­di­nary reader.

One man tells us his grand­fa­ther was res­cued by Grace Dar­ling from the

For­farshire in 1838. From 1930 comes this haunt­ing ac­count of the Tay Bridge Dis­as­ter:

“Lately, when read­ing about the old Tay Bridge, I won­dered how many saw the first and last train on it.

“On an af­ter­noon in June 1877 we were al­lowed out of school to go to the foot of the road to see the first train cross the Tay Bridge.

“On De­cem­ber 28, 1879, we were sit­ting round the fire lis­ten­ing to the storm out­side, when my fa­ther said, ‘This wind will test the bridge; we’ll watch how the train gets on.’

“We saw the train en­ter the bridge; it just crawled along. Some­one sug­gested putting out the light. We turned to see this done and when we looked out again we saw nei­ther the train nor the lights on the bridge. Next morn­ing, af­ter the pa­per came, we went to see the gap. It was hard to re­alise what had hap­pened.”

The style of the cad­dies changed again and again, and till re­cently we’ve known lit­tle of their ori­gins.

We did have one tin box from the 1920s bear­ing the words “A Present from ‘The Peo­ple’s Friend’”. On close in­spec­tion, how­ever, our ea­gle-eyed Edi­tor spot­ted writ­ing on the hinges of the very rusted, rather bat­tered box.

Hud­son Scott & Sons, Ltd, Carlisle, Eng­land.

This firm be­gan mak­ing tin boxes in 1896, and did so till wartime, when they made mu­ni­tions in­stead.

We still can’t make out the im­age on the front – the Scot­tish fid­dler, Niel Gow, per­haps.

My per­sonal favourite is our su­perb 1940s caddy. Made of pewter, it has a strik­ingly mod­ern shape.

This tea caddy was sent out to read­ers mi­nus the tea, which was ra­tioned!

The mod­ern, stylish tin we give present-day read­ers is cer­tain to turn up in the fu­ture, and new gen­er­a­tions raised on noth­ing but tea bags may puzzle over it.

Nev­er­the­less, few things beat a pot of tea made with real loose leaves – at least, that’s what I be­lieve! ■

Per­haps a few ex­am­ples of these are in at­tics wait­ing to be un­earthed.

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