by Claire Phan
As a little girl I would visit my nan every Sunday, unlock her china cabinet and carefully handle her beautiful tea set. She’d been given this as a wedding gift in 1956. I’d spend hours playing with the tea cups, pretending to hold tea parties. I was enchanted by their delicacy, the pretty rose design and gold gilding.
These were keep for ‘good’ and I loved it when special visitors came and they were used. The tea seemed to taste better, the sandwiches looked daintier, the cakes more elegant, and the whole occasion extra special. It was here that my love affair with afternoon tea and vintage china started.
When my boyfriend proposed I knew exactly what kind of wedding I wanted. A few years earlier we’d attended the Royal garden party at Buckingham palace and I wanted to recreate that, but with alcohol and perhaps on a smaller scale.
We chose a venue in Northumberland for its beautiful gardens and flexible owner. She agreed to an outdoor afternoon tea, but we’d have to supply the vintage crockery.
And so began my monumental mission of sourcing enough vintage crockery for over 100 people. I wanted to have china which complimented the colour scheme, each person to have a matching trio (teacup, saucer and side plate), to have a selection which spanned from the 1920s to 1950s, for it to be beautiful and useable.
For two years I became obsessed! I couldn’t pass a charity shop without popping in. I visited church fairs, jumble sales, car boot sales, I bought from relatives of the deceased, family members kindly gave me theirs, I was constantly on eBay. My poor fiancé was demented. He started referring to it as ‘operation china’.
I’m a real perfectionist, so not all the crockery we sourced was kept. Without physically inspecting, it is difficult to see the condition. We spent hours deciding which to use. We made our own 3-tier cake stands out of vintage china plates, to ensure everything co-ordinated.
Our sourcing didn’t stop at crockery, we always kept our eyes open for authentic vintage props. We were lucky enough to find some stunning vintage leather suitcases in a French market, and a vintage croquet caddy at a vintage fair. Vintage books were sourced from everywhere and we came across a 1930’s typewriter at an auction.
Two years later, we’d spent a small fortune and our home had slowly filled with boxes, crates and lots of bubble wrap.
The attention we’d paid to the small details really showed. Everything looked incredibly beautiful on our wedding day, just like I’d imagined. And as it was a ‘good’ occasion, I drank from one of my nans wedding teacups.
I’ve been married a few years now, I’m still obsessed and the collection keeps growing. It’s now available for hire in London and South East England.
Visit www.vintageteaparty.co to learn more about us and to view our beautiful collection.