Tea Caddies and a Ghostly Tale thereof . . .
I did say I might write about tea caddies . . .(smacks paw against making such rash promises in the future) . . once I had recovered from talking about teapots. However, I see so much already written about them, I feel justified in limiting myself to a couple of details, and inviting the reader to peruse the following post by @GeorgianGent : The Tea Caddy Revisited
Again, like teapots, these items came in a range of shapes, from straightforward boxes to apples and pears; from miniature desks to barrels (see examples in Mr M. Rendell’s blog)
As for the word tea itself (and this too has been pointed out elsewhere): it has an etymology that I find strangely satisfying – actually indicating what route the commodity took to reach western shores.
‘Teh’, for example, is its denomination in Indonesia and Malaysia, whence it crossed the seas over to Italy, Spain and France, before making its way with Catherine of Braganza and Charles II to the British drawing room – and in all three Latin languages it is called té, or thé (thence likewise in Dutch and German thee or Tee).
Meanwhile, the use of the word cha or char in Chinese, Russian, Persian, Urdu– suggests land routes taken, including the Ancient Tea Route starting from Sichuan Province in mainland China: (http://www.silkroadfoundation.org/newsletter/2004vol2num1/tea.htm).
(Other links relating to tea caddies:
And the details that tickle me in particular are : that caddy derives from the Malaysian word ‘kati’ or measure (approximately a little over half a kilo); and that some of them were designed to have a secret compartment – like writing desks . . . so I could not resist writing up a very short ghost tale around one . . .
(Click on cover below to read in Issuu form with zoom capacity)
The year : 1929
The place : An antique dealer’s.
‘Nice piece. Very nice. Shall we say, knock a guinea off for the slight damage on the corner there?’
‘Well, perhaps a shilling or two.’
‘Knock off the guinea, and I’ll take it now, as it is.’
‘You are a shrewd customer, Mr Anshaw – you know a good thing when you see it,’ chuckled the antique dealer.
Edgar Anshaw certainly did know a good thing when he saw it; shrewd was the polite word used to his face. What the antique dealer said later on to his colleagues was less flattering – and rather curious.
‘He is welcome to his guinea – he won’t be able to get rid of it fast enough, mark my words, and then we’ll see what he makes of it, the skinflint.’
‘Is that the caddy from Portland House ?’ asked one of them, raising an eyebrow.
The antique dealer nodded, just the once.
‘Well, sooner him than me,’ was the general comment.
Mrs Anshaw displayed much delight at the wonderful inlay and warm, glowing veneer of the caddy – it was immediately instated with full honours on the sideboard.
‘Do you think it is safe to keep tea in it ? Weren’t some of them lined with lead ?’
‘My dear, it was the one of the first things I checked – it is a little older than that, and made entirely of wood – with an old silver tray on the inside which has worn a little thin.’
‘I shall line that with tissue paper- I have some left from Worth’s which would be perfect.’
And Mrs Anshaw duly proceeded to line and fill the caddy; she stood back to admire the general effect: on either side, a couple of vases with purple primulas complemented it perfectly. Behind it, the huge Georgian silver teapot.
A rattle of teaspoons roused her from her reverie – ‘That will be Amy – it must be later than I thought.’ She turned to remind the maid about the visitors due that afternoon – but Amy had already left the room.
‘What a lovely colour,’
‘Doesn’t it look splendid with the primulas ?’
‘A delightful thing.’
‘How old did you say it was ?’
‘Edgar says at least early 1700s, if not earlier.’
‘Goodness. Beautiful inlay . . .’
The latest acquisition to the Anshaw collection was proving a great success – admiration, curiosity and mild envy in perfect measure which normally would have satisfied Mrs Anshaw mightily. However, she found herself somewhat distracted; twice she found herself pouring an extra cup for nobody in particular, and on several occasions she was convinced she heard the rattling of teaspoons on the tray by the door – when nobody was in fact standing there.
‘Are you all right, Emmeline ?’ asked one of her closest friends quietly while the others were still gathered around the caddy. ‘Only you seem a trifle nervous.’
‘Oh dear, do I ? It is the oddest sensation I have today, Mary – I keep counting how many of us there are – it always seems there are more people than I can see – isn’t that fanciful of me ?’
‘How very strange that you should mention that,’ replied her friend, widening her eyes, ‘for I have found myself turning my head to see who is by the door – but there never is anyone; now why do you think we have that feeling ?’
‘What’s that ?’ asked another of the guests, who had moved away from the group.
When they explained, she nodded her head to agree – and one by one, the whole gathering discovered they had each in one subtle way or another, sensed an extra, indistinct presence moving amongst them.
Somebody tapped the side of their cup with a spoon. Mrs Anshaw started. ‘I think I shall open the window,’ she announced suddenly. ‘Let a little fresh air and light in, as it is such a glorious day.’
‘Might chase away some of our fancies, too,’ murmured Mary to herself.
No more mention was made of the general sensation and by evening, Mrs Anshaw had managed to convince herself there had been nothing in it at all. Her husband arrived with friends from the club, and the rest of the evening proved a happy distraction until by bedtime, she had forgotten all about it.
Her dreams however, would not let her be. The following morning at breakfast Mr Anshaw was taken aback to see the change in his wife’s appearance.
‘You’re looking a trifle peaky, my dear – Hope you didn’t have anything that disagreed with you, yesterday ?’
‘I’m sure I don’t know what it was – but I hope not to go through another of the same,’ was his spouse’s only reply.
‘Dear me, . . perhaps a rest this afternoon will put you to rights – shall I send for the doctor ?’
Mrs Anshaw pooh-poohed the idea that she might be sickening for something.
‘Well, remember the concert this evening.’
‘Then I shall have a rest this afternoon if I feel the need. And now, have you seen this?’ Mrs Anshaw showed him an item in the morning paper about a forthcoming exhibition.
After Mr Anshaw had left, his good lady proceeded with her daily routine of planning meals with cook, calling a few friends and shopping for a new hat. If only to distract her from memories of her disturbed night. Shadowy figures, a man groaning in pain, a girl writhing in death agonies and all the while, the tea caddy looming large at the heart of it. She shuddered at the recollection and hurried on to the hat shop.
Once lunch had been dealt with, she felt relaxed enough to retire for half an hour’s rest with the latest edition of Vogue. ‘A particularly virulent cover,’ she thought, with a mild shudder at the shocking red hairstyle depicted.
She dozed off after a few minutes, lulled into that blissful semi-waking state that follows a full stomach and successful shopping, and came round to the welcome sounds of tea things being prepared. A shadow fell over her, and she peered through half-closed eyes at the maid carrying the tray across the room.
‘Goodness, Amy, what have you got on your head ?’
Amy did not reply. One of the spoons rattled on the tray and suddenly Mrs Anshaw was fully wide awake, cold with horror as she realised the woman in the room was not Amy, or anyone else she knew or had ever seen before. This woman was dressed in a large mobcap, had a full long dress, an apron and a lace shawl around her shoulders. She was now setting the tray on the table – with the tea caddy on it.
The woman paused, apparently thinking. Then she slowly reached out her hand towards the caddy. . .
The door opened and Amy walked in, pushing the trolley in front of her. In the moment it took for Mrs Anshaw to glance at her then back again – the figure had vanished. There was only Amy.
‘No, I am perfectly all right, really – but I do think there might be more to that tea caddy than we first thought.’
Mr Anshaw looked perturbed. It wasn’t like his wife to have hallucinations. He decided to withhold further judgement for the time being and waited until his wife had gone to bed before examining the caddy more carefully.
As he ran his fingers along the back of it, he encountered a faint irregularity in the surface. He retraced his movements and then pressed gently at the damaged corner. A small click explained all. A secret compartment.
‘Probably empty . . .oh no, there is a piece of paper,’ he murmured. ‘How intriguing. What is written here . . . “Lest we forget . . .this day, 1756, Hannah Wells, our maidservant, in most awful agony, did leave this life” . . . Dear me, I wonder Amy doesn’t take a little more care when she . . .’ He raised his eyes slowly as he perceived a movement by the door. It was not Amy moving things about, however ; this was quite another person. In mobcap, long dress, shawl and apron – in fact, the very image of the figure his wife had described earlier that day.
As he watched, the figure moved across the room, bearing a tray which she set on the table, precisely as she had done earlier in the day. She leant forward, reaching out her hand as if seeking something . . .then faded away.
It was almost dawn. Mr Anshaw had not stirred from his chair. The caddy, its compartment still open, sat before him. He was still there at breakfast when his wife came looking for him. It took several attempts to arouse him – indeed, he gave all the signs of having been drugged for at least an hour afterwards and only properly came out of it once the doctor had applied strong smelling salts.
The doctor could make little of it, and suggested a change of air and place, ‘and watch what you eat.’
Once recovered, Mr Anshaw paid another visit to his antique dealer, who, while not admitting to any similar experiences, showed him a catalogue from the original auction at Portland House.
‘Portland House – yes, here you are, 1760, belonged to one Thomas Hereford, a successful tea trader who kept a large retinue of servants, and an even larger collection of curiosities. . . among which, in the catalogue of effects sold off recently, a tea caddy made of a rare wood, brought back from the East. And here is a note, from the last auction :
‘ “Some few legends associated with the house counted one in relation to this particular tea caddy; a maid servant was allegedly poisoned by tea she had taken from the box while it was open – further enquiries showed the tea had been mixed with a strong opiate, which the master was in the habit of taking as a palliative against gout or similar ailment – he had grown so accustomed to the doses that he had increasingly augmented the quantity until only half of it would have floored an average man.
“The poor girl was buried in secret and the story goes that the master never opened the tea caddy again, collapsing a year later from an overdose, combined with general ill health, confessing to his part in concealing the maid’s death.
‘ “The collection was split up at the auction, and some attempt has been made recently to reassemble it by a Society(the Portland Protectors), although without much success. Anyone interested in contributing to the exhibition will not only be well recompensed, but also accredited and their names engraved on a plaque. . .” ’
Mr Anshaw requested the address, and a few days later, the tea caddy was duly packed, sent and received with much gratitude by the Society. Nothing further is known surrounding the caddy, which was kept on display in a cabinet, along with rare animal skulls, mystic oriental carvings and inexplicable instruments. If anybody else noted apparitions of a maid in a mob cap, they kept it to themselves. She has not since been seen at the Anshaws’, although still to this day, Mrs Anshaw is convinced she can occasionally hear the rattle of tea things when nobody else is in fact in the room.