The English gentry became accustomed to drinking tea as a luxury item in the 1660’s but it wasn’t until much later that the more elaborate custom or ritual of taking 'Afternoon Tea' came into existence.
The invention of afternoon tea is widely attributed to Anna Maria Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s to tide her over between luncheon and dinner.
At that time English high society didn’t dine until 8:30 or 9 p.m.— even later in the summer — and as ladies were expected to have a 'reduced appetite', she needed something to bridge the hunger gap during the stretch between what was then a light lunch and a rather late dinner.
This extra meal consisting of bread and butter, biscuits and of course tea, was brought secretly to her sitting room, as incremental eating was thought unseemly for a royal.
The practice of taking 'Afternoon Tea' soon became popular amongst the English aristocracy and evolved into the Afternoon Tea we know and love today - dainty crustless sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and a final course of sweets and pastries.