Teatime at Lord’s

A cricketing institution … Lord’s cricket ground. Afternoon tea in the Long Room.
Nanjing Night Net

A display in the MCC Museum.

One of cricket’s most famous venues has opened its hallowed Long Room to public diners, writes Shaney Hudson.

Given that the home of cricket worships a lady’s perfume bottle in the form of the Ashes trophy, perhaps it’s no surprise the hallowed halls of the Long Room have been taken over by ladies who lunch.

As far as stiff upper lips go, being a member of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord’s cricket ground is about as British as it gets. However, the curtains have been pulled back on this British institution, with the establishment of monthly afternoon teas open to the general public.

Offering the best views over the pitch, the Long Room is in the Victorian-era members’ pavilion and is legendary in the cricketing world. Traditionally, cricketers from both sides have to walk through the Long Room, crowded with members, on their way to the pitch, a tough psychological challenge for the batsmen. For the bloke who scores a century, it’s a chance to be slapped on the back, but it’s a long walk of shame for the batsman who has just been dismissed for a duck.

Today the stands are empty and the sound of heckling has been replaced with that of a string quartet playing in the corner. Fresh flowers, white linen and china teapots dominate the decor. We are served smoked salmon, egg and cress, and smoked Wiltshire ham finger sandwiches; freshly baked fruit scones are served with Devonshire clotted cream and jam, along with macaroons, eclairs and pastries, accompanied by fresh pots of tea.

Lord’s began the afternoon teas late last year and so far they have been a success, with most dates selling out.

It’s a bold move for such a traditional establishment, and the hot topic of conversation between my companion and I during the service.

While our waiter refreshes the pot inside and groundsmen cover the pitch for the evening outside, erecting a tent-like humidifier around it, we heartily debate the exclusive club’s motives for opening the Long Room to the public (after all, the club did not open its doors to female members until 1999).

I put it down to economics – after all, high tea has proven to be recession-busting big business in London. But my cricket-conscious companion argues it is an indication of the times: while the membership would previously have asked “Why would we open to the public?”, it’s now a case of the membership asking “Why wouldn’t we?”

Afternoon tea includes a short tour of the players’ dressing rooms and the MCC Museum. After the tea, we meet our guide in the bar, where the walls are adorned with art featuring cricket’s elite (and surprisingly, Foster’s is served on tap at the bar).

“A Lord’s Test is as much a social event as a cricketing one,” the guide says. Members’ seating in the Pavilion is unreserved, so diehards have to arrive at the undignified hour of 5am to secure their place by putting their bag on their seat, while ladies rush to spread a picnic blanket on the Coronation Lawn across from the museum for the tea break later in the day.

We are ushered into the museum and to the “chapel” where the Ashes are kept. The urn is so unassuming, my cricket-mad guest and I had missed it on our first round at the museum before our afternoon tea.

The legend behind the Ashes is a quirky one, told in many varying forms. In 1882, an anonymous party put a mock death notice for English cricket in the newspaper after Australia defeated the English team on English ground for the first time.

Although done in jest, it became the talk of the cricket community, and during the next Test in Australia, the English captain was presented with the “ashes” of English cricket by a group of women. An old perfume bottle was used as the “urn” and the death notice from the paper was hastily stuck on with glue. Today, 130 years on, it remains cricket’s most coveted prize, a symbol of one of sport’s most fierce rivalries.

After a brief explanation of some of the artwork on the walls, we head to the members’ dressing room, upstairs in the Pavilion. It’s a rabbit warren of swinging doors and turns to get up there, and I mention to the guide that we have lost a few members of the group. “Wouldn’t be the first time” he says, doubling back to collect them. “What’s funny is when the batsmen get lost on their way back up.”

As it turns out, even Lord’s has its unglamorous side. Despite the dressing rooms offering a beautiful view of the pitch, they are tiny, and it’s hard to imagine 30 athletes, their gear and their entourage fitting into the rooms here, when our group of 20 are squeezed for space to fit.

For cricket lovers, the behind-the-scenes look at Lord’s is an absolute must. For understanding spouses and friends, the tea is an intimate afternoon experience; and given the 21-year wait to become a member at Lord’s, it’s a great way to fast-track the experience of rubbing shoulders with cricket’s elite.

The writer was a guest of Visit Britain.

Traditional Afternoon Teas at Lord’s are held on selected dates each month and start from £38 ($59) a person, including a short tour of the MCC Museum and dressing rooms. Dates sell out months in advance so it’s best to book as far ahead as possible. See lords.org.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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