Etiquette and Manners – an afternoon with William Hanson

As mentioned in my previous post, the second half of my day last Saturday was spent learning about etiquette and manners, with nineteen other tea party guests.   The event was run by The Secluded Tea Party with guest speaker William Hanson, who is an experienced speaker on all things etiquette.

We all gathered in the fabulous library of The Hotel Du Vin, whilst the tea party room next door received its finishing touches and official photographs were taken.  Meeting in the library was a great way to start as guests were able to spend some time chatting with people they had only just met, or catching up with friends.

Once the room was ready we were taken through to a beautifully set out table.  The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and all were eager to learn the rights and wrongs of drinking tea, eating and behaving in the correct manner.

Stunning sandwiches and cakes were places in front us to enjoy and practice our good manners on.  A selection of tea pots with three different tea flavours to choose from were also placed on the table.  Each table place included a card with an etiquette tip attached to it, which was a nice addition.


William is an amusing and knowledgable speaker and ensured the whole table were involved, using practical tips, questions and discussions before each course.  The afternoon was a fun way to learn about manners, etiquette and traditions, aswell as enjoying the food and tea on offer.

One of the ‘rules’ we practised was the traditional way to behave around the table, which is the men pour the tea, offer food and guide the conversation with the lady on his right.  This was quite tricky in practice as out of the twenty guests only one was a man, so some of us had to pretend to be a man for the afternoon, which caused some initial amusement and confusion!

Afternoon tea conversation should be light, steering clear of controversial subjects.  The correct way for a lady to leave a table should she need to visit the lady’s room was also discussed.  A lady should not disclose where she is going, if returning she should leave her napkin on her chair.  The gentlemen of the table should stand until she has left the room.

Here is a selection of other interesting things we discovered.

Tea – milk or water first?

When making a cup of tea, do you put the water in first or the milk and is there a right or wrong way to do it?

Traditionally it used to depend on whether you were a servant or not.  It is thought that servants would always put the milk in first as their mugs would usually be made of clay.  If they were to put the boiling water in first the clay would have exploded, so milk went in first.  However, those upstairs would enjoy their tea in porcelain cups which wouldn’t be affected by the hot water, they would put the boiling water in first.

Did you know there is also a correct way to stir tea?  It should be stirred backwards and forwards.  William described it a 6, 12, 6, 12 motion.


Scones should not be cut in half, the right way to half a scone is to find the natural centre and break down the centre.  When I tried this with my scone it immediately crumbled in to a heap on my plate!

Obviously scones can’t be mentioned without the jam or cream first debate! Of course, there is no right way, it depends on the person.  When you do add a condiment to a scone you should keep it placed on the plate rather than hold it in the air. The scone debate got the table discussing their preferences, whilst the bakers in the room also shared their tips on how to make the perfect scone.

Interestingly we discovered, whilst enjoying our scones, that bread should also never be cut.  Also, if you are spreading anything on your bread or toast it is proper to pull it to pieces and add your chosen spread to each piece!

Revolving doors

The conversation didn’t just stick to food and drink, one unrelated tradition involved revolving door manners.  Apparently revolving door etiquette dictates that when a woman also needs to use the door the man should be first to go round, letting the woman alight first.  The man should then carry on round again until it’s his turn to alight!

William was a great speaker and the afternoon was a fun, insightful way to spend a couple of hours.  I loved discovering the many manners and traditions related to food and drink, and other forms of etiquette.

Two more events have been lined up, one in Cambridge (again at the Hotel Du Vin) and one in Knightsbridge.  If you are interested, please keep an eye on the brilliant Secluded Tea Party blog or its website above.  I would highly recommend it, especially if you are looking for something a little bit different.


About Maria Explores...

Blogger and Freelance Writer
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7 Responses to Etiquette and Manners – an afternoon with William Hanson

  1. What a FANTASTIC write up, thank you so much for this and for being a perfect Afternoon Tea Guest : )
    Next ones are up too…and ready to book!… Exciting!
    Miss Sue Flay –

  2. Mark says:

    Greetings from that one man present 🙂

    There’s something here we can’t allow to ‘get into the literature.’
    (Since the internet, like, apparently, true love, is for ever.)

    Modern manners are an evolving, dynamic thing. William told the revolving door story only to demonstrate an archaic rule, which no one but a posing lunatic would practice nowadays.

    And I disagree with William about gentlemen rising every time a lady leaves the table to, for example visit the loo or take an important mobile call. I think it’s dated, and smacks of ‘trying too hard’ (which is never cool.)

    At a big table, the men would be up and down like jack-in-the-boxes, which would rapidly become ridiculous. I hold that once, when a lady joins or is introduced to a sitting group, is quite enough.

    It also might embarrass a lady who would prefer not to have attention drawn to herself in such a way. Especially when she is creeping off to do something only mildly acceptable, like talk on a mobile, where it could be interpreted not as good manners but as an act of passive aggression.

    I’d be interested to hear female perspectives on this one.

  3. mariawriter says:

    Hello 🙂

    I would be interested to hear other female perspectives too 🙂

    I think I would actually probably find it a bit silly if a man went round a revolving door twice, hehe. I added the revolving door bit because it amused me and I thought it would be a nice story to add 🙂

    I like to think my blog is a fun and informative way of looking at history/customs/traditions and I think/hope that comes across in how I write it 🙂


  4. Mark says:

    @ William: I agree with what you say in theory, but remain unconvinced about its application in practice.

    Manners are about making others at ease. Are you really suggesting a lady would enjoy having attention directed to her like that, every time she goes to the loo, or otherwise quietly slinks away to attend to some uniquely female matter?

    Perhaps the most important part of being polite is NEVER drawing attention to — or, God forbid, commenting on — others’ solecisms.

    And yes, I know ladies are not supposed to leave the table during a meal, but in reality it’s sometime necessary. I sympathise with that, so would never stand when she does so *during* a meal. It would feel, like I said, to be bordering on passive aggression – deliberately drawing attention to someone else’s faux pas.

    Whilst technically ill-mannered, I believe not standing is the lesser of two unfortunate choices.

    Are you really sure there is no chink in you philosophy here? 🙂

    If there are any ladies reading this, please give us your thoughts.

    • No, Mark, I stand by my argument. One could easily rationalise against saying please and thank you but that would not make that correct.

      Such a shame you did not bring this up in person on the day, Mark.

  5. Mark says:

    Thank you, William, for your immediate response. Please be aware that I rationalise about everything: it’s the thing I enjoy most!

    I didn’t mention it on the day because I hadn’t before thought it through in detail. It’s the link from the tea party site to Maria’s blog which bought it all to mind. Plus one wouldn’t want to make a fuss over tea.

    *Dinner* is the place for robust exchanges of views!

    How about a secret vote, amongst the ladies only, during the next tea at The Egerton? And a couple of bottles of Champagne, served with the tea? With the ‘loser’ quietly picking up the tab for the bottles? 🙂

    Might be fun …

    (And I’m going to contact Miss Debrett, to determine what she thinks. If I receive a response, I’ll keep schtum either way.)

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