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Were cream teas "invented" in Tavistock?

Cream Tea
Made in Devon...cream teas?
Local historians in the historic Devon town of Tavistock have unearthed evidence that the cream tea originated there around 1,000 years ago.

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Tavistock is a market town with some 11,000 residents.

The town was given its Royal Charter in 1105 - so 2005 will be the 900th anniversary.

Tavistock's most famous son was the seafarer, Sir Francis Drake.

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Think of Devon, and what images spring to mind? There's the rolling hills, the sandy beaches, the thatched cottages...and then there's the scrummy cream teas.

The mouth-watering combination of scones, jam and clotted cream has tempted locals and visitors alike for as long as we can remember - but just who "invented" the snack?

Local historians in Tavistock, West Devon, think they've found the answer.

They've been studying ancient manuscripts as part of research leading up to next year's 900th anniversary of the granting of Tavistock's Royal Charter by King Henry I in 1105.

Historic Tavistock
After piecing together fragments of manuscripts, they've discovered that the people we have to thank for creating Devon's favourite dish are the monks of Tavistock's Benedictine Abbey.

The Abbey was established in the 10th century, but was plundered and badly damaged by a band of marauding Vikings in 997AD.

It took a lot of hard work to restore the Abbey, and the task was undertaken by Ordulf, Earl of Devon. His father Ordgar, Earl of Devon, had been responsible for establishing the Abbey in the first place.

Ordulf was helped by local workers, and to reward them, the monks fed them with bread, clotted cream and strawberry preserves. And so, the Devon cream tea was born!

The cream teas were so popular, that the monks continued to serve them to passing travellers.

Sir Francis Drake
Not only was the cream tea 'born' in Tavistock - so was Sir Francis Drake
To mark the discovery of this little piece of Devon history, the cream tea will be taking pride of place at this year's Tavistock Food and Drink Festival on 31st July and 1st August.

Festival president, Mike Hooper, is delighted at the find: "How extraordinary that, after so many years, Tavistock can perhaps claim to be the birthplace of the original cream tea.

"We can only wonder who it was who carried news of this Abbey dish into Cornwall," he added.

Unfortunately, the Abbey had an unhappy end, with King Henry VIII's 'Dissolution of the Monasteries' order in 1539. The centre of the town now sits on the site and some of the remains can still be seen.

But at least it left us its legacy...the Devonshire cream tea.

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Article first published: 17th January 2004

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