With a passion for the quaint, charming and genteel ambiance of an English tea room, the seed for the idea of Jane’s business was planted during her time studying at Bath University. This is the story of how her business ‘An English Tea Room’ now offers that experience in the comfort of your own home.
This is part one of a two-part story
Could you introduce yourself and your business?
I’m Jane Connolly the owner of An English Tea Room. I deliver high quality afternoon teas in a wicker hamper to customers’ venues. The hamper contains bone china crockery, home made food and everything necessary for a traditional, vintage style afternoon tea.
Do you have any assistants or family helping out?
No, it’s just me. My two daughters are both grown up and live away from the area. My husband Neil would love to get involved, but I won’t let him, I love doing it all myself.
Have you always lived in this area?
Mostly, I bought this house from my Dad twenty years ago. My Mum passed away in 2000 and after a long and happy marriage Dad found it too much to stay here with all the associated memories so he moved home. I was brought up here as a child, so it went full circle when I came back.
You came back from where?
I was born in London, and the family moved to Horndean when I was about 14 months old. After secondary school I went to Bath Technology College to train to be a Food Technology Teacher. After my degree I lived in the Portsmouth area and ended up back in Clanfield.
Bath Spa University: Formerly known as Bath College of Higher Education
What is a Food Technology teacher?
A Food Technology teacher teaches people how to cook. I have worked in a number of secondary schools across Hampshire in both the state and private sector. I really enjoyed teaching young people to cook independently and make healthy food choices. I trained as a Home Economics teacher, as it used to be called. Some of the things that we learnt at college, like starching linen and wiring a plug, are fairly redundant now but I also learned about how to teach and it led to a rewarding career.
This was back in the 1980’s?
Yes, we’re having a reunion this October because it’s forty years since we all started college. We were a small class of 18 students and are all due to retire from teaching in the next year. There is a national shortage of Food Technology teachers. With so few being trained and 18 of us retiring, it makes me concerned for the future of the subject in schools.
The reunion will be in Bath?
Yes, it’s a lovely place. I’m so glad I went to live there when I was in college because I couldn’t afford to live there now. The reason I went to Bath College of Higher Education was all down to a school history trip to see the Roman Baths when I was in year nine. I fell in love with the place and thought `I have to come back here again’. When I was researching University courses, Bath was one of the options for my degree, so I was back there like a shot.
This was a three year degree?
Four because it was a B.ed degree and included an extra year for the teaching element. We went out on teaching practice right from the second year.
Was that a shock?
My first placement was at a girls’ Grammar School where everyone was very education focussed. It was very traditional and you had to be careful not to sit in the Headmistress’s favourite chair or use another person’s mug. Despite all that, it was a very friendly place and I learned a lot. The next placement was a shock to my system as we had to be on a bus at 6 am, teach all day, then get the bus home and prepare lesson plans and resources for future lessons.
How many years did you teach for?
Most of my working life has revolved around teaching in some form or another. Apart from time away to be a stay-at-home mum when my two daughters were little I have been a teacher since qualifying. During that time I’ve diversified into teaching Horticulture and PSHE both of which involved setting up and running courses in my capacity as Head of Department.
I left the profession last year  to set up my business.
PSHE – Personal, social, health and economic
Where did your interest in tea rooms begin?
When I was studying in Bath, there was a little tea shop that I used to visit in Green Street. They made really pretty patisseries and delicate pastries. They also made chocolate rabbits at Easter and sold them to Harrods. It really struck a chord. I loved the genteel atmosphere in the shop, the white tablecloths, the tinkling sounds of spoons in bone china, high ceilings of the building, the smells of food and tea and the fact that people were making a moment to enjoy eating.
AI-generated image: Blue Willow AI
How did you arrive at the idea for An English Tea Room as your business?
I like the idea of giving people a good food experience whether I am cooking for them or teaching them to cook for themselves. To me, eating is a sociable and relaxing shared experience and being hospitable is important. It occurred to me that people can enjoy having a traditional afternoon tea without having to go out for it.
I spent a long time sourcing vintage bone china cups, saucers and plates and only bought what I considered to be pretty, elegant and in keeping with my theme.They are quite delicate pieces and need to be hand washed because they have gold finish and because the china is too delicate for a dishwasher. I made vintage style drawstring bags to store the three tier cake plates and padded cushions to protect the china in the bottom of the wicker hampers. My customers really enjoy opening the hamper and unwrapping all the goodies that are inside.
I want my customers to enjoy being cooked for and to proudly host their own traditional afternoon tea. I deliver the food boxed up and the customers just have to arrange it on the bone china plates, buy some milk and put the kettle on. I will return to collect the basket and crockery after two days.
Do you see yourself with a ‘bricks and mortar’ outlet for the business?
That was my original thought, way back when I first thought of this as a business. I would have liked to have had that but with the current financial climate it doesn’t make sense to invest in a physical location. It would be quite a long term investment which, in reality, I may not see the return of before I hang up my apron. In delivering to the customers chosen venue there are also opportunities to cater for private functions such as birthday parties, hen parties, baby showers, office occasions and funeral wakes which are location based and not dependent upon a high street shop.
Has COVID affected that decision at all?
I think it has changed people’s attitudes and opinions towards how things should be done. Some people are still not comfortable sitting in enclosed public spaces, and would prefer the comfort and safety of their own home.
How long has An English Tea Room been in existence?
Since August 19th 2022. I started planning it all before finishing at my last school, so that I was ready to start advertising as soon as I left. The friends I worked with have been amazing support for the business and are really enthusiastic about what I do.
As the only person running the business, how would you describe what your role is?
Hmmm, not sure I would have a title as I do everything.
Literally chief cook and bottle washer?
Exactly. Shopping, preparing and cooking the food, boxing it up, delivering the hampers, washing all the crockery on its return, creating all the menus etc. Along with all the marketing and admin side of the business of course. Setting up a business has been a fun new experience with so many elements to consider.
Who did you use for your branding?
I had many meetings with Rachel Bone, the artist who designed my logo. She is one of the most patient people in the world and carefully made the tiny edits that I asked for. I gave her a selection of cup photos and a mood board of ideas. She hand painted the cup at the centre of my logo so that it is totally unique for my business.
You also have some clothing with your branding on I believe?
Once I had the logo I went to Branditright who did a fantastic job of making an embroidery of the logo for my overalls. When I get ready to work in the kitchen I feel proud of the teamwork that has gone into my logo.
I have also tried to be as environmentally aware in all of my decisions. When choosing my packaging I have been careful to make sure that it can be recycled whilst still being robust enough to transport. My wicker hampers and bone china are previously owned so it’s great that they are being recycled and enjoyed for years to come. I am always aware of minimising food waste and reducing food miles. Cooking foods that are seasonal and local helps to achieve that.
You’re quite active on Social media?
Yes, Instagram and Facebook are really my shop front and the way that I communicate with my customers.
How about your Website?
That’s being worked on as we speak. I’ve had the domain name for around five years, so the business idea is one that has been brewing for a while. Now that I’m trading and have a following on social media, it’s time to get the website up and running.