Babington’s Tea Rooms 125th Birthday Bash

A cup of tea and some biscuits at Babington’s Tea Rooms. Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Dear Blog Readers,

This week, Rome’s most famous tea rooms, Babingtons, celebrated their 125th anniversary at Villa Wolkonsky, the British Ambassador’s residence.

For those who have never heard of Babingtons, it is a Tea Room that serves a proper English Tea with scones, cakes and biscuits just at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. On the other side of the steps is the Keats-Shelley House, dedicated to the Romantic Poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Keats died in the house in 1821 at age 25. The Tea Rooms were opened in 1893 by two young women Anna Maria Babington and Isabell Cargill for the English population in Rome to take their tea and read their newspapers.

Portrait of Isabel Cargill, co-founder of Babington’s Tea Rooms on display in Tea Room. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 23, 2018

Apparently, at the time, tea was only available at chemists’ shops.  Babington’s soon became a favorite spot for Brits living in the Eternal City or for those passing through on the Grand Tour.  The Grand Tour, a leisurely voyage  to nations in Europe, including Italy and Greece to study everything from Renaissance art to ancient Greek and Roman culture, was once a tradition among the upper-class English.  Venice, Florence and Rome were favored spots.

A woman walks past the entrance to Babington’s Tea Rooms at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. January 25, 2018. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The Tea Rooms managed to survive World War I, eeked through the Depression, became popular among both fascists and anti-fascists in the 1930s and stayed open during World War II.  According to Babington’s official history, in 1941 Isabel’s daughter Dorothy took her mother and children and fled to northern Italy.  In their absence, three of the Italian employees Crescenza, Giulia and Anita used their own food rations to make nut croquettes, potato-flour bread, chick-pea-flour scones, and dried-chestnut flour cakes and kept the Tea Rooms running throughout the war.  The only day Babington’s closed was when the allies entered Rome on June 5, 1944 and even then it was only for a few hours.

Over the years they have had their fair share of famous guests for tea including Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor, Princess Margaret, Bernardo Bertolucci, Burt Reynolds and Monica Belluci.

Guests arrive at Villa Wolkonsky, the British Ambassador’s residence in Rome for the 125th anniversary celebration of Babington’s Tea Rooms. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 24th, 2018

The party was a lovely affair with young hostesses wandering around in dresses decorated with triangular tea bags (I wonder what happens when you put those dresses in the wash?)

Hostesses in tea bag dresses at Villa Wolkonsky, the British Ambassador’s residence in Rome, celebrating 125 years of Babington’s Tea Rooms. Photo by Trisha Thomas January 24th, 2018

The less glamorous guests were invited to have their photo taken incognito with sunglasses and hats.

Incognito at Babington’s Tea Rooms 125th Birthday Bash at Villa Wolkonsky, Rome.

Then there was a giant cake with the number 125 on top and fresh raspberries sprinkled around the sides.

A woman snitches a raspberry off the giant Babington’s Tea Rooms birthday cake at Villa Wolkonsky in Rome. January 24, 2018. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Tea in silver urns was served along with champagne.  The glamorous British Ambassador, Jill Morris, delivered a few succinct words – which I promptly forgot – too much champagne, I suppose.

I did visit the Tea Rooms to see what all the fuss was about and it is a lovely place to stop and have afternoon tea.  Unlike the Italian coffee bar where one stands and throws back a quick espresso or caffe’ macchiato, the Tea Room is a place where you can escape the chaos of Rome, sit calmly and enjoy a quiet conversation.

The tea, served in silver pots, is excellent – although at 14 euros a pot it better be – and the dainty biscuits are tasty.  I love the little silver cat sitting on the tea pot.

Silver cat on tea pot at Babington’s Tea Rooms. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 23, 2018

Post-Script:  Since I did not see them at the reception, I sent off an email with a few questions for Isabel Cargill’s great-grandchildren Rory and Chiara, who are now running the Tea Room.

Here is their response:

“We are truly proud and grateful to have been given the opportunity to work and promote what these two incredible women started back in 1893. It’s very challenging and exciting, Rome is not an easy city but Babingtons is a land mark and it is our duty to make sure this is never forgotten.
The book written for the 125th anniversary of Babingtons is dedicated to the 5th generation, so family business it is and should remain. It is virtually unheard of for a business to remain in the same family for this long. To be able to celebrate this event gives us even more drive to make things even better. “

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Trisha Thomas

Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

16 Comments

  1. Cristiano
    2018/01/28

    Vintage fashion galore with the hostesses in tea bag dresses, but no one overcomes the charm of Incognito Mamma.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/01/29

      Thank you Cristiano…so happy to see that you still read my blog!!

      Reply
  2. Joan Schmelzle
    2018/01/28

    Hi Trisha,
    Fun to read. I’ve known about Babingtons but never tried. Maybe next time. I’m home now instead of still in Rome thanks to the flu I managed to pick up in Florence. Made it back to Rome to my hotel, My Home in Rome, but after a few days of hoping to gain strength to carry on, had to decide to head home. So have been back in Illinois for a bit over a week and feeling normal enough to head to exercise class tomorrow.
    I enjoyed my time in Rome and even managed two new finds amidst the never miss ones, I toured the main Rome Synagogue and museum and thoroughly enjoyed wandering and sitting in th now open to walk through garden in Palazzo Venezia.
    I wrote a comment on your fine story about Precious as few weeks ago but evidently sent it wrong. Can’t remember what I said but I admired the story. Thanks for writing!
    A Presto, Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/01/29

      Joan — I can’t believe you were sitting in the gardens in Palazzo Venezia — just around the corner from my office — and you did not stop by to say hello. We could have gone to Babington’s together!! I am sorry you got that terrible, awful flu. I got it too and had to back out of going with the Pope to Chile and Peru. You can’t imagine how disappointed I have been. When will I ever have a chance again to fly on the Papal plane to Chile and Pero?? Never.
      I will go back now and see if I can find your comment on the Precious Cargo post. Thanks for being such a loyal reader!!

      Reply
  3. Lega Medcalf
    2018/01/29

    A fun read! But could that be you snitching a raspberry off the giant birthday cake….just wondering? Looks like the sleeve in view belongs on the dress you were wearing being incognito???????

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/01/29

      Believe it or not, it was not me sneaking the raspberry…although I would be quite capable of such a sneaky gesture…but I was busy taking the photo.

      Reply
  4. Ciao Chow Linda
    2018/01/29

    I’ve always passed on going here, thinking it was strictly a tourist trap. But after reading about the history of Babington’s, I must put it on my list of things to do next time I’m in Rome. Love the photo of you in the glasses!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/01/29

      You should go the next time you are in Rome Linda, and I will join you. It is a fun place. As far as my Incognito photo is concerned…they had the whole thing set up and no one was participating. Being the Curious George that I am I had to ask the photographer what it was all about. He asked me to be the first to don the hat and glasses get my photo taken. I told him I had to down a quick glass of Champagne and I would be right back. About 15 minutes after I got my photo there was a huge line.

      Reply
  5. Alan
    2018/01/29

    Tea bags! Tea bags!! Good grief, whatever will become of the empire?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/01/29

      Well, let me clarify…the dresses had tea bags on them –but the tea served in the tea rooms was loose tea, no tea bags.

      Reply
  6. Annie Dauberman
    2018/01/29

    Oh Happy Day!

    Proper English Tea in Rome, who knew? Yes , and who could the elegant woman be in the incognito glamorous get-up!? That cake! Clearly they were expecting a crowd.

    And yes, it has always bugged me you had to gulp your espresso while standing in Italy,…I love the lingering at a table over any drinks in Paris and London. Why oh why the the standing rule in Italy?

    Even at 14 a pot , it looks like a delightful way to celebrate the grand tour days of yore,
    Cheerio!
    Annie
    .

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/01/29

      Yes, I guess the pot is worth the 14 euros…and it is so nice to sit and relax. I think I better go back and try it again!

      Reply
  7. Diane Dent
    2018/02/04

    Hi Trisha,
    Thankyou immensely for all the hard work you do and share with us, your fans. How do you keep up with that remarkable energy? So sorry about your flu and disappointment which your followers also feel.
    Now I ask some advice re blogs. I am a self-appointed street tidy-upper living in Pigneto and wanting to share my experiences in hopes of influencing others. I would like to know if you use a bloggers platform, and would you suggest I use the same.

    My only goals are to descibe what I do and feel. I will hope to hear comments from similar people. You are so busy! but hope you have a moment to give advice.

    Thanks for all your amazingly readable and delightful posts, Diane Dent

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/02/18

      Diane, thank you for your note. Sorry to be slow in getting back to you. You must do a blog with your experiences. I bought my blog website name off a group called http://www.godaddy.com back in 2011 for very little. Nicolee Drake who is a well-known instagrammer but also a web designer based in Rome helped me set up the website. I am pretty hopeless at the technical aspects of setting up a blog and website, but I would encourage you to do it. I hope to meet you and you have all my backing for your efforts in Pigneto! By the way, I often complain about the trash and the mess in Rome, this week I had to go to Scampia for a story on how Italians in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country are voting in the elections, and the trash I saw there was very depressing. And most of the people I spoke to do not have work. Once I get through the news report, I should probably do a blog post on that.

      Reply
  8. Kay
    2018/02/07

    OMG I just love Babington’s! I brought back several of their tea blend home with me from my last visit and wanted to purchase one of the little silver tea pots, but they were about €300 each…a bit too steep (pardon the pun) for my purse. But high tea there is so civilized and such a respite from the crowds. I just loved this post!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2018/02/18

      Isn’t Babington’s wonderful!! I can’t believe I have been walking past their for years and never went in until this story came up. Yes, the prices are a little steep (I like your pun) but definitely worth it once in a while for a special treat.

      Reply

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