Tuesday, November 10

Tea Things Tuesday: Drury House in Windsor

Continuing the posts about my 2003 trip to England, the only
"British" part of my first Cream Tea was where it was served!

In 1645 the current Drury House in Church Street, a stone's throw from Windsor Castle, was the residence of Nell Gwynne, the second King Charles's favorite mistress.

To occupy her time between royal ...uh ...summonses... Nell opened part of the house as a coaching inn. Later, the inn was used as quarters for Windsor staff, who were no doubt glad for the tunnel to the castle in inclement weather.

Fast forward to a Saturday morning in June 2003. Dawn was just breaking over London's Waterloo Station when I boarded the train to Windsor's Riverside Station. It was my birthday, and I looked forward to breakfast at Drury House before touring Windsor Castle.

Alas, I needn't have gone out quite so early - Windsor town was still asleep when I came out of the station. A good thing actually. Nobody around to see me standing in the middle of the street in full ga-ga tourist mode staring up slack-jawed at the mind-boggling hugeness of the castle.

To kill time, I watched swans glide up and down the Thames, walked to the far side of the foot bridge that connects Windsor to Eton, then turned back, and after snapping a few shots of Sir Christopher Wren's house, began the trek up the hill to Windsor High Street. Not a hike I recommend on an empty stomach.

Drury House was on the far side the castle, and wouldn't open for another 20 minutes, but delicious aromas were wafting out the front door of the restaurant in Ye Harte & Garter Hotel.

Ye Harte & Garter Hotel, across from Windsor Castle

I opted for a wonderful breakfast there instead, at a table in the front window, across from Curfew Tower, served by a very attentive French waiter who addressed me as "Mah-domm".

Then I toured the castle, shopped a bit on the High Street, and got to Drury House in mid-afternoon. Tea time, right?

Church Street is barely a block long, less a street than a wide walkway lined with with shops.

Church Street, looking toward Windsor Castle.
Drury House is behind the camera and to the right

My first clue that I should've gone elsewhere was the empty dining room.

Very odd for a place that not only hawked Afternoon Tea on its website and the billboard out front, but oozed h-i-s-t-o-r-y from every pore.

Low doorways and ceiling, a fireplace that had been the only source of heat for the first 300 years, walls sheathed in real wood, not thin modern paneling, and a wide-plank, pegged floor, slightly warped from thousands of feet.

Being a warm day, the windows were wide open, just like in the photo below.

The table in front of the window
at the right was "my" spot

A middle-aged woman came out of the back, never really acknowledged my presence, only clapped her hands twice and barked something in German, whereupon a teenage girl emerged and came over to the table. One of a pair of girls, I gathered from her limited English, who had arrived from France only the day before. I had to point to "Afternoon Tea" on the menu before she grasped what I was trying to order.

But this was only the beginning...

The girl disappeared into the back, then re-appeared with her counterpart. The proprietress then began yelling at them - yes, yelling! - in a mixture of German and French, and they yelled back in French, none of them appearing the least bit embarrassed to be doing so in front of a paying customer.

My back was to the window so there was really nowhere to look but at them, so I pulled out my trip journal and pretended to write in it.

To add to the absurdity, the stereo shop across the way was blasting American oldies from the 1970s from speakers mounted on the outside of the shop!

Yay, Britannia.

After what seemed like an eternity, a pot of lukewarm tea and the requisite 3-tier stand were placed before me. On it were quarter-inch thick cucumber slices (not peeled) between triangles of bone-dry brown bread that might've been waved near the mayonnaise jar but I wouldn't swear to it, an equally dry slice of chocolate cake, and a scone that would've been inedible if not for the clotted cream and strawberry jam.

The arguing continued and Carly Simon belted out "You're So Vain" at 100 decibels.

I kid you not. Even I couldn't make this up.

The service was so poor and the food so bad that any other place or time, I wouldn't have hesitated to demand a hefty discount, but not that day.

The entire experience was so weird, so un-British, so not what one expects in the shadow of Her Majesty's favorite residence that even in U.S. dollars, it was worth every pence! In fact, I laughed all the way back to London, and the memory still makes me chuckle!

Tea Things Tuesday is hosted by the
Lovely Kim at Shabby Pink and Pretty,
where you can check out other TTT entries.

Happy Tea Time!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic


Lemondrop Marie said...

What an interesting adventure- and fodder for a novel at some point?
I can't imagine sitting through all of that without smiling at some point! And looking around for a candid camera hidden in the wall.
Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge

LondonGirl said...

I love it, what a wonderful story! You must have been up very early, dawn comes at a godless hour in June here (-:

Nell Gwyn / Gwynn / Gwynne was Charles II's mistress, though, not CHarles I's.

ellen b said...

Oh I love your post about this day except it makes me really really want to go back to England soon or sooner. So glad you opted for breakfast at the hotel before the experience at Drury house or maybe it should be called Dreary House :0)
Happy Tea Things to you ...

Mary said...

Reading about your wonderful adventure makes me want to visit England so much! Love the photos and great accounting of your time there...so interesting, I almost felt that I was with you!

Happy Tea Things Tuesday!


Shabby Kim said...

Oh my goodness!! What an adventure you had. Reading your story sure made me chuckle. I've always dreamed over traveling to London someday and visiting historical sites and of course as many tea rooms as I could find, but after hearing the tale of your shall we say "strange" adventure, maybe I'll have to think twice about visiting those tea rooms, or at least this one anyways. Thanks for sharing the stories and wonderful photos from your time spent in England.

JamaGenie said...

Lemondrop Marie, if I'd had a camera phone, you bet I would've snapped pics, or better yet, a video!

Shabby Kim, perfectly lovely tea rooms all over the UK are run by non-Brits. I'd be surprised if the woman at Drury House remained very long, acting like that.

ellen b, I'm glad too that I started the day at the hotel and not at DH as planned. I didn't tell the waiter at Harte & Garter it was my birthday until I was leaving. Short of a scone with a candle, there's *nothing* he could've done better that morning. Truly treated me like a queen. Women traveling alone often get put at a single table in the back, but he seated me at a table for 4 in the front with a great view!

LondonGirl, of course it was Charles II! What was I thinking! Correction made. Thanks. Yes, dawn comes verrry early in London in June! Can't believe I actually got up and out the door so early!

Valerie@travelingthrough2 said...

Hi Jama,
Your pictures are wonderful and oh what a tale you have to tell! Wouldn't it be boring if everything happened the way we built it up in our mind that it should be? Gotta love life and the unexpected!

JamaGenie said...

Valerie, the pics here are not mine, but similar to ones I did take that day, which are still in a box.

But yes, had Drury House been as I expected, it would've been quite boring compared to what did happen! Hurrah for Life's surprises!

gaelikaa said...

What an experience!

Erica said...

Love your Blog about Windsor.......I was there about 15 years ago but the tour only took us to the Castle. I loved that village so quaint.

Thanks for sharing.......

Beth Niquette said...

I enjoyed every word, and your photos are SO wonderful! You have quite a gift of writing--I loved reading about your great adventure.

Happy Cottage Quilter said...

Oh my what an adventure!


Frieda Babbley said...

I had just said to myself, "you have got to be kidding me" when you said, "I kid you not." Amazing. I can't even believe it. Especially not from someplace like that. I mean really! How terrible; though I have to say quite an enjoyable story.

Candace said...

I don't get to travel much and I really enjoy stories about other peoples travel adventures and seeing pictures of other places. Thank you for sharing.

Country Girl said...

Loved reading about your little excursion here, and especially the last stop. Insane!