The History of The Orchard

A Wonderful Tea Garden

Ask anyone who has taken the opportunity to visit the Orchard in Grantchester, England, and they are sure to tell you that the tea garden is a truly idyllic setting. It is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the English tradition of afternoon tea, whether that is for the morning with a cup of coffee, or a light lunch with scones.

If you take the time to enjoy a spot of tea at the Orchard, you are also following in the tradition of many generations of visitors, including such famous visitors as Stephen Hawking, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and dozens of others.

The Orchard itself was first planted in 1868, and it was quite the accident that it ever became an official gathering place for afternoon tea. The woman who ran the Orchard House, a lady by the name of Mrs. Stevenson, was asked by a group of students from nearby Cambridge if she would serve them tea beneath the trees rather than on the front lawn of the house. Unbeknownst to them, this simple action in 1897 began a tradition that has now lasted for more than a century.

After these students from Cambridge alerted others at the different colleges about the pastoral setting of the newly dubbed Tea Garden, the Orchard became a kind of "up-river resort" for young academics, and the Stevenson family began advertising the place as such.

Famous Lodgers

Rupert Brooke Comes to the Orchard

Since the Orchard has never been connected to any Public House in Great Britain, the owners have found it necessary over the years to take in lodgers as a means of supplementing income. One of these new residents, who moved to the Orchard in 1909, was Rupert Brooke, a graduate of King's College at Cambridge and local bon vivant.

Although Brooke intended to leave behind the social complexities of college life behind him by moving to the Orchard, in truth, he ended up bringing a lot of it with him. Brooke brought quite a lot of visitors to the Orchard, since he was both charismatic and popular. His circle of friends at the tea garden was called the Neo-Pagans, a moniker attached by the writer Virginia Woolf.

Besides Brooke himself, other members of the Neo-Pagans included such intellectual luminaries as the philosophers Russell and Wittgenstein, the economist Maynard Keynes, and the artist Augustus John, among others. The heyday of this group was the period between 1909, when Brooke moved to Grantchester, and 1914, the outbreak of the First World War.

For many people at the time, days in Grantchester could be spent sleeping under canvas or picknicking on the grass near the apple trees. Some would even spend the entire day on a 25-mile walking tour of the surrounding meadows. Brooke himself spent his days studying, swimming, traveling to Cambridge by canoe (or "punting" in the local tradition), and taking most of his meals in the form of fruit and honey.

Brooke did eventually leave his rooms at the Orchard, traveling abroad to Berlin, North America, and the South Seas, among other destinations. But it was clear a piece of his soul was always back in Grantchester, as expressed in poems he wrote like "The Old Vicarage," where he described the genteel act of having tea in the garden.

The Orchard's Golden Era

1920s And Onwards

In the years following Brooke's departure, the Orchard continued to become more and more popular, with visitors enjoying features of the tea garden that are still there today. Just as people did in the 1920s, visitors today are able to walk or cycle along the path crossing the beautiful Grantchester Meadows (students call this the Grantchester Grind). And if you choose to move a bit upstream, it is quite possible to enjoy the serene tranquility of the River Granta, a meandering body of water.

By 1964, the tea garden was so monumentally popular among international visitors that more than 35 languages on an eight-foot wide posted sign reminded patrons to please return their cups and saucers to the tray-racks. And you would do well to remember the same if you ever have the chance to visit.

In 1987, it seemed for a time that the tea garden in Grantchester might be closed forever, with housing developments built up over it. Fortunately, it was saved from this tragic end by new owners who continued the tea garden in its idyllic state. And so visitors are still able to come and enjoy afternoon tea beneath the apple trees, or lunch in the pavilion. 

The Orchard Tea Garden
Credit: Tea Garden

Visiting The Orchard Today

Information and Times

As it has been for most of the last century, the Orchard Tea Garden is still open to the public today. It has serving hours all year round, generally from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, but these change depending on the season, so you will want to phone ahead if you traveling from Cambridge for a day trip. Travel from Cambridge can be accomplished by walking, or traveling on the river by punt.

You may also want to explore the area a bit to find some of the beautiful local scenery, such as Mill Pond, the River Granta, and Byron's Pool. And it might come as no surprise that there is a small Rupert Brooke museum, located alongside the car park of the garden. Here, visitors can see photographs and accompanying text describing a brief biography of Brooke, as well as prints, maps, postcards and paintings featuring the works of Brooke and the other Neo-Pagans.

Finally, the Orchard is also closed on certain days of the year, such as Christmas. The menu is simple but satisfying, with morning coffee, afternoon tea, scones and other elements of a light lunch. If you are visiting in the winter, you are much more likely to take tea or coffee in the heated Pavilion, although the option is still available to sit outside in the cold if you prefer. Although our recommendation is definitely to try and visit this wonderful setting during the summer months.

Summer Arrives At The Orchard