The Cup That Cheers – The “Friend” Tea Caddy

This “gift”, which had to be earned by writing a letter to Uncle Jack, made its debut in 1909.

“We have pleasure in introducing to our readers a new and highly acceptable ‘People’s Friend’ prize. From an eminent firm of tea merchants we have secured a large number. The tea is of the best quality.”

Uncle Jack

Before Uncle Jack set up the Letters Page, readers sent in queries which appeared in the back pages of the magazine. Under Uncle Jack, they were encouraged to indulge in a longer, more entertaining correspondence.

His “nieces and nephews” wrote on all manner of topics, including what they did, how they lived, anecdotes or simply points of view.

“I first saw the People’s Friend in a farmhouse in Ontario. In summer Canadian farmers have to ‘make hay while the sun shines’, so the paper was laid away for weekend reading. In the long winter evenings all the back numbers were brought out and read again.”

One fascinating aspect of the letters is revisiting historic events through the pen of an ordinary reader.

Tay Bridge Disaster

From 1930 comes this haunting account of the Tay Bridge Disaster:

“On an afternoon in June 1877 we were allowed out of school to go to the foot of the road to see the first train cross the Tay Bridge.

“On December 28, 1879, we were sitting round the fire listening to the storm outside, when my father said, ‘This wind will test the bridge; we’ll watch how the train gets on.’

“We saw the train enter the bridge; it just crawled along. Someone suggested putting out the light. We turned to see this done and when we looked out again we saw neither the train nor the lights on the bridge. Next morning, after the paper came, we went to see the gap. It was hard to realise what  had happened.”

The style of the caddies changed again and again, and till recently we’ve known little of their origins. We did have one tin box from the 1920s bearing the words “A Present from ‘The People’s Friend’”. On close inspection, however, our eagle-eyed Editor spotted writing on the hinges of the very rusted, rather battered box.

Hudson Scott & Sons, Ltd, Carlisle, England. This firm began making tin boxes in 1896, and did so till wartime, when they made munitions instead.

My personal favourite is our superb 1940s caddy. Made of pewter, it has a strikingly modern shape. This tea caddy was sent out to readers minus the tea, which was rationed!

The modern, stylish tin we give present-day readers is certain to turn up in the future, and new generations raised on nothing but tea bags may puzzle over it.

Nevertheless, few things beat a pot of tea made with real loose leaves – at least, that’s what I believe!

You can buy one of our special 150th Anniversary tea caddies at our online shop.


Margaret Scott

Margaret is a sub-editor within the Production Team on the "Friend". Her main job is to work on the stories and make sure the magazine leaves us in its best possible guise. When not doing that, however, she either has her head buried in the old “Friend” volumes or is out and about giving talks or going on Warner trips (fab!). She hates cheese.