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Shadows of Empire: Taking Tea at Preston Manor

24 May – 27 October 2024
Preston Manor, Brighton
Dying for a cuppa – new trail explores shocking story of tea industry at historic Brighton Manor House

A hard-hitting interactive experience exposing the reality of the tea trade through history is to be unveiled in Brighton’s Preston Manor.

Shadows of Empire: Taking Tea at Preston Manor explores the reality of our favourite cuppa and reveals a shocking dark side including exploitation of workers, theft and links to the nineteenth century opium drug wars.

Using the historic setting of Preston Manor, an elegant manor house, visitors will experience the smells and sounds of a journey from England through the docks of China to an opium den.

The experience, not suitable for under 12s, covers issues highlighting how a mug of the brown stuff is not as simple as many believe.

It has been put together by the Culture Change team in Brighton & Hove Museums, set up to decolonise the work of the organisation to be more socially just and to tell all histories – and not just from a white, western perspective.

Joint Head of Culture Change Simone LaCorbinière said: “We’re not telling a twee story of gentlewomen daintily sipping afternoon tea. We’re looking behind the plush curtains of Preston Manor at what we, as a country, were prepared to do to keep the tea coming in.

“It’s also a good starting point to investigating the origins of the money that came into Brighton over the years. Now we know at least some of it was financed by drugs.”
Visitors to the show will follow a trail around the house with each room introducing a different aspect of the history of tea.

One room will focus on Lady Ellen Stanford who used to own Preston Manor and donated it to the city of Brighton on her death in 1932. Like many women of her social class, taking tea was an elegant way to entertain friends and acquaintances using beautiful cups and teapots.

Another room will describe how the East India Company stole tea plants from China to transport to India to grow in the ‘British Raj’, the countries of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and at times, Burma, Somaliland, Singapore and Sri Lanka. The plantations exploited both land and labour. The growing of tea involved extensive deforestation which harmed the environment and the lives of indigenous people were disrupted in these areas.

Shadows of Empire will also show how closely linked the tea trade was to the world of opium smuggling and the Opium Wars. One interactive element will be to experience a ship as it sails the tea trade route from Britain to China. Researchers have also discovered that furniture on display in the Macquoid Room in Preston Manor was gifted by Teresa Macquoid, whose family wealth came from the Opium Wars after China tried to stop the influx of opium flooding the country from Britain.

Another room will allow visitors to try out a fascinating historic Opium Dream Machine discovered in Brighton & Hove Museums collections which has been restored to allow visitors to experience a depiction of an opium inspired hallucination.
The trail will also take in a shocking reconstruction of an opium den, illustrating with sound, smells and information on the way Victorian Britain was gripped in opium addiction across the classes.

At the end, visitors will be invited to enjoy a cup of tea courtesy of The Tea People, an ethical social enterprise that seeks to eliminate poverty in tea-growing regions, to illustrate that we can still satisfy our urge for tea without doing harm.
Interactive elements have been created by Pier Pressure, who have created escape rooms in the city and sound artist composer Helen Anahita Wilson has created the soundscape.

Head of Culture Change Liz Porter said: “Through sights, sounds and multisensory layers, it really demonstrates how interlinked the fates of the people of Brighton were to the rest of the world. We think it’s an important addition to understanding the history of our city, uncovering some aspects that have perhaps been glossed over in the past.”
An online exhibition providing more information will be available on our website.

For a selection of images from the Brighton & Hove Museums collection visit this Dropbox.

We are happy to organise a preview of Shadows of Empire on Thursday 23 May from 2pm. Please RSVP to caroline.sutton@rpmt.org.uk.

Shadows of Empire: Taking Tea at Preston Manor

24-25-26 May
Time slots available each of the days:
12pm – 2pm and 2pm – 4pm (including a cup of tea)
Saturdays & Sundays from 1 June to 27 October
Slots available between 11am & 4pm
Admission: £20 (the ticket price includes a souvenir guide and a cup of tea) members £15, book in advance. Age 12+
Please note: this exhibition deals with adult themes, including addiction.

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Shadows of Empire poster

Contact information for press and media

For further information, images or interviews please contact Caroline Sutton on caroline.sutton@rpmt.org.uk or 01273 071296.
For urgent enquiries in my absence please contact marketing@rpmt.org.uk or 03000 290906.

We are happy to organise review tickets for members of the press.

About Preston Manor

Preston Manor, part of Brighton & Hove Museums is a charming historic house, decorated and furnished in Edwardian style. Its elegant reception rooms and functional servants’ quarters reveal the ‘upstairs and downstairs’ of life at the manor before the First World War.

Preston Manor is currently closed to the public but is open for special events and pre-booked school groups.