As far as tea rooms go, there really is nothing special about Mr. Hamilton's. It will never win any awards for cuteness and you wont find meticulous hand decorated delicacies; in fact it's really not a tea room at all. I'd call it a cafe or even maybe a kiosk. So why am I bothering to write about this place?
It's simple, read on...
Mr. Hamilton's Tea Room is located within the grounds of what we in Australia would call a Botanic Garden or Botanic Park. Painshill Park in Cobham, Surrey is a giant landscaped park that was built in the mid 1700's. This park was built before the First Fleet landed in Australia, just to give you some perspective on its age. Built by nobleman Charles Hamilton, Painshill's landscape architecture was said to be inspired by Renaissance artworks. This park contains man made lakes, wooded areas and 'follies'. Now I'm not expert on the 'folly' but I'd say it's just that, a bit of a novelty. For example there is a recreated ruined abbey and a man made grotto. Sadly we didn't get to see the grotto, it was closed for Santa Claus! This park was for the gentry, the noble people. It was where they walked and socialised, away from the rest of the 'normal' people. Oddly enough the parks Royal Patron is Prince Charles. What is it with me and Charles lately? You can read about my encounters with the prince here and here.
We ended up at Painshill as we were visiting this lovely old church in the next village over, Stoke D'Abernon. What an adventure that was. Little did we know that the church and graveyard have been engulfed into the grounds of a posh private school and we just happened to time our visit at the end of the school day. It was chaos! Now it's a bit random to just visit a little old church because lets face it, there are tens of thousands of little old churches in England. What makes this church special was the fact that it is the last recorded, or should that be first recorded, place that my ancestors can be traced back to. A christening record from the very early 1800's states that my 6x Great Grandfather Henry was christened here. He later went on to migrate to Australia and he and his family were responsible for the early establishment of Melbourne's suburb of Brighton. There is even a plaque dedicated to them. They owned the land around where Chadstone Shopping Centre is now located. I knew there was some other reason that I felt so connected to that shopping centre! I scoured the graves but sadly there were no graves with my family's surname that I could find. Some headstones were so old you could no longer read them.
St. Mary's Church, Stoke D'Abernon
When it was decided we were going to England the decision was made that this time I wanted to get out of London and do a little of my own 'Who Do You Think You Are'. For all my research this church and that Christening was as far back as I could go. It would appear that prior to this record keeping was scant. I found it rather difficult finding a marriage record for his parents and couldn't find any record of his mother. On the other hand, there appeared to be a rather well to do big shot with my 7x Great Grandfather's name living in Guildford, a larger town about a 30 minute car drive away, however considering they didn't have cars it would have made it a longer journey. He however had a wife that was accounted for and some children. It did cross my mind that maybe Henry was born from an illegitimate relationship, however with no evidence I couldn't do more than speculate. Perhaps if I had a team of historians I might have had a different story to tell.
So, that brings me back to Painshill. I wanted to visit the area and this park particularly as it would have been there when my ancestors were. They would likely never have visited Painshill as my ancestors were just normal everyday run of the mill people. If only they had known that for a tidy sum they could purchased a piece of Scotland on the internet and then been called Lord or Lady. Oh well, you win some, you lose some!
Driving through the area and looking at the houses and buildings, especially along the main street was really a funny feeling as I knew that Henry had been here. He might have walked past that house or that shop a hundred times and here I was 200 years later having travelled to the other side of the world standing there too. I felt strangely connected in a eerie kind of way.
Back to Painshill and Mr. Hamilton's Tea Room. We arrived at the park a little early, about half an hour before opening time and struck up a conversation with one of the volunteers as we were waiting. She asked if we had come far for our visit today and I said 'yes, Australia'. She was shocked so I explained the story. She was so kind as to let us enter the park early. We were very thankful. It's hard to describe to a British person just how an incredible experience walking through this park was. Parts of the lake were frozen and there were squirrels running everywhere. I guess to a non Australian a good comparison of feeling might be seeing wild kangaroos on a pristine white sandy beach. I only wish we'd had more time to wander and that we'd been able to access more. Lots of the paths were terribly muddy and I wasn't exactly shod for that. If I'd had some wellies we'd have been set.
We popped into the well situated tea room and thankfully amongst their range of nibbles they had some pre-packaged gluten free biscuits. I ordered some chamomile tea and was surprised to get a tea pot. The cafe would be lovely in warmer weather with the doors open onto the courtyard and the park. So whilst the tea room on its own was nothing too special the park and what this area meant to me was. For this reason I would gladly return.
For more information on Painshill please visit their website