LIFE ABROAD – Part 42 : TEA FOR TWO – LONDON LOST TOO !
Posted on August 29th, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Tea production in Sri Lanka has always played a vital role to boost the economy of the country and the world market which in 1995 led Sri Lanka to become the world’s leading exporter of tea.

A Scotsman named James Taylor arrived in Ceylon in 1847 mainly to grow coffee. Upon his arrival he was assigned to Loolecondera estate in Kandy by the company who brought him down. In 1866 the company embarked on a study program in India on tea growing.

Initial experiment

Taylor started experimenting with tea plantation in 19 acres out of Coffee plantation with the first set of tea seeds brought from India backed by favourable reports.

Seemingly “ƒ”¹…”his experiments with diversified methods of processing tea began where the tea leaf was rolled on tables by hand in the verandah of his bungalow and blazing was done in clay stoves over charcoal fires, with wire trays to hold the leaf’ .

The notorious “ƒ”¹…”Coffee blight’ in 1869 wiped out the entire coffee industry in “ƒ”¹…”Ceylon’ leaving planters high and dry, leaving the option of tea growing as the only alternative left following Taylor’s lead.

Taylor’s moral fibre and resolve made him organise a much larger tea factory in 1872 on the Loolecondera estate. In March that year he wrote thus:

“I have a machine of my own invention being made in Kandy for rolling tea which I think will be successful”. Finally the first shipments of Ceylon tea reached the London auctions in 1875.

James Taylor

Expeditious expansion of the Ceylon’s tea industry made large British companies to take over many of the small estates. During this era four estates were purchased by a grocer by the name of Thomas Lipton who later became synonymous with tea.

Seemingly plantations surrounding Loolecondera estate such as Hope, Rookwood, Mooloya, Le Vallon and Stellenberg transformed into tea plantations to become among the first tea estates to be established in “ƒ”¹…”Ceylon’.

In 1992 John Field, The High Commissioner for Great Britain in Sri Lanka, summed up James Taylor’s legacy thus:

“It can be said of very few individuals whose labours have helped to shape the landscape of a country. But the beauty of the hill country, as it now appears, owes much to the inspiration of James Taylor, the man who introduced tea cultivation to Sri Lanka.”

Transformation

In 1839 the British owners of tea estates established an official division calling it The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. This was followed by the establishment of Planters’ Association in 1854.

The Ceylon Tea Traders Association established in 1894 handled all produced tea in progression with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

In 1896 the Colombo Brokers’ Association was formed and in 1915 the late Thomas Amarasuriya became the first Ceylonese to be appointed as Chairman of the Planters’ Association.

The Tea Research Institute established in 1925 was aimed at maximising yields and methods of production which helped the tea production. The Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board was formed in 1932; in 1934 a new regulation prohibited the export of poor quality tea out of Ceylon.

In 1941 Messrs Pieris and Abeywardena established as the first Ceylonese tea broking house while The Ceylon Estate Employers’ Federation came into effect in 1944.

In 1958 The State Plantations Corporation was established. By 1965 Sri Lanka became the world’s largest tea exporter for the first time. However, during 1971″”…”1972, the Sri Lanka government nationalised the tea estates owned by the British companies and The Sri Lanka Tea Board was founded in 1976.

Following this tumult a British planter by the name of Fellows, who happened to be a Visiting Agent for Tea Planters in Sri Lanka decided to sell his Biddenden farm in Kent, UK, to Sir John Kotelawela, a former Prime Minister of Ceylon, who settled down in the UK after an odious defeat in Sri Lanka’s general elections when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike managed to reduce Sir John’s ruling party majority to a single number of eight parliamentary seats.

Fellow’s farm consisted of approximately 25 acres of land where Sir John lived there until his demise in the UK. In 1992-1993 many of the nationalised tea estates were privatised again with the sale of its 23 state-owned plantations due to heavy losses incurred to the industry under State Management.

London Tea Centre

The Ceylon Tea Centre at Regent Street in Central London had been established by the British Planters’ Association to promote tea sales long before the nationalisation of tea estates were done in 1972 by the Ceylon government.

The Ceylon Tea Centre building became the only property the country had to represent the name “ƒ”¹…”Ceylon’ in the UK except for Tea, prior to the establishment of the Sri Lanka High Commission in London.

The whole of London’s Regent Street and the area surrounding Piccadilly Circus are regarded as the most popular parts of London. After the nationalisation of tea estates the Ceylon Tea Centre in London was handed over to Sri Lankans to run the show.

The Ceylon Tea Centre, therefore having located in a most prominent area of London was meant to act as a catalyst in sales promotion and give wider publicity to Ceylon tea as the Tea Centre was regarded as a semi-sovereign Sri Lankan Organisation where the Tea Commissioner was seen driven off in chauffer driven cars (akin to a High Commissioner) with Sri Lankan flag mounted on his vehicle.

The vast building on a 99 year lease had several floors where at one time all Sri Lankan activity centres such as the Tourist Board, Ceylon Shipping Lines and the National Airlines supplemented by a basement restaurant named the Colombo CafĮՠթ where visitors to the Tea Centre were not restricted only to buy Ceylon Tea but they could enjoy a mouthwatering Sri Lankan meal at the Colombo Restaurant.

Much later in the day, additional Branch of the Bank of Ceylon was ceremoniously opened for the convenience of all concerned who had to deal with Sri Lankan institutions in the UK.

Indian competition

Once the Indian Tea Centre at Oxford Circus, which is not far away from the Ceylon Tea Centre, opened business the initial battle of competition commenced with each other where the Indian Centre offering food and tea at much reduced rates.

Oxford Street is the visitors’ and many British peoples’ shopping paradise where thousands of people throng at all odd hours. The Indian Tea Centre being at a prominent slot in Oxford Street visitors and shoppers were automatically made to abandon the Ceylon Tea Centre both being convenient to reach while shopping at Oxford Circus and the Indian Centre becoming a smart pricer.

Tea Centre was further affected when the Indian High Commission opened their welfare centre with restaurant facilities offering meals at a much cheaper rate.

Seemingly the collapse of the Ceylon Tea Centre was seen as a result of the gross mismanagement by those who ran the show at latter stages even after an appointment of a Diplomat from the Sri Lanka High Commission to oversee its operations and ensure the smooth running of the institution!

The final nail on the coffin of the Ceylon Tea Centre was driven during Major Montague Jayawickreme’s time as the Minister under whose purview came the Ceylon Tea Centre when the lease on the entire building was transferred to a giant Insurance Company which made all Sri Lankan offices to abandon the ship and find accommodation elsewhere at astronomical rents!

At the time of this countless loss to the country The Sun, an English newspaper published by the defunct Independent Newspapers Ltd in Sri Lanka (M.D. Gunasena’s) carried a headline news story exposing a scoop by digging out many skeletons out of the relevant Ministerial cupboards linking it with a “ƒ”¹…”Jaguar Scorpio motor vehicle which cost £18,000′ at the time!

The foregone conclusion of the general public had been that Piccadilly Circus being a cosmopolitan International hub where anyone could have become a millionaire just by selling Ceylon tea, even out of a caravan or a hand cart, to put in a colloquial Sri Lankan jargon, where only the Ceylon Tea Centre failed and had to go out of business!

Citizen’s comment

After the closure of the Ceylon Tea Centre in London, a citizen of Sri Lanka from Piliyandala expressed her views in an English daily broad sheet under the letters to the editor column as follows:

“The Sri Lanka Tea Board some years back, opened a branch in London. The aim was to promote local teas in the European market. Although the prices of tea at the centre was on the high side, the Board maintained the break-even level mainly due to the reputation “ƒ”¹…”Ceylon Tea’ had widely gained.

Africa and India also opened branches in London and they sold quality tea at a lesser price. The ultimate result was that the Tea Board lost the competition and had to close down the London Centre. The Tea Board has a fair market share in the Middle East and Eastern countries. Competition is stiff from both Africa and India in these countries as well. The Board has to be on the alert to avoid the same fate recurring in these markets as well”.

The name “Ceylon Tea” or “Sri Lankan tea” is still regarded as a sign of quality tea throughout the world and many believe that the present dynamic Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London has the drive, interest and gumption to resuscitate the Ceylon Tea Industry once again in a different perspective altogether.

[email protected]

Tea History: courtesy Jane Pettigrew 

– See more at: http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=features/tea-two-london-lost-too#sthash.EgxoG3uP.dpuf

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 

 


Copyright © 2018 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress