An ancient building, a British tradition and a philanthropic 16th-century wool merchant – just your average business really.
Set in Warwick’s historic heart, in sight of the town’s still-mighty castle, our tearooms were once home to our namesake Thomas Oken.
We offer our guests a cosy setting in which to relax and enjoy our snacks, cakes, meals and, of course, teas. Choose a seat in either of our two ground floor rooms or venture upstairs to get comfy in the drawing room. In the warmer months join us in our outside seating area, in view of the castle.
We pride ourselves on our fine selection of teas. Choose from over thirty ethically sourced loose leaf options from across the globe, enjoy or an enlivening locally roasted and freshly ground coffee. Alternatively, choose from a selection of locally bottled ales and ciders.
Our menu offers hot and cold savouries, including traditional favourites such as Welsh Rarebit and Lamb Hotpot, as well as sweet treats, such as our renowned Cream Teas and delicious cakes baked on the premises. All of our food is freshly prepared, locally sourced and homemade where possible.
The plaque on the outside of Thomas Oken Tea Rooms reads,
“Here lived Thomas Oken, a great benefactor to Warwick. He died here on the 29th July 1573“
Thomas Oken came from a humble family, but became the richest man in Warwick, making his fortune dealing in wool and woven fabrics. He lived during the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, during a period of great religious change and social upheaval.
Thomas Oken was a public-spirited man, and was very involved in local politics. He was the Master of the Guild of Holy Trinity and Saint George (which was housed in what is now the Lord Leycester Hospital) in 1545, when Warwick was granted its town charter. This was at the time when Henry VIII dissolved the guilds in order to seize their assets for the crown; and Thomas conducted difficult negotiations with the King’s Commissioners in order to secure a substantial part of the Church and Guild endowments for the local corporation and charitable funds. He went on to become Bailiff of the Corporation in 1557.
A chest belonging to Thomas Oken still exists, and stands in the corner of the Council Chamber at the Court House (the building that houses the Visitor Information Centre on the corner of Castle Street and Jury Street). The chest was restored in 1851 and painted with the town’s arms and Thomas Oken’s initials.
The five plate locks and clasps and staples for four padlocks meant that the chest could only be opened in the presence of all the key holders – all members of the Corporation. It would have contained a lot of money and confidential documents.
Thomas Oken was married (to Joan) but died childless, and left his personal fortune to the town. His will arranged – amongst other things – for the payment of the salary of the schoolmaster, annual payments to ‘the poor’, the paving of certain streets, the repairing of the bridge, the wages of the herdsmen and the beadle, the repairing of the wells and the provision of a number of almshouses. The Thomas Oken Charity is still in existence today – and still owns this building, the rent for which goes towards good causes for the benefit of Warwick people.
In his will, Thomas Oken also provided for the spending of £1 annually on a feast, preceded by a service at St. Mary’s. The annual feast still goes on to this day, during which a toast is always given to Thomas Oken’s memory
The leaves of the tea plant – Camellia Sinensis – have been infused in water to make a refreshing drink by the Chinese for over five thousand years.
The Dutch began to import tea in the late sixteenth century, and from here its use spread to other countries in continental Europe. Tea was not introduced to Britain until 1662 when Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married Charles II. She loved tea and it became a fashionable drink in court and among the wealthy classes. By the eighteenth century China tea and tea-ware were a feature of every aristocratic and middle class English home.
For a long time tea was only the drink of the middle and upper classes because it was taxed so highly that it was very expensive; and smuggling was commonplace. The government slashed the tax on tea in 1784 and tea suddenly became legally affordable to everyone.
Tea was soon recognized as an invaluable drink for the workforce of the industrial revolution. It was now cheap and non-alcoholic, and provided needed sustenance (when mixed with milk and sugar) for people working long hours in the factories.
The Opium Wars between Britain and China (1839 to 1842) led to the East India Company starting to grow tea in India, and this is when it really became the national drink of Britain.
The ritual of afternoon tea (with sandwiches, scones, cream and cakes) was allegedly started by the seventh Duchess of Bedford who was feeling peckish one summer afternoon while on holiday at Woburn Abbey in 1840, and asked her maid to bring tea and a tray of bread and butter to her room, to keep her going until the evening meal. She enjoyed this so much that she started to invite her friends to the occasion – and it became a way of spending time with each other and catching up with the gossip.
There has been a revival of this tradition in recent years – and of interest in tea, in all its many forms. We hope you enjoy chatting with friends and family over a cuppa, and participating in the wonderful ritual and tradition of tea drinking at Thomas Oken Tea Rooms!