124 YEARS OF BABINGTONS
Almost all roads lead to Rome. But all the roads in Rome, absolutely all of them, lead to Piazza di Spagna. To the Spanish Steps, to the fountain of Bernini. Actually of the Berninis (father and son), and therefore to Babingtons, think about it.
PART OF THE GRAND TOUR
In 1893 two young women – Isabel Cargill (whose father founded the city of Dunedin in New Zealand) and Anna Maria Babington (descended from the Anthony Babington who was hanged for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I) – arrived in Rome with their one hundred pounds and their intention of making a respectable living in the Eternal City.
What better idea than to provide the flourishing English community with somewhere to take tea – only found in chemists – and read the newspapers? (Also, unmentionably, there were bathroom facilities!)
Babingtons Tea Room opened in Via Due Macelli and was an immediate success – so much so that the following year Babingtons moved to the prestigious site at the foot of the Spanish Steps, the original stables of the 18th century palazzo designed by Francesco De Sanctis, architect of the Spanish Steps and the Casina Rossa (today home to the Keats & Shelley House). The new Tea Room were furnished in the latest fashion – including cutting – edge brown linoleum – and became, according to the English language Roman Herald a favoured meeting place “where ladies or gentlemen, hard at work sightseeing could go to refresh themselves with a comforting cup of tea”.
During this time, Isabel met and married the artist Giuseppe da Pozzo (the portraits of Anna Maria and Isabel hanging in the Tea Room are his) and from their union a daughter, Dorothy, was born.
The first world war plunged Rome society – and Babingtons – into depression, but thanks to the determination of everyone, staff included, the Tea Room managed to survive. Paradoxically it was the heady 1920s which proved to be Babingtons lowest point, the depression of the war years hard to overcome. Exhausted, Anna Maria moved to Switzerland hoping to recuperate her failing health, but died of a sudden heart attack in 1929.
Isabel was hoping for a quieter life, busy with her daughter Dorothy’s marriage to Count Attilio Bedini Jacobini. The Tea Room would have closed had it not been for Isabel’s sister Annie who invested her life’s savings to give the Tea Room a complete facelift. Success was immediate and with Dorothy now helping with day to day management Babingtons once again became a hub of Roman society.
During the 1930s, with the rise of Fascism, the city’s suspiciously “un-Italian” businesses began to disappear. It is inexplicable how Babingtons with its name- English Tea Room- in bold bronze characters beside the door, should become fashionable among high-ranking members of the regime, politely served with tea and scones in the first room while around the corner the anti-fascist intelligentsia met to confabulate (with their emergency exit through the kitchens).
After the out break of the second world war in 1941 Dorothy evacuated her mother and four children to Northern Italy, where, in January 1944, Isabel died. It was difficult to imagine how the Tea Room would survive both the war and her loss. And yet, amazingly, when Dorothy managed to return to Rome she discovered that three of the staff, Crescenza, Giulia and Anita had been walking from home to open Babingtons every day, using their own rations to invent nut croquettes, potato-flour bread, chick-pea-flour scones and dried-chestnut-flour cakes. During the whole course of the war, the Tea Room had closed only for a few hours when the Allies’ entered Rome.
MASCHERINO CREATES THE SPECIAL BLEND
It is then Dorothy to take over. Times had changed and new clients were asking for more substantial and savoury food. A lunch menu was introduced, Dorothy’s children helping to invent dishes such as Canarino. Dorothy’s son Valerio went to London with bottles of Piazza di Spagna water to create Babingtons' first unique blend, the Babingtons Specials Blend with the importers. Valerio also designed the Babingtons cat logo: until health and safety regulations intervened, there had always been a resident cat (Mascherino) in the Tea Room.
MORE THAN JUST A CUP OF TEA
Managed today by Isabel’s great grandchildren, Chiara and Rory are proving that the enterprising that originally inspired Babingtons is alive and well: a new entrance door now leads directly into the Tea Room from the Spanish Steps. Babingtons Tea Shop sells a beautiful selection of unique blends and teas from all over the world, there are concerts, tea tastings and the annual Christmas Carols singing. Having survived two world wars, several economic recessions as well as the arrival of fast food, Babingtons continues to be “… the fashionable establishment for a select clientele” (Guida Monaci – 1899).
Indeed it is here, in our sitting room in the heart of the city, that to this day royalty and celebrities meet knowing that discretion and a warm welcome greet them upon stepping into Babingtons, making them feel quite at home!
Our menu offers a wide selection of sweet and savoury dishes, from light meals to Victorian teas, as the English tradition requires.
Our Tea Shop offers an extensive range of fine teas from around the world as well as a superb selection of unique blends created by our qualified tea tasters.
Our challenge today is to maintain the Victorian heritage and 120-year traditions, while meeting customers’ new needs: from Queen Victoria’s much loved scones to the curried rice, the prized club sandwiches, the home made English muffins, the beautiful “embroidered” cakes, the fun cupcakes. Always with a pot of delicious tea on the table.
Why? Because tea harmoniously enhances the flavours of each and every dish, whether savoury or sweet. Tea follows the mood, accompanies a conversation and strengthens friendship… beyond all cultures, time and age.
Who knows what Isabel and Anna Maria would think of all this…