Inside Ipswich's Blitz-themed tearoom
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
For the past 16 months, people up and down the country have channelled a renewed sense of Blitz sprit to help pull everyone through the ongoing pandemic.
One duo who especially understand the importance of keeping calm and carrying on is Adam Gray and Clive Driver.
Back in December, the pair opened their St Peter’s Street-based café, The Blitz 1940s Tea Room.
However, following ever-changing lockdown restrictions, the two were forced to close their doors just three weeks in as Tier 4 came to Suffolk.
But five months on, restrictions began to ease and the tea room was able to open its doors once again on May 17 – and business has since been booming.
After stepping inside, it’s not hard to see why.
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As soon as you cross the threshold, it feels like you’ve gone back to wartime Britain. The tea room – which is spread across three floors – has a number of themed rooms, with each one offering customers a different atmosphere, all reminiscent of a much-romanticised era.
The ground floor is where you will find the front room. Adorned in Union Jack bunting and posters, the left-hand side features a row of framed wartime photos donated by regulars, giving the tea room another tick for authenticity.
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"This is our memory lane,” explains co-owner Adam Gray.
“We invite anybody who's got a picture of a loved one when they were in the forces, to give us a copy if they’d like so we can put it on the wall.”
As you continue to make your way through the building, you’ll notice how all of the décor, furniture and interiors are all true to the time period - making the café feel like even more of a time capsule.
“We wanted to make everything as accurate as possible when it came to getting the right look. Everything we use here has been given a second life – right down to the vintage cups, saucers and teapots. We’ve had things donated to us, or some of it has come from auctions,” he says.
Head up the stairs and there you will find the officers’ mess – a casual room where people can enjoy a drink and a bite to eat while flicking through magazines, newspapers and books from the 1940s.
And up on the top floor is the parlour – a more formal room where customers can enjoy a quaint afternoon or cream tea.
“It’s a bit of a different experience up here - it’s slightly more formal, with a more royal feel to it. We’ve got portraits of monarchs on the wall - from Queen Victoria right the way though to George VI.”
Explaining the inspiration behind the aesthetic, Adam says: “The theme very much fits in with our own family ties, and the running of a tea room was something we’ve wanted to do for a long time.
“We’ve both always had an interest in this particular time period. My grandad was killed in World War Two in 1940 at the age of 27, so I’ve always had that story in my family. And after both changing our jobs - I was made redundant two years ago - we just decided to do something for ourselves, and setting up the tea room was the perfect plan.”
So what’s on the menu?
Customers can expect to find a plethora of British staples at the town centre eatery – including a range of freshly-made sandwiches, jacket potatoes, homemade soup, cakes, scones, and hot and cold drinks. Both afternoon tea and cream tea are also available.
“I wanted to go for a menu that’s quite simple but still appealing,” explains Clive.
“We want people to come in and have something they might not have at home - but we also want to appeal to people who are on their lunch break and want a quick bite to eat. With our afternoon tea, you’d get the full works – so sandwiches, scones, sausage rolls, cakes, Scotch eggs, and tea,” adds Adam.
The afternoon tea has been especially popular with the town’s residents who have already paid a visit.
“It’s been described as a museum by a couple of people,” says Clive.
“People enjoy it because they can relate to that Blitz spirit of the past, when everyone came together. Coming here evokes memories and a real sense of comfort. To think of a time in the past where we did get through such tough times, it makes them feel safe and relaxed,” adds Adam.
With a theme that cherishes the past, the future looks just as bright for Adam and Clive, who are optimistic for the summer and beyond.
“We're very positive. I think opening when we did was always going to be a gamble - we never expected to start a business in the pandemic - but the responses we’ve had so far have been great.
“We already have regulars who pop in to see us, who all say how much they love the food, the décor and the ambiance.”
It’s not only the customers who have been so supportive of Adam and Clive’s venture – but their neighbours on St Peter’s Street have been just as welcoming.
“We really felt that being in this part of Ipswich suited our vision and the style of the tea room, and the great thing about being here is there’s a real community. We had so much support from the businesses around us during lockdown, and that reallt made us hold our nerve and carry on.
“We started during a tough time but if we get through it, as things lift, things will no doubt get better. The future is bright.”