This Leeds shopping receipt is the earliest reference to tea being purchased in England

A receipt, found amongst a large bundle of 17th century apothecary bills, contains a reference to ‘China drink’ – the old name for tea – and is the earliest reference to tea ever to have been found in England!

The receipt, dated 1642, is addressed to Sir Arthur Ingram, a politician and landowner who lived at Temple Newsam in Leeds between 1622 and 1642. It’s a fascinating list of medicinal cures which includes a ‘purging glyster’ (a cleansing medicine which was injected into the rectum); ‘roman wormwood’ which was used to treat nausea and diarrhoea as well as to produce absinthe and vermouth; and, about halfway down the list and priced at four shillings, is a reference to ‘China drink’.

Receipt dated 1642
Receipt dated 1642 (cropped image)

The story of tea begins in China where had been consumed for centuries for medicinal purposes before making its way to Europe. ‘China drink’, later known as ‘Tcha’, ‘Tay’ or ‘Tee’ spread throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. For many years it was believed that the earliest reference to tea in England was in a London newspaper in 1658. However, this apothecary receipt which was rediscovered by a volunteer just a few years ago clearly shows that ‘China drink’ was being consumed in the north of England from as early as 1642.

Obviously unwell to have required so many products from the apothecary, the 77-year-old Sir Arthur Ingram seemed to have been trying to find a cure for his ailments. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end well and just one month after this bill was settled, and with the English Civil War breaking out across the country, Sir Arthur Ingram passed away.

The Temple Newsam archives

Temple Newsam is a historic house located on the outskirts of Leeds, near Garforth. Now part of Leeds Museums and Galleries, the house was, for centuries, the family home of the Ingram family. The archives for Temple Newsam are vast and comprise of over 150 boxes of records dating from the 12th century onwards. The collection includes 16th century manorial records for Temple Newsam and Kirkgate-cum-Holbeck; estate maps and plans including one by the eminent Georgian landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown; and personal family papers which record the fascinating history of those who lived and worked on the estate over time.

As well as its historical value, the Temple Newsam collection is particularly significant to the West Yorkshire Archive Service for another reason. In 1938 the Temple Newsam archive was sold to Leeds Libraries by the Viscount of Halifax for the sum of £300. At that time, a small number of historical manuscripts relating to Leeds were being cared for by the city Librarians. However, to sort through and catalogue such a huge archive collection, the purchase of the Temple Newsam collection prompted the employment of our first city Archivist, Miss A G Foster.

From there the city’s archive collection grew and grew. By 1965 we had outgrown our home in Leeds Central Library and Leeds District Archives moved to the old Sheepscar Branch Library building in Chapeltown. In the early 1980s we joined with the district archives in Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield to form the West Yorkshire Archive Service and would later become part of a larger organisation called West Yorkshire Joint Services. By 2012 the Leeds branch of the West Yorkshire Archive Service left the Sheepscar site and moved to our current site in Morley.

The West Yorkshire Archive Service

The West Yorkshire Archive Service exists to preserve the past, serve the present and protect the future. We do this by collecting and looking after the unique documentary heritage of the region. Each of our five offices hold a wide variety of collections from the 12th century to the present day and our staff help members of the public to use and enjoy these records. At the Leeds office we hold records of Leeds City Council and its predecessor bodies; records of the Diocese of Leeds and local parishes; and archives for local businesses, charities and individuals who have donated or loaned their records to be preserved and accessed, for free, by members of the public.

To find out more about the records we hold please have a browse of our online catalogue or follow us on social media