The ceremony of drinking tea came into England from the Orient through trading channels with Holland or Portugal and by the end of the 17th century 'that excellent drink called by the Chinese Teka, by other nations Tay or alias tee' became all the rage. It was at this time that special tables for holding tea equipage were first made. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the price of tea had dropped dramatically, the many once-fashionable tea houses were considered common and members of English society began to entertain their friends at home, often in special tea-rooms sometimes decorated in the prevailing Chinese taste. This created a new market for the accoutrements of the ceremony. This tray table conceived in the Chinese manner with its joined columnar legs, stylized pagoda stretchers and unusual scaled, floral and X-carved blocks closely corresponds to the suite of seat furniture supplied to William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough for Ingress Abbey, Kent. Two pairs of the armchairs from the suite were most recently sold in these Rooms, 17 October 1987, lots 143 and 144 and one pair is now in the collection of S. Jon Gerstenfeld, Washington, D.C. (illustrated in E. Lennox-Boyd, ed., Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, Christie's Books, 1998, p.211, fig.39). While the maker of this outstanding suite cannot be identified to date, it is known that William Chambers, author of Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils (1757) was employed at Ingress Abbey, and subsequently at Bessborough House, Roehampton, after Ingress was sold to John Calcraft in 1760. A similar suite from the Chapel Room at Bramshill, Hampshire is illustrated in situ in H.A. Tipping, English Homes: Period III, 1927, p.299, figs.377-378. A pair of chairs from this suite was sold in these Rooms, 16 April 1994, lot 156, while the stools were sold from the Estate of Mrs. John Hay Whitney, Sotheby's New York, 22-25 April 1999, lot 119.
The table is virtually identical in every respect except the design of the stretcher to one sold from the collection of Major Alexander Browne, Callaly Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland, Christie's house sale, 22-24 September 1986, lot 111 and is certainly from the same workshop.