LOOKING BACK: Ex-planters’ tea party

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The final Assam reunion was held at Eastbourne’s Hydro Hotel recently.

The event was for former tea planters and organiser Jim Robinson sent in this report.

He writes, “Assam is one of the most important tea growing areas in the world. Situated in the North Eastern part of India it has the right climate and growing conditions for tea which was originally established in the mid 19th century by the British East India Company.

“The first tea garden was Chabua Tea Estate in 1837 and one of our guests was born there.

“Most of the bungalows in Assam where tea planters lived were either Victorian or Edwardian and the tea estates overseen by a manager with an assistant with superintendents looking up to about five gardens within one of the many tea firms such as Jardines, Gillanders, Balmer Lawrie, James Warren, Williamson Magor, McNeil Barry, Octavius Steel and W D Goodricke.

“Originally the tea was transported down the Brahmaputra River to Calcutta but the train line and then planes from Dibrugarh sped up the process. Tea planters would often take annual leave in England and many chose the south coast, often deciding to settle in Sussex on retirement from tea.

“Even in the early years of tea the south coast was a favourite holiday destination for tea planters who also sent their children to school there, some of whom attended the reunion this year.

“Many tea planters left India in the 1960s and 70s. Some went to work in tea in Africa while others migrated to Australia.

“After World War II the India Tea Association (ITA) decided that money – £100 – from the Planters’ Amenities Fund should go towards establishing reunions for ex-tea planters in Aberdeen, Eastbourne and the West Country.

“The Aberdeen evening dinner and dance closed in 2008 and attracted up to 90 guests. The West County event never took off but the Eastbourne Reunion Lunch has been going ever since at the Hydro Hotel in Eastbourne originally attracting about 100 guests.

“There are currently several other reunion lunches around the country such as the lunch in Stratford that will be taking place in July and the London Curry Lunch at St Columba’s Church in Pont Street which attracts those who were in the Indian Civil Service and the Army and is in aid of Dr Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong.

“In 2012 a Junior Koi Hai lunch was established in Oxford on a weekend in October specifically for the children of tea planters which attracts around 50 guests annually and this year will be held in Stratford Upon Avon on October 17.

“Many juniors are still working and have families and weekends are more appropriate rather than the weekday Reunion Lunch in Eastbourne in April.

“The Assam Reunion was not just restricted to ex-Assam tea planters but also ex-tea planters from Darjeeling, the Dooars and Terai in North Eastern India. This year we had just over 50 guests including some from Australia and Spain.”

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