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Review: Betty's Tea Rooms


York, United Kingdom

Oooooh Betty!

  • By SilverTraveller pb52

    206 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • Nov 2013
  • York
  • Casual
  • British

50 people found this review helpful

Swiss national, Frederick Belmont, was orphaned at a very early age and spent his teenage years learning the bakery trade around Europe.

On arrival in the UK, he had the good sense to make his way to Yorkshire, where he made his home.

By 1919 he had opened his first Tea-Rooms and this was followed by a Craft Bakery in the 1920's which produced all the mouth watering treats for his premises. Fine hand-made chocolates now also feature.

Expansion followed and there are now six premises throughout North Yorkshire bearing the iconic Betty's name.

Who the original and enigmatic Betty was, however, is a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie herself.

The famous author and crime writer disappeared from home without a trace in December 1926 and with speculation of kidnap or suicide abounding, a nationwide police search was mounted. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L.Sayers were called in to offer their expertise too.

Eleven days later at The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, just down the road from Betty's, Agatha was recognised by the hotel band's banjo player, Agatha having booked in under an assumed name. The reasons for her behaviour remain shrouded in claim and counter claim.

There are a number of theories too about Betty; a tribute to Queen Mary; named after a local Spa Manageress or a local Doctor's tragically ill daughter and several others. This too remains a mystery.

I digress however, and choosing which Betty's to visit is a dilemma in itself.

Harrogate has the original Tea-Rooms with it's superb Imperial Room overlooking the gardens of the Stray.

Another sits in the grounds of the R.H.S Harlow Carr Gardens a couple of miles away.

Thirsk, Ilkley and Northallerton each have one, whilst the ancient and historic city of York has two, a small café and shop in Stonegate and the one I visited recently in St Helen's Square.

Betty's is a Yorkshire institution, a right of passage for daughter's to take high tea with their mum, for ladies who lunch or simply for a high class treat. It has to be done!

This is an experience from a bygone age, with wooden panelling, stained glass feature windows, tall potted palms, waitresses in smart black and white uniforms and friendly Yorkshire service. Often there is the tinkling of a piano to be heard.

The impressive Belmont Room at St. Helen's Square boasts all of these features and is said to have been inspired by the interiors of the Queen Mary ocean going liner.

Downstairs is another large dining area which features two large mirrors. Nothing unusual in that you may think, but during World War II the basement Betty's Bar served as the unofficial home for the 'Bomber Boys', British, U.S., Canadian, New Zealand and Australian airmen from nearby airfields.

They scratched names and messages on the mirrors with a special diamond pen, almost 600 of them in all, and these are preserved today for all to see. Many of these airmen have made a nostalgic return with their families.

The afternoon tea I took with my guest was spectacular, appearing on two three-tiered cake stands with four different and amply filled sandwiches (with the crusts cut off, naturally), a scone with jam and clotted cream, with three beautiful, tasty cakes and pastries topping off the Christmas Tree effect. Loose leaf tea served on a silver tea service competed the stunning effect.

It was amusing to watch from our window table as people passing by took a second glance and dropped their jaws or popped their eyes. One tourist even took a photograph through the window!

Suffice it to say that the visual treat was surpassed by the freshness and tastiness of all the items. Goodie-boxes are supplied on request for those who fail to complete the task in hand.

Betty's bought the tea and coffee merchants Taylor's of Harrogate in the 1960's and have incorporated them into the business seamlessly. The queues for the magnificent bakery, tea and coffee shop next door are a further testament to quality, whilst the Tea-Rooms themselves serve more than one million customers a year.

Betty's Cookery School also thrives.

Frederick Belmont may have been Swiss, but after all his good work, I think he can be counted as an honorary Yorkshireman.

Booking is accepted on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for afternoon teas.

Further information can be found at

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 2 Comment(s)

  • ESW
    almost 7 years ago
    I've not eaten in Betty's but always buy a fat rascal from them. They may be expensive but are huge, and enough for two to share.
  • daydreamer
    almost 7 years ago
    As a York resident, I frequently go past Betty's in St Helen's Square.. Notice I don't say I go there frequently or that I take visitors there. Something you don't mention is THE QUEUE. It's generally horrendous - a bit like queuing for a ride at Alton Towers. You'd get served faster if you jumped in your car and zoomed off to Northallerton. Now, that is a branch of Betty's I HAVE been in.

    You didn't really touch on the prices either.They are high.Very high.

    However, I can vouch for the cakes. My little grandson aged six goes to a school in York whose chef used to work at Betty's. His cakes and tea breads are phenomenal.

    The wartime history of Betty's is really its unique selling point and I wouldn't be surprised if the tearooms had a few unseen returnees.. Not far away, in Precentors' Court, there have been fairly recent reports of ghostly airmen in 2nd World War uniform. On their way To Betty's for a nostalgic visit perhaps?