The Great Devon Cornwall Cream Tea Debate

How do you scoff yours?

Tobi Carver - 9th July 2020

Over the last two weeks the nation should have been been enjoying the delights of the dull thud of ball on cat gut, the squeak of sneaker grass and amusing power-grunts.

Another unfortunate social and sporting casualty of the coronavirus lockdown of course has been Wimbledon. The annual sporting event that sees a white-clad Womble attempt to kill purple-and-green-clad Muggles with a fluffy ball hit at around 100mph while a second Womble sportingly places themselves in the way.

I might not have quite got the idea of the game right. What I do know is that over the course of the two weeks a glut of strawberries and cream, bubbly and cream teas would have been served and enjoyed.

That got us at The Day That thinking about the age old debate – Cornwall or Devon? Hours could be spent (unsuccessfully in this writer’s opinion) arguing the case for Devon. What we actually mean is thinking about the Great Cream Tea debate.

The Debate:

I am sure you will have heard all the arguments in this debate before.

When serving your cream tea do you put the cream on the scone first – and then the jam? The Devon way. Or do you put the jam on first and then the cream? The Cornish way. Of course the Cornish often prefer splits – a lighter, fluffier and slightly sweeter version of a scone.

Well for a Kernewek like me it is obvious and, frankly, rather baffling that there is any debate about it!

Cornwall or Devon? 

There are many reported pros and cons to the two methods.

Those in favour of the Devon way say that cream is a diary product like butter so it goes first. That way they say you don’t get cream on your nose and you can put more of it on.

The Cornish proponents say the jam smothers the taste of the cream when the Devon way round.

Whichever argument you favour it is an age old debate.


According to tradition cream teas started at Tavistock Abbey in the 12th century. Here the monks spread cream then jam on their bread. Jam came last and least because of its high cost.

We feel the cream tea must pre-date this though.

As far back as 815 there are records, found just today, of a meeting between a Cornish army and their English neighbours. Apparently the whole debate stems from a simple misunderstanding.

Peace talks were underway and at high tea the Cornish served splits and cream with jam. No tea then of course so they used ale.

When it came to his turn one English lord said “Oh I say! I do rather prefer the cream first if its not too much bother?”

The Cornish king asked his interpreter what the man had said.

Now whether the man had had too much ale or just misheard, his answer was “I think ‘e jus’ questioned the legitimacy of your birth pard.”

What followed became infamous as the Battle of the Field of Rancid Cream.


Research has also been done on the age old subject. We spoke to Professor Loveday Tremaine of the Institute of Creaminal Studies as to whether science could give a definitive answer.

“For me its obvious and, frankly, I’m rather baffled there’s anything to debate!” she spluttered through her split, “I can’t say that though otherwise we won’t get any funding.”

“However the range of controlled scientific taste tests carried out by us, here at the Institute, prove beyond a doubt that the Cornish way is best. You can’t argue with science!”

The Verdict? 

Despite the – I will admit slightly biased view of the writer – his and Prof. Loveday’s opinion on the matter is backed up by several surveys of the UK population.

According to one, by a Devon-based cream tea provider, 6 in 10 preferred the Cornish way. Another, by a nationwide French restaurant chain, found that only 24% of respondents prefer the Devon way.

Her Majesty The Queen has even been confirmed as enjoying her cream teas the Cornish way. I’ve even been told she prefers splits to scones.

So there it is. Cornish is the answer.

Let’s not even talk about the northern way of adding butter before either jam or cream!

So next time … ‘Scone’ or ‘Scoone’? 

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