Saturday, October 30, 2010
THE RISE OF COFFEE HOUSES IN LONDON
To excuse the crime, because 'tis in their drink!
Pure English apes! ye might, for aught I know,
Would it but mode learn to eat spiders too."
But not all poets were detractors. Ben Johnson and other libation-loving poets saw it as a source of inspiration: "drank pure nectar as the Gods drink too."
In 1674 the wives of England took up a "Women's Petition against Coffee," because they thought it made men unfruitful. It's use seemingly would produce offspring of their "mighty ancestors" to dwindle into a succession of apes and pigmies," and when a husband went out on a domestic errand he "would stop by the way to drink a couple of cups of coffee."
A proclamation for the suppression of coffee houses ensued, but was canceled almost before the ink had dried.
Not an auspicios beginning for coffee and one wonders how it became so popular!
The Rainbow of Fleet Street was the second coffee-house opened in London, and many more followed around Change Alley and the Royal Exchange, where the headquarters of Lloyd's began as one of the most remarkable coffee houses of the seventeenth Century. Lloyd's Coffee House, which had a pulpit from which one might orate to the gathered throng, played a notable part in the life of a nation, developing into the shipping exchange of the world, employing 1,500 agents in all parts of the globe.
Coffee houses took their colour from the district in which they were established. Cleriks favoured The Chapter at St Pauls, business men, poets and doctors gathered in others. But Baston's was the exception where businessmen clashed with poets. What did a mere business man know of poetry? Doctors too frequented Batson's coffee house. Sir Richard Blackmore, physician to William III and then Queen Anne was a constant visitor.
Thomas Garraway founded Garraway's Coffee House, which survived until 1866, the ground floor was furnished with cosy mahogany boxes and setas, and the floor covered in sand.
Two other houses, Jonathan's and Sam's were notorious for their connection with stock-jobbing. The latter figured prominently in the gigantic South Sea Bubble fraud.
Towards the end of the 18th century, coffeehouses had almost completely disappeared from the popular social scene in England. Historians offer a wide range of reasons for their decline. Ellis argues that coffeehouse patron's folly through business endeavours, the evolution of the club and the government's colonial policy acted as the main contributors to the decline of the English coffeehouse. Coffeehouse proprietors worked to gain monopoly over news culture and to establish a coffeehouse newspaper as the sole form of print news available. Met with incessant ridicule and criticism, the proposal discredited coffee-men's social standing. Ellis explains: "Ridicule and derision killed the coffee-men's proposal but it is significant that, from that date, their influence, status and authority began to wane.
The rise of the exclusive club such as White's and Boodles were gambling had become popular, also contributed to the decline in popularity of English coffeehouses."Snobbery reared its head, particularly amongst the intelligence, who felt that their special genius entitled them to protection from the common herd. Strangers were no longer welcome." For example, some coffeehouses began charging more than the customary penny to preserve frequent attendance of the higher standing clientele they served.
Literary and political clubs rose in popularity, as "the frivolities of coffee-drinking were lost in more serious discussion. The Blue-Stocking Club owed its popularity to Elizabeth Robinson, wife of Edward Monagu. After losing her only child, her mother and her brother, she turned her pursuits to literary breakfasts and then formed a club where literary discussions took place, wearing a petticoat embroidered with the ruins of Palmyra, with visits from Garrick or French actors. Card playing was not tolerated. Several new publications were penned, stitched in blue paper.
"With a new increased demand for tea, the government also had a hand in the decline of the English coffeehouse in the 18th century. The British East India Company, at the time, had a greater interest in the tea trade than the coffee trade, as competition for coffee had heightened internationally with the expansion of coffeehouses throughout the rest of Europe.
Research source: Inns and Taverns of Old London by Henry C. Shelley.