London’s coffee connections

EAS_4101As it is International Coffee Day today (National Coffee Day in the US), let’s have a look at coffee and London. Coffee follows on nicely from our last post on London’s singleton street names, as 1652 saw London’s first coffee house open in St Michael’s Alley, off Cornhill. Coffee was advertised as “a very good help to digestion, quickens the spirits, and is good against sore eyes”.Cornhill, according to London historian John Stow, takes its name “of a corn market, time out of mind there holden”. The street has literary connections including Charlotte Bronte, Daniel Defoe, and Thomas Gray. It was also once a place dear to the hearts of fences and drinkers.

EAS_4102One of London’s strongest coffee connections, at Change Alley in the City of London, the name of which is an abbreviation of ‘Exchange Alley’ – from the Royal Exchange. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Exchange was so crowded that many of the brokers transacted their business in local coffee houses, Jonathan’s Coffee House in particular. Jonathan’s was also the scene of the disastrous ‘South Sea Bubble’ scheme, speculation that ruined the purses and lives of thousands of investors.

Samuel Pepys (who pre-dated the Bubble) mentions the coffee house in his diary: “At noon by coach to the ’Change with Mr. Coventry, thence to the Coffee-house with Captain Coeke”.

Another coffee connection lies in Dean Street, where Number 33 was the site of a coffee house known as Jack’s, which was frequented by artists and writers such as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, and Oliver Goldsmith. It later became Walker’s hotel, where it is alleged that Nelson slept the night before he sailed to the battle of Trafalgar.

In the 18th century, part of St John’s Gate was a coffee house run by Richard Hogarth, father of the painter William Hogarth. It was also the base for the Gentleman’s Magazine, a publication edited by Edward Cave and which provided the first use of the word ‘magazine’ as we know it today. Some of the more frequent visitors of the time (and contributors to the magazine) were Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and David Garrick.

And, last but not least, the inn at La Belle Sauvage Yard once also served as a coffee house.

Incidentally, there is, alas, no Coffee Street, Lane, Yard or anything else in London, though there are many scattered about the US.

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