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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Coffeehouses in England

Initially a substitute for alehouses, coffeehouses became a popular alternative form of meeting-place for the English intelligentsia. With an emphasis on quiet conversation, while drinking coffee or chocolate they would find out the latest political, military and general news.

Edward Lloyd opened a London coffee house in 1688 which became popular with shipowners and merchants who gathered there to create insurance for their journeys and cargo. It is now Lloyds of London.

Separate coffee shops specialized in different aspects of news. Edward Lloyd’s Coffee Shop for example was of particular interest for merchants who came for the latest information on commerce. Because of the turmoil in the political parties around this time, some of these establishments specialized in becoming public meeting places for people of a particular political persuasion.  Tories, for instance, went to the Cocoa Tree Chocolate House, Whigs to St James’s Coffee House.

In a typical coffeehouse the gentlemen would sit at long communal tables drinking their coffee from tall cups whilst reading newspapers or discussing business or the latest news. These establishments were adorned with bookshelves, gilt-framed pictures and mirrors.  Ladies were excluded from these premises, the only female present would be the lady who poured out the coffee from a coffee-pot, which were ranged at an open fire and she would be separated from the men-folk by a canopied booth.

By 1710 there were over 500 coffeehouses in London, occupying more premises than any other trade in the city. Every respectable Londoner had his favorite house, where his friends or clients could see him at known hours. By this stage they were spreading to provinces, Bristol in particular having a good number of these establishments.

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