Sunday 17 October 2010


The Georgian coffee-house was a place for City gents to meet and discuss the stockmarket. By the Victorian period, however, duties on coffee, tea and sugar were reduced, and thus the coffee-house was a more variable creature, and - in many cases - a fairly downmarket establishment, intended for the working man. Here's a nice pic and a quote from the Leisure Hour of 1863:

"What is chiefly remarkable in these popular resorts is their Protean variety and their wonderful adaptation to the circumstances of the neighbourhood. While some are handsomeley furnished saloons, where French cafĂ© is served in china, where the customers smoke cigars and play critically at chess, first dropping a shilling for admission, others are little better than mere barns, where you see the navvy and the hodman importing their own provisions, and paying their one penny for a pint of the liquid, which, so that it be stingingly hot, satisfies them well. In some districts you find the coffee-house a single room, and that but thinly frequented; in others you shall remark that it overflows several floors of the house, threatening even the attics. In the neighbourhoods of large industrial establishments, you find them usurping all the available premises and driving other tradesmen aways; and if you enter of thsese at any of the intervals between working hours, you shall see an interesting spectacle. Pushing open the door, which turns noiselessly on its hingers, you are at once in the presence of two or three hundred of the hard-working ranks, all as quiet ast least as a class of young school-mates in the presence of the master, and all eating, drinking, reading, or sleeping, in an atmosphere which, be it winter or summer - for the season makes little difference - would send the thermometer up to eighty or beyond. Coffee, hot and hot, of an honest piquant brewst - for the workmen won't stand any trifling in this respect - is served at a penny the cup, or three half-pence the pint; while two thick slices of bread anad butter go to the penny, and eggs, rashers of bacon, chops, kidneys and cold beef and ham are dispensed, when called for, at rates proportionately reasonable. At the same time, while the outer man is fed thus cheaply, the mind is regaled still more cheaply, as every man who is awake has soom publication or other, or  at least a portion of one in his hand, and is devouring the news of the day - the last cruel murder, the last prize fight, the coming content for the belt, the exciting romance, the comic story, or the jokes from "Punch." Few of the readers have a whole publication, unless it be an old one - the subdivision of the newspapers and periodicals into sections of four pages being dound more economical by the proprietor, who is thus enabled to restrict his outlay in the literary department.

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