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Gloucester Coffee House 1828

Charles Rosenberg, West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly, after J Pollard. 1828


On coffee-houses

London: printed for Jonathan Edwin at the Three Roses in Ludgate Street, 1673. Part of the Harleian Miscellany, Volume VIII.

'A coffee-house is a lay conventicle, good-fellowship turned puritan, ill-husbandry in masquerade, whither people come, after toping all day, to puchase, at the expence of their last penny, the repute of sober companions; a Rota room, that, like Noah's ark, receives animals of every sort, from the precise diminutive band, to the hectoring cravat and cuffs in folio; a nursery for training up the smaller fry of virtuosi in confident tattling, or a cabal of kittling criticks that have only learned to spit and mew; a mint of intelligence, that, to make each man his pennyworth, draws out into petty parcels, what the merchant receives in bullion: he, that comes often, saves two-pence a week in Gazettes, and has his news and his coffee for the same charge, as at a threepenny ordinary they give in broth to your chop of mutton; it is an exchange, where haberdashers of political small wares meet, and mutually abuse each other, and the publick, with bottomless stories, and headless notions; the rendezvous of idle pamphlets, and persons more idly employed to read them; a high court of justice, where every little fellow in a camlet cloke takes upon him to transpose affairs both in church and state, to shew reasons against acts of parliament, and condemn the decrees of general councils....

'The room stinks of tobacco worse than hell of brimstone, and is as full of smoke as their heads that frequent it, whose humours are as various as those of Bedlam, and their discourse oftentimes as heathenish and dull as their liquor; that liquor, which, by its looks and taste, you may reasonably guess to be Pluto's diet drink, that witches tipple out of dead men's skulls, when they ratify to Beelzebub their sacramental vows.'

A reply to these scurrilities was not long wanting.

London: printed by J. Lock for J. Clarke, 1675. Part of the Harleian Miscellany, Volume VIII.

'Though the happy Arabia, nature's spicery, prodigally furnishes the voluptuous world with all kinds of aromaticks, and divers other rarities; yet I scarce know whether mankind be not still as much obliged to it for the excellent fruit of the humble coffee shrub, as for any other of its more specious productions: for, since there is nothing we here enjoy, next to life, valuable beyond health, certainly those things that contribute to preserve us in good plight and eucrasy, and fortify our weak bodies against the continual assaults and batteries of diseases, deserve our regards much more than those which only gratify a liquorish palate, or otherwise prove subservient to our delights. As for this salutiferous berry, of so general a use through all the regions of the east, it is sufficiently known, when prepared, to be moderately hot, and of a very drying attenuating and cleansing quality; whence reason infers, that its decoction must contain many good physical properties, and cannot but be an incomparable remedy to dissolve crudities, comfort the brain, and dry up ill humours in the stomach. In brief, to prevent or redress, in those that frequently drink it, all cold drowsy rheumatick distempers whatsoever, that proceed from excess of moisture, which are so numerous, that but to name them would tire the tongue of a mountebank.'

and a little later

CÚsar de Saussure, Letters from London 1725-1729.

In London there are innumerable badly appointed coffee-houses, their furniture spoiled on account of the number of people who frequent them for most of the time, and above all because of the smokers, who quickly ruin the furniture, for you must understand that the English smoke a great deal. In these establishments, you can have chocolate, tea, coffee, all sorts of hot drinks, and, in some, even wine, punch and ale. But it is useless to ask for fresh drinks like orgeat, lemonade, capillaire and the like. They are hardly known in this country.

What attracts a lot of people to the coffee-houses are the gazettes and other public papers, for the English are great readers of news.....

There are coffee-houses which are the meeting places of scholars and wits; others which are frequented by beaux; others which are only frequented by Politicians and News-Mongers; and several which are Temples of Venus. It is easy to recognise these latter because they often have on their sign the arm or the hand of a woman holding a coffee pot. There are many of these houses in the region of Covent Garden, which pass for being chocolate houses, where the customers are served by beautiful, clean and well dressed nymphs, who seem very agreeable, but who are in fact very dangerous.


Much later:

Midnight, Tom and Jerry at a coffee shop near the Olympic from Life in London by Pierce Egan, illustration by I.R. and G. Cruickshank, c1820.

Pierce Egan, Life in London. c1820

The Corinthian and Jerry, who had got rather 'a little funny' by this time, from the lots of wine and blue ruin they had drank in the course of the evening, were recommended by Fat Bet to take a cup of coffee, as it was getting late, which would put them all to rights. Our heroes, on leaving the Sluicery, were not long before they strolled into a Coffee-shop.

This group (which the plate so correctly delineates, and in point of character, equal to any of Hogarth's celebrated productions) displays a complete picture of what is termed 'Low Life' in the Metropolis; drunkenness, beggary, lewdness, and carelessness, being its prominent features. It is, however, quite new to thousands in London. Tom and Jerry have just dropped in, by way of a finish to the evening, in their route towards home, and quite prime for a lark. Knowing the use of their morleys, fear is out of the question; and coffee or a turn-up is equally indifferent to them. Upon the entrance of these Swells, a general stare is the result: the Cyprians are throwing their leering ogles towards them, in hopes of procuring a Cull; and if the latter are caught any ways inclined to roosting from being swipy, the young buzmen will make them pay dearly for the few winks they may enjoy. Mahogany Bet, so termed from her never fading colour, who has braved the wind and weather, night after night, under some gateway, for succeeding winters, but quite done up as to matters of trade, and as hoarse as a raven, is now glad to singe a muffin, by way of sarvitude, to prevent total starvation; and Pretty Poll, on the right-hand side of the fire-place, gulping down some coffee, once the boast of the Garden for her beauty, is now so bloated and loathsome as to prove disgusting even to the lowest visitors of a coffee-shop. Over the fire-place, as if in contempt of the subjects, the Cove of the Ken, has placed the portraits of Innocence and Virtue. Squinting Nan, full of lush, jealousy, and indignation at Dirty Suke, for seducing her fancy-man from her, is getting over the box to sarve the bunter out for her duplicity, which tends to kick up a general row. Suke swears by her precious sparklers that she will have a fight for Jem. Nan has nearly knocked the coffee out of the black diamond's hand, who is growling like a bear at losing a drop of it. Ugly Bob, a waterman to the Jarvies, is endeavouring to obtain a 'chaste salute' from the lips of Frowsy Sal; but she is blowing up the nasty fellow for his imperance; and says 'she will smash his topper, if he attempts to take any more liberties with her person.' The little mot who is trying it on upon Jerry's clie, to feel if any blunt is to be had, has just turned round to the flue-faker, begging the dirty fellow to keep his distance; and Jem Spendall, almost in the last stage of a consumption, of a shabby genteel appearance, standing up, with a pot in his hand near Squinting Nan, was once one of the gayest young swells upon the town, whom Tom has just recognised. But owing to a combination of unfortunate circumstances, such as gambling, dissipation etc, he is so cut up, that all his old pals have turned their backs upon him. The chap in the corner, with his hat on the top of his head and his arms crossed, near Mahogany Bet, has been chaffing Spendall the whole of the evening, about his being so cucumberish as to be compelled to gammon the draper, making the room ring again with noisy peals of laughter at the distress of the unfortunate homo.

morleys : fists
turn-up : fight
Cyprian : follower of Venus
cull : punter
roosting : going with a woman
swipy : intoxicated
buzman : pickpocket
Garden : Covent Garden, haunt of Cyprians
Cove of the Ken : owner of the place
lush : drink
bunter : a low, dirty prostitute, half whore, half beggar (according to the 1811 dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue)
sparklers : jewellery
flue-faker : chimney sweep
gammoning the draper : when a man is without a shirt, and is buttoned up close to his neck, with merely a handkerchief round it, to make an appearance of cleanliness, it is termed 'gammoning the draper'.

On the post

It was John Palmer of Bath (1742-1818) who suggested changing from post boys to lightweight coaches for mail delivery. His idea was resisted, but in 1784 a trial was undertaken between London and Bristol, and it was found that the mail coach reduced the journey time from 36 to 16 hours. From this time and for the next 62 years, mailcoaches departed from London to all parts of the country.

When the service began, passengers had to make their way to the Post Office Headquarters in Lombard Street to catch the coach. From here all mail coaches departed at 8 pm in the evening. The Post Office itself would therefore close at 7 pm in order for mail to be sorted and put on the respective coaches. By 1829, when the Post Office Headquarters moved to St Martins Le Grand, 28 mail coaches were leaving London simultaneously. To ease congestion, therefore, the six Western mail coaches departed from the Gloucester Coffee House in Piccadilly at 8.30 pm.

The mails were generally the preferred form of transport as they were clean, light and fast, were strictly limited as to numbers, had a guard equipped with a blunderbuss, pistols and a sword, and were run very punctually, as both the driver and guard were subject to fines for not running to time.

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