The Coffeehouse Culture

The Coffeehouse Culture

Welcome all to The Coffeehouse Culture! In this page, you’ll find extensive information on coffeehouses in England during the 18th century. Included is a coffeehouse time-line, notable coffeehouses of the 18th century, the role of coffeehouses as clubhouses and political reforms, King Charles II’s distrust and temporary shut down of coffeehouses, the process of licensing coffeehouses, the role of coffeehouses in literature, and the coffeehouse today.

Lloyd’s Coffeehouse

Coffeehouses were a place for men to discuss current issues. Many coffeehouses became popular because of famous poets and writers who frequented them. For example, the first picture is of Lloyds of London. Will’s, which became famous from John Dryden, an English poet, probably looked similar to this. Coffeehouse conversations were not always about serious issues. In fact, they could become rowdy and out of control since most coffeehouses served alcohol. Many poets claimed to be influenced by the Coffeehouse culture, one being Alexander Pope. His famous Rape of the Lock is claimed to be composed out of gossip heard in a coffeehouse (Coffeehouses).

A Coffeehouse Timeline

1650: England’s first recorded coffeehouse opens in Oxford
1652: London’s first coffee house, Pasqua Rosee opens in St. Michael’s Alley
London’s second coffee house The Rainbow opens on Fleet Street
1673: “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” issued, claiming that coffee makes men “unfruitful”
“The Character of a Coffee House” pamphlet issued, condemning diversity and free thought which occurred in coffeehouses
1683: Approximately 2,000 coffee houses exist in London
1754: Beford Coffee House opens

Drinks and Discussion

Notable Coffeehouses

Will’s: Owned by William Urwin and located on Russell Street on Covent Garden. Famous patrons include John Dryden and Alexander Pope, who first visited the coffee house at only 12 years old. Pope’s Rape of the Lock arose out of coffee house gossip. Will’s was also known as Wits. Neither Jonathan Swift nor the Earl of Halifax liked Will’s. The Earl of Halifax resented that Dryden did not acknowledge the influence that he had in his writing. Closed in 1712.
The Grecian: Located in Devreux Court, London. Served as a meeting place for the “Learned Club” which had members who were “adjacent to the law”. In a famous fight over the pronunciation of a Greek word, a sword was run through the door of the coffee house.
Turk’s Head: Located in Westminster. Known for housing debates.
The Rainbow: Located on Fleet Street and was the second coffee house to be opened in London (1652). Owned by James Farr who was previously a barber.
Button’s Coffee House: Located on Russell Street in Covent Garden. Also known as The Lion’s Head Letter Box because patrons could drop of pieces of their writing there to be published in the local newspaper The Gaurdian
Bedford Coffee House: Opened in 1754. Famous patrons include Henry Fielding, William Hogarth, Charles Churchill and Oliver Goldsmith.
Jonathan’s Coffee House: Located in Change Alley and a meeting place for stockbrokers. Later became the London Stock Exchange.
Lloyd’s of London: Owned by Edward Lloyd and a meeting place for underwriters of ship insurance to conduct business. Women were not allowed.

Coffeehouses as Clubhouses

The location of a coffee house often designated the type of patrons it would recieve:

  • Political figures would often flock to coffee houses in the Westminster, Whitehall, St. James, or Pall Mall area.
  • Lawyers and other Professionals frequented the Charing Cross, Strand, Fleet Street, St. Martin’s Lane, Holborn and St. Pauls areas.
  • Intellectuals, Scholars, and Scientists changed locations.
  • Journalists visited most coffee houses because they proved to be good breeding grounds of gossip and provide information on current events (Wikipedia, Coffee, Geocities).

Coffeehouses bred a variety of patrons as diverse as the drinks they served. They became a leveling ground for all men of London. Street merchants and society businessmen could come together under one roof and converse with each other with disregard to status (Fordham).

Beginning in the middle of the 16th century, coffeehouses became the social meeting place for the people of London. A large part of British culture was shaped there. In coffeehouses the playing field was level, and every man could speak his peace. The middle class was emerging as well and people could move up the social ladder more easily then before. However, women were excluded from coffeehouses. As their husbands, brothers, fathers and friends began to spend more and more time in coffeehouses, women must have been extremely curious about coffeehouses. Therefore, although the lower and middle class men were getting a chance to speak up and discuss current issues with scholars and journalists, women were still excluded from this vital part of society (Librarian).

Coffeehouses Temporarily Shut Down

In the 1670’s, coffeehouses were appearing everywhere. They were becoming extremely popular. Of course, with popularity for most things, there is usually opposition. The same applies to the coffeehouse explosion. In 1675 King Charles II made an attempt to shut down coffeehouses with an edict. King Charles II stated that coffeehouses “have produced very evil and dangerous effects,” and were also a “disturbance of the peace and quiet realm,”. This edict put an end to the sale of coffee, tea and chocolate in coffeehouses and in homes as well. However shortly after this went into effect there was too much of an outcry from the public that King Charles II had to back off and allow coffee and such to be sold (Coffee Houses and Mathematics).

Charles’ Balancing Act

With regard to the coffeehouses of the Restoration Period, King Charles II, newly restored to the monarchy, was forced into a balancing act. On the one hand, by 1685, the duties collected on the goods sold by coffee houses amounted to four percent of all of England’s neat excise produce, proving incredibly profitable to the crown. One the other hand, however, Charles’ throne still remained on slippery grounds, and the threat that the coffeehouses posed was impossible to ignore. Charles was very much aware that dissenting groups such as Thomas Harrington’s republican Rota Club was meeting a Mile’ Coffeehouse in London. There was also a belief among the elite of London that dissenters were just plain associated with coffeehouse culture in general, which made them want to squash the threat to the Restoration. Coffeehouses were thus sometimes suppressed, and duties on the goods they sold were increased.

The Coffeehouse as a Political Reformist

Although alcohol was served in coffeehouses, it was treated differently than the other waterholes of the England, namely taverns, inns, and alehouses. Although the coffeehouse had a distinct air of the genteel, it also evolved a more infamous image, as it was instrumental in th spread of seditious rumors, or “false news,” to the public at large and being associated with meetings of the malcontents and resentful parties under the government. In fact, Charles II and James II tried to regulate the political exchange in coffeehouses. In December of 1675, Charles II tried to suppress the coffee houses of England altogether. Roger North, a loyalist to the crown, claimed that “…sedition and treason,…atheism, heresy, and blasphemy are publicly taught in diverse of the celebrated coffee-house…” Charles II failure to disrput the coffeehouse culture of free converse and ideas was an indication of England’s ability to progress out of the shadow of its despotic monarchs and claim civil liberties for the common person (Cambridge Journals).

The Coffeehouse and the News

Coffeehouses were hotbeds of gossip on current events and in turn were frequented often by journalists. Runners were often sent to coffee houses to report on the events of the day. Because coffeehouses attracted so many patrons, journals, domestic and foreign newspapers, bulletins, auction notices and other publications were sold there. In fact, many owners of coffeehouses made agreements between publishers for distribution rights to publications. Coffeehouses also served as the most efficient postal networks of the 18th century. Bags were hung on the walls for mailing items (Geocities, English Coffee Houses).

The Character of a Coffeehouse

Coffeehouses became increasingly popular in London between the years of 1670 and 1685. They became important in the sphere of politics, bringing together influential men to discuss current issues of the time. Each group of men, or political party, eventually developed a reputation for frequenting one exclusive coffeehouse that became known as their meeting place. The addition of the coffeehouse to the culture of London caused a stir amongst the population, creating criticism as well as praise (Fordham).

Women and the Coffeehouse

While famous publications like the “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” have created a general understanding that women were critical and disapproving of the emerging coffeehouse culture of the 18th Century, historians argue whether or not this particular pamphlet was published not by women, but by the Church as a mere “critique of Nonconformity”. Further, “there is every reason to believe that women frequently attended the newly fashionable coffeehouses, places that celebrated sober discourse rather than inebriated play, cultural exchange rather than social status.” There are a number of accounts by famous men, such as Thomas Bellingham, Robert Hooke, and Robert Boyle, detailing their interactions with women in a coffeehouse as a means of gaining information on political and cultural developments. In addition, women had been known not only to be frequent and active participants in the coffeehouse culture, but were also owners of such coffeehouses in London, Yarmouth, Dorchester, and Oxford (Coffee Politicians).
Womens Petition Against Coffee: Original Text

The Coffeehouse in Literature

The Oxford English Dictionary notes the use of the term coffeehouse as “a house of entertainment where coffee and other refreshments are supplied (Much frequented in the 17th and 18th c. for the purpose of political and literary conversation, circulation of news, etc.)”. This concept of a coffeehouse can be seen in the following pieces of literature during the period:

1615 G. SANDYS Trav. I. 66 Coffa-houses [in Constantinople]..There sit they chatting most of the day, and sippe of a drinke called Coffa. 1656 BLOUNT Glossogr., Cauphe-house, a Tavern or Inn where they sel Cauphe. 1664 PEPYS Diary 24 Nov., To a coffee-house, to drink jocolatte. a1672 WOOD Life (1848) 48 This yeare [1650] Jacob a Jew opened a coffey house at the Angel in the parish of S. Peter in the east, Oxon. 1711 ADDISON Spect. No. 46 2 At Lloyd’s Coffee-house where the Auctions are usually kept. 1790 BURKE Fr. Rev. 198 The leaders of the legislative clubs and coffee-houses. 1817 HALLAM Const. Hist. (1876) II. xi. 354 Anecdotes of court daily circulation through the coffee-houses. 1848 MACAULAY Hist. Eng. I. 366 Every coffee-house had one or more orators, to whose eloquence the crowd listened with admiration (OED)

The Licensing of Coffeehouses

Coffeehouses were regulated through a system of licensing. Since coffeehouses of the period were distinctive for selling new and exotic hot drinks, sherbet, chocolate, tea, and coffee, these goods were tagged with duties so that the crown was insured some revenue. The licensing of the retail sale of these goods was enjoined by the Excise Reform Act of 1663. Coffeehouse keepers were required to obtain a license through their sessions of the peace of their counties, or through the offices of the chief magistrate of their jurisdiction. No keeper was given a license for his coffeehouse unless he could demonstrate that he paid the duties on the above goods. The keepers in London obtained their licenses from the Middlesex County sessions. Keepers who failed to obtain a license could face inquiries or possible prosecution. For the most part, the licensing statute of coffeehouses was widely obeyed, but in 1692 records indicate that the magistrates of the City of London were becoming increasingly concerned that the law being ignored, and requested that the beadles, or minor parish officials, of each parish produce returns on their coffeehouses and their keepers to the magistrates. The Licensing of coffeehouses was not just to procure revenue for the crown, but also to regulate social discipline within the communities that the houses served. London’s elite viewed all public houses as having the potential for public nuisance, and needed close attention and control. Not only did keepers have to demonstrate that they paid duties on the goods they sold, but they also had to demonstrate that they were loyal subjects, and attended the parish church regularly. Those who spoke ill of the government or the magistrates themselves risked having their houses suppressed by the quarterly sessions of the magistrates or councils. John Thomas, a dissenting keeper of a coffeehouse in Aldersgate St. in London was eventually imprisoned for his recusancy, among others such as Peter Kidd, the master of an infamous Amsterdam coffee house.

Coffeehouses- Then and Now

When coffeehouses opened in the 1700’s they were places of heated debates and discussions. All topics were up for debate, and famous writers, journalists, and political figures commonly frequented their local coffeehouse. Men were all welcome, while women were banned from most coffeehouses. They also usually served alcoholic beverages, and the atmosphere could get very rowdy. Coffeehouses today are very different. They only serve beverages like coffee and tea, and food such as cookies and bagels. There are some well known chains such as Starbucks, and every town usually has a local shop as well. Famous people still go to coffeehouses, although the atmosphere is extremely different. For instance, people go to do work or to chat with a friend. There are never any loud or out of control debates, as coffeehouses today are generally quiet places.

Works Cited
Cambridge Journals:
Coffeehouses and Mathematics :|
English Coffeehouses:
Coffee Politicians:

Erin Burg
Sarah Brady
Maddie Thomas
Peter Schottenfeld
Lili Bishop
Hilary Lamb