Sunday, 8 September 2013

London Coffee Houses: Guest - Gina Black

This week we are delighted to welcome GINA BLACK as a guest blogger on Hoydens and Firebrands. Gina has always been a lover of European History and is the author of a romantic tale of highwaymen and revenge set in 1663 - THE RAVEN'S REVENGE. 

I begin,"Once upon a time, a long time ago (before 1650) there was no coffee to be had in the entire realm of England. A sad tale but true--"
"Then let them have tea," you interrupt no doubt afraid I'm going to start bombarding you with Boring Historical Facts.
"Sorry," I respond. "They didn't have any of that either."
"Whatever did those poor people drink?" you wonder reluctantly, glad you weren't around those smelly, caffeine-deprived people. You take another sip of your morning cuppa.
"They started out the day with ale."
"But isn't ale alcoholic?" You make a small chortle. "It gives a whole new spin to the phrase Jolly Olde England doesn't it?"
"Well, as I understand it, ale in those days was thin, weak stuff, and drunk soon after brewing, not the strong drink it is now."
"Sounds nasty," you say.
"Not as bad as the water. That was far too dirty to drink. It was much safer to drink something that had been brewed, and so ale was it."

You shake your head and drain your coffee mug, wondering how people ever survived without coffee, thinking of a time when the choice wasn't between French Roast and Guatemalan and when Free Trade or organic didn't matter.

Then--seeing my opening--I proceed to tell you all about it. Having written a paper about this back in my college days and being so impressed with the import of The Bean to England, I researched it again and included references to coffee in my book, The Raven's Revenge. Although my story was set in 1663 before coffee drinking was widespread, the hero had come back from parts east so he knew about coffee.

While some people might think that coffee arriving in England has about as much drama as a new Starbucks opening up in their neighborhood, it actually heralded a New Age: the age of the Penny University, for that was what coffee houses came to be called.
The first coffeehouse in England was opened in Oxford in 1650. The first one opened in London two years later in St. Michael's Alley in Cornhill. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, a man who has earned his place in history.

Whereas taverns and ale-houses were rough and rowdy places, coffee houses were not. They were democratic in nature (read the rules reprinted below) and places of intellectual discussion and debate. The reason they were called Penny Universities is that for the price of a penny a man (yes a man--this was the seventeenth century after all) could gain entrance, get his cup of coffee (some doctors even prescribed it for rheumatism and other ills) and either read or--if he couldn't read--someone would read the newspaper to him.

The proliferation of coffee houses coincided with a rising middle class. By 1700 there were probably over 2000 coffeehouses in London. Even the plague and the Great Fire failed to lessen its attraction.

Several important institutions had their origins in the English coffee house. Stockbrokers used to meet at Garraways which became the London Stock Exchange. And Lloyd’s had its origins in the coffee house owned by Edward Lloyd, where ship owners, captains and merchants came to discuss the latest shipping news. Later, Lloyds became a place for obtaining marine insurance.

So, next time you sit down with your latte and laptop, the earphones of your MP3 player tucked into your ears, think of the famous poet Dryden a fixture at Wills, expounding to a rapt audience. Not quite the same thing, now, is it?
\Enter, sirs, freely, but first, if you please,

Peruse our civil orders, which are these.

First, gentry, tradesmen, all are welcome hither,

And may without affront sit down together:

Pre-eminence of place none here should mind,

But take the next fit seat that he can find:

Nor need any, if finer persons come,

Rise up for to assign to them his room

To limit men's expense, we think not fair,

But let him forfeit twelve-pence that shall swear:

He that shall any quarrel here begin,

Shall give each man a dish t' atone the sin;

And so shall he, whose compliments extend

So far to drink in coffee to his friend;

Let noise of loud disputes be quite forborne,

Nor maudlin lovers here in corners mourn,

But all be brisk, and talk, but not too much;

On sacred things, let none presume to touch,

Nor profane Scripture, nor saucily wrong

Affairs of State with an irreverent tongue:

Let mirth be innocent, and each man see

That all his jests without reflection be;

To keep the house more quiet and from blame,

We banish hence cards, dice, and every game;

Nor can allow of wagers, that exceed.

Five shillings, which ofttimes do troubles breed;

Let all that 's lost or forfeited be spent

In such good liquor as the house cloth vent,

And customers endeavour, to their powers,

For to observe still, seasonable hours.

Lastly, let each man what he calls for pay,

And so you 're welcome to come every day.

To find out more about Gina and her books, visit her WEBSITE.


Bob Dog said...

A great read with my morning coffee, in fact it inspired me to have a second cup. I love that they were called Penny Universities.

Alison Stuart said...

During the nineteenth century (at least here in Victoria), coffee houses were established as an abstinent alternative to pubs. They tended to be rather grand establishments!
Thanks for being our guest, Gina. I actually looked into coffee houses in London in the 1650s for my book The King's Man and trotted my characters off to try the new brew. They weren't impressed ;-)

Gina Black said...

Bob--so glad I inspired a second cuppa. I've always *loved* the Penny Universities and how they leveled a stratified society and promoted learning and intellectualism, at least to some extent.

Alison--Have you checked this out: ? I have only listened to the preview (could listen to horse's hooves on cobblestones forever). It sounds like it is probably more fun if you actually *do* the walking tour but might be interesting in an armchair as well.

Anita Davison said...

Not everyone loved the coffee houses, as the women of London set up a petition in 1674 to try and stop their menfolk spending all their leisure time there - probably because women weren't allowed in! The mens' answer to it was even funnier.

Gina Black said...

Anita--I did not know that! I did know that Charles II was not in favor of them because they were "places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers".

Personal Trainer Girl Putney said...

I remember learning about these at university, they were a far cry from Costa, that's for sure!