11 October 2014

Doing his suit at the coffee-house

London coffee-house interior, 17th c. (via Wikimedia)
'When coffee became popular in Oxford [in the 17th century] and coffeehouses began to multiply, the university authorities objected, fearing that this was promoting idleness and diverting students from their studies. Anthony Wood, an Oxford antiquarian, was among those who denounced the enthusiasm for the new establishments. "Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none follow it now in the university?" he asked. "Answer: Because of coffee-houses, where they spend all their time". Similar concerns were voiced in Cambridge, where one observer noted that it "is become a custom after chapel to repair to one or other of the coffee houses (for there are divers), where hours are spent in talking, and less profitable reading of newspapers, of which swarms are continually supplied from London. And the scholars are so greedy after news (which is none of their business) that they neglect all for it, and it is become very rare for any of them to go directly to his chamber after prayers without first doing his suit at the coffee-house, which is a vast loss of time grown out of pure novelty. For who can apply close to a subject with his head full of the din of a coffee-house?"'

- Tom Standage, Writing on the Wall: Social media - the first 2000 years, London, 2013, p.111-2.


In 'Covent Garden, the Bedford Coffeehouse had a ‘theatrical thermometer‘ with temperatures ranging from ‘excellent‘ to ‘execrable’. Playwrights dreaded walking into the Bedford after the opening night of their latest play to receive judgement' (Telegraph, 20 March 2012). Extracts from the Memoirs of the Bedford Coffee-house (1763), citing the journal of the establishment, in which esteemed customers left messages for one another:

  • 'Lord Terrible's compliments to Jack Firebrace, intends to be very jolly to night, and get damned drunk at Weatherby's, with Bet. Saunders and Nancy Davison. - Hopes to have his company'.
  • 'Jack Firebrace is engaged till twelve; but will certainly spend the evening according to Lord Terrible's desire, and bring with him Tom Tearall, and Ned. Crackpole, who have heads like rocks, and have been hell-fired drunk these ten days'.
  • 'Dr Gonnorrhoea's compliments to Sir Timothy Whiffle, is very sorry he was not in the way when he called upon him - He may take the pills and use the injection as before, if he finds no alteration. Will be at home to-morrow until twelve'.
  • 'This is to acquaint Mr Didlius, that he is a puppy and a rascal'.

An article in The Times of Monday, 11 June 1792, reporting an avian invader at Lloyd's Coffee-House, or conceivably an elaborate pun on a trader named Drake:

Lloyd's coffee-house in an uproar
On Saturday, about one o'clock, the neighbourhood of the Royal Exchange was highly entertained by a Duck-hunt: it seems that a Duck of uncommon size had waddled from the Stock Exchange the last settling-day, though evidently in full plumage
Information being received at the Stock Exchange that the duck had very unexpectedly made it's appearance at Lloyd's, a large detachment of the alley-brokers sallied up stairs to take a view of it. They poured in such a torrent into the coffee-room, and made such hideous cries, that it was thought all the bulls and bears in Christendom had been let loose. No bull was ever more cruelly baited. The wretched duck at last thought fit to fly off, but was pursued with unabated vengeance down Bartholomew-lane and Lothbury; the alley gentry calling out wing the duck - stop the bull, etc. The poor animal harassed and fatigued, at length eluded its pursuers, and took shelter in a house in Lincoln's-inn-fields, where it found safe habitation.
See also:
History: 'Drunk, by Jove!', 22 February 2013
History: An old Wandle snuff mill, 13 January 2011
HistoryThe last grand night ascent at Vauxhall, 30 September 2010
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