Thursday, September 30, 2010

Brockley Coffee 1888

Well I mentioned that I was going to write something about the history of coffee in South London, but you can read a really good overview of the wider London picture over at the excellent Classic Cafes - short synopsis:

First London coffee shop was opened in 1652 by a Greek man named Pasqua Rosee in St Michael's Alley, Cornhill in the City of London; hundreds of coffee shops sprung up in the remainder of the century, but in the 18th century coffee fell from favour, partly as a result of the East India Company (who started out from Deptford) pushing tea; in the 1880s there was a boom in coffee houses and taverns, partly prompted by the Temperance movement who wanted to offer an alternative to alcohol and partly by Arab, Turkish, Greek and Sicilian migrants running places. After World War II, Italian-run coffee houses proliferated in Soho and elsewhere, revolutionised by the arrival of the modern espresso machine - cappuccino was invented in 1946, and the first modern espresso bar in London - The Moka - opened at 29 Frith St, Soho in 1953. Coffee houses were the focus of the London beatnik and folk scenes but fell from favour and had largely died in the 1970s. Then came the 1990s coffee boom, which hasn't faded yet...

Would like to be able to trace local connections to these various waves - where was the first South London coffee house? Where were the 1950s/60s espresso bars?

As a starting point for the late Victorian coffee boom I had a look in the local historian's friend, Kelly's Directory (available in local history archives in Southwark and I believe Lewisham). In 1888, the London Suburban directory lists over 300 coffee rooms and coffee taverns in the Southern Suburbs, covering areas including Camberwell, Peckham, Greenwich, Dulwich and Croydon. However, New Cross and Deptford seemed to have been a coffee desert with none listed. Not for the last time in history, coffee lovers had to travel to Brockley where they could take their choice between Samuel Syme's Coffee Tavern at 310 Brockley Road or Henry Lanbery's coffee room at 2 Coulgate Street. The latter is of course in the same row where coffee can nowadays be had from Broca (no.4) and Browns (no.5) - so clearly the habit of grabbing a coffee before getting the train from Brockley Station on the opposite side of the road was already established at this point.

By 1900, Deptford had caught up with coffee rooms run by William Gearing at 44 Deptford Bridge and Arthur Charles Wilkins at 111 Tanners Hill. In New Cross, Bartholomew Gwaspari was running a coffee room at 1 Lewisham High Road (now Lewisham Way). I wonder where the name Gwaspari comes from? Anyway back in Brockley no.2 Coulgate Street was still going, but now run by the wonderfully named Mrs Sophia Bellchambers, while at 310 Brockley Road Edward F Lepers was now the proprietor of the Coffee Palace, no less. They had been joined at 2 Crofton Terrace by Alfred Deveraux's coffee tavern.

Coffee rooms and cafes have always been places to socialise rather than just to consume caffeine, sometimes labelled, as Classic Cafes states, as "penny universities" because of their role as forums for discussion. In Deptford for instance, the local branch of the Social Democratic Federation - the largest socialist organisation of the time held meetings in 1889 at Hadleys Coffee Shop, Deptford Bridge, as well at 20 Frobisher Street, Greenwich (source: Mary Mills,The Gasworkers of South London, South London Record No.3, 1988).

Will report back on future researches, if you want to join in you could help by trawling through some of the old trade directories available online at the invaluable Historical Directories.

See next installment, SE London coffee, 1914-1950.


Monkeyboy said...

"We talked together of the interest of this kingdom to have a peace with Spain and a war with France and Holland… And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never had before, and went away."

So says Samual Pepys 166? Mentions deptford loads.

Transpontine said...

Yes, Pepys drank tea and coffee. And Pepys hung out in Deptford and Greenwich. But did Pepys drink tea and coffee in Deptford and Greenwich, and if so where? I wonder.

Monkeyboy said...

Don't know where he found the time to be honest, seemed to spend most of his time trying to get his leg over as far as I can tell.