Jamaica Wine House, Literary London
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This post is intended for use with the Literary London walking tour and smart learning activities.

In St Michael’s Alley, the Jamaica Wine House (I). 1885.

This was the site of Pasqua Rosée’s coffee house, the first in England. Opened in 1652 by Daniel Edwards, a Levant Company trader, and fronted by his servant Pasqua Rosée, it served a coffee very unlike our roast and brew today. Patrons forgave the terrible taste of the drink for its vital and stimulating effects, and the coffee house phenomenon soon became a London-wide fashion. Coffee houses were places of intelligence about business, politics, culture and the arts, depending on location. The coffee houses around Cornhill were started here because of the proximity of the Royal Exchange, and many companies had their origins in the dishes of ‘bitter Mohammedan gruel.’ For the value of information to be found there and the price of entry, coffee houses became known as ‘penny universities’ but despite the novelty of this new social sphere exclusions of class and gender were still in place.

Samuel Pepys, Mon 10 Dec 1660:

‘I to the [Westminster] Hall and there met with Col. Slingsby […] He and I returned by his coach to the office, and after that to dinner. After dinner he came to me again and sat with me at my house […] He and I in the evening to the Coffee House in Cornhill, the first time that ever I was there, and I found much pleasure in it, through the diversity of company and discourse.’

In his diaries Pepys records 99 visits to the coffee houses, particularly between 1663 and 1664.

Coffee house rules

As Ukers notes in All About Coffee (1922), “So early as 1674, the aforenamed Paul Greenwood of the Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll in Cloath Fair, compiled certain ‘Rules and Orders’ to be observed by his customers…”

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…



Aspects of this place to think about

How do different forms of eating, drinking and socialising influence British culture, art, science or literature? What makes discussion and conversation such an important aspect of the creative or research process?

  • Women in coffee houses, pubs and taverns
  • The emergence of news and newspapers
  • Does looking at your smartphone replace interaction with strangers in public?
  • Does a coffee house culture of shared public intelligence exist today? Where?

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Img Matthew BlackFlickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

/ Geofenced smart learning, AR doctoral research, UoM, 2017-20, P Lister.