In his 1621 opus The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton wrote, “The Turks have a drink called coffa (for they use no wine), so named of a berry as black as soot, and as bitter … which they sip still of, and sup as warm as they can suffer; they spend much time in those coffa-houses, which are somewhat like our alehouses or taverns…”
Several decades later, readers would require no such explanations: England would be awash in coffeehouses, numbering in the thousands.
The curious story of how the British swapped much of their daily ale consumption for this “syrop of soot, or essence of old shoes,” is told by Matthew Green in “The Lost World of The London Coffee House,” on the Public Domain Review.
Prior to 1652, when Pasqua Rosée established a small coffeehouse in St. Michael’s Alley in London, coffee was virtually unknown in England.
Rosée, a servant of a coffee-loving trader to the Levant, found tremendous success with his venture and, according to Green, was soon selling over 600 servings a day.
Coffeehouses quickly became popular places for men to converse and congregate, and Green notes that women soon grew tired of their absence.
This exasperation mounted until the 1674 Women’s Petition Against Coffee, which claimed that “Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE” led to England’s falling birthrate, making men “as unfruitful as the sandy deserts, from where that unhappy berry is said to be brought.”
Men, as they are wont to do, expressed their disagreement, and stated in Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition Against Coffee that coffee made “the erection more vigorous, the ejaculation more full, add[ing] a spiritual ascendency to the sperm.”
Spitalfields nippers: In such large families, with both parents working long hours, it fell upon older children to take care of siblings and undertake household chores. They were left to devise their own entertainment. Photograph: Horace Warner
by The Gentle Author
Horace Warner came to Spitalfields at the end of the 19th century as superintendent of the Sunday school at the Bedford Institute, one of nine Quaker missions in the East End of London.
He worked in the family wallpaper business and was a photographer in his spare time. Warner befriended and photographed those living in the shadow of the Bishopsgate goods yard, some of the poorest people in London.
In 1913, the Institute paid two pounds, 15 shillings and sixpence for about 20 photographs, for use in their fundraising activities.
But Warner took many more pictures that he collected into two albums of photography that, after his death, passed from his wife, Florence, into the possession of his elder daughter, Gwen, and subsequently his grandson, Ian Warner McGilvray.
For more than a century, these images were not seen by anyone outside his family.
The collection includes images of news placards from June 1902, announcing the end of the second Boer war, giving the only precise date we have for any of these pictures.
Nellie and Annie Lyons: Born in 1901 and 1895, the ninth and sixth of 10 children of street hawkers Annie Daniels and William Lyons. Only half survived into adulthood. Photograph: Horace Warner
James McBarron, who grew up in Hoxton in the 1930s and, as a child, knew Celia Compton – one of Warner’s subjects – recalled what life was like at the time: “We used to go to Spitalfields Market and ask for ‘Any spunks?’ or ‘Spunky oranges and apples?’ and they’d chuck the fruit that was going bad to us.”
This culture of foraging persisted until the wholesale fruit and vegetable market moved in 1991.
Shamefully, more than a century later, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where these images were taken, has the highest level of child poverty in Britain.