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Updated: Oct 5, 2020


Coffee-houses played a prominent part in promoting social life in the country. Certain circumstances were responsible for this. Those were days when public meeting and newspaper were unheard of. In such circumstances the only place where people could meet and exchange views on matters of common interest was the coffee-house. In a sense the coffee-house can be called the Cradle of British democracy, as it was the only place where people of all ranks met and moved freely without inhibition.


  • Coffee was probably introduced from Abyssinia into the Arabian Peninsula.

  • Introduced towards the end of the fifteenth century.

  • Merchant named Daniel Edward established the first London coffee-house in 1652.

  • London’s second coffee-house was named the Temple Bar.

  • It was established by James Farr in 1656.

  • Coffee-drinking became common among the Arabians and soon spread to Europe.

  • Coffee-houses became popular in the course of seventeenth century.

  • Coffee-houses were for the first time introduced in the days of the Commonwealth in the city of London.

  • It was the centre of social life in the city by the beginning of the 18th century.

  • In London there were nearly as many as five hundred coffee-houses.

  • Macaulay in his History of England states that “the coffee-house was the thing which distinguished the city of London from all other cities of England.”

  • He said that it was something like the Londoner’s home.

  • People of different political creeds, religious beliefs and professions had their separate coffee-houses.

  • The Tories went to their favourite “Cocoa Tree Chocolate House”.

  • The Whigs went to St. James’s Coffee House.

  • The favourite resort of the learned literary men was the much celebrated Will’s Coffee House.

  • It was situated between Covent Garden and Bow Street.

  • Many literary topics like poetic justice, the three classical unities, propriety of Paradise Lost were discussed with hot coffee.

  • The most esteemed literary genius John Dryden visited this coffee-house about 1685.

  • He was in those days considered so famous as a literary figure that one even considered it a privilege to have a seat near him.

  • In winter Dryden’s seat in the coffee-house was in the warmest nook by the fire, but in summer it was in the balcony.

  • Smoking was common in all the coffee-houses and particularly at Will’s.

  • Macaulay also pointed out that the coffee rooms without exception incessantly reeked with tobacco

  • A rival coffee-house to Will’s was Button’s Coffee House.

  • Button’s Coffee House stood in Russel Street near Covent Garden.

  • It was founded by Mr.Button, an old servant of Joseph Addison.

  • Chief among the literary luminaries who patronized it were Dryden, Addison, Richard Steele and Alexander Pope.

  • The Grecian Coffee House which stood near the Strand was patronized by scholars and critics.

  • The doctors of the city had their own favourite coffee-houses.

  • Dr. John Radcliffe, the doctor with the largest practice in England towards the end of the Restoration period, used to come to the coffee-house named Garraway’s.

  • This coffee-house was founded by Thomas Garway, a dealer in tea, coffee and tobacco.

  • This was situated in Change Alley, Cornhill.

  • This was also the meeting place of the business magnets whose object in coming there was to transact business.

  • The clergy had their own favourite coffee-house known as Truby’s.

  • There were separate coffee-houses for Roman Catholics, Puritans and Jews.

  • Some of the pious Protestants sincerely believed that the Catholics met in their Coffee-houses only to conspire against the Government.

  • A very remarkable thing about the puritan coffee-house was that swearing was totally banned there.

  • Over a cup of coffee they discussed with interest and at times with anxiety the outcome of the impending election.

  • The Jews, when they met in their coffee-house were chiefly concerned about exploring ways and means of investing their money at the highest possible rate of interest.

  • The Queen’s Lane Coffee House in Oxford, still in existence, was established in 1654.


The coffee-houses were centres of free discussion on all things under heaven, particularly politics and religion. Right from the restoration time the Government was feeling uneasy about their popularity. An attempt was made during Danby’s administration to close down all the coffee-houses, but the outcry against it was so much the Government was forced to revoke the prohibition. However, more than a century later during the French Revolution the coffee-houses became centres of heated discussion against the Government’s attitude to the Revolutionary movement. Therefore, no other option but to order the closure of all coffee-houses in the city. It was only many years after the Napoleonic Wars that the political climate became favourable for their revival.


Social History of England by Louise Creighton

An Introduction to the Social History of England by A.G.Xavier

A Short History of Social Life in England by M B Synge

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