Enjoying a mid-morning break recently reminded us that the library has some interesting items relating to the history of coffee and coffee houses.
One of our earliest sources, published in 1682 and attributed to John Chamberlayne, is The natural history coffee, thee, chocolate and tobacco. In four several sections; with a tract of elder and juniper-berries, shewing how useful they may be in our coffee-houses: and also the best way of making mum, with some remarks upon that liquor. Collected from the writings of the best physicians, and modern travellers.
Chamberlayne starts with a brief history of coffee drinking in the East and goes on to discuss its use as a medical treatment in England by one Dr Willis:
‘In several headachs [sic] Dizziness, Lethargies and Catarrhs, where there is gross habit of the body…there coffee may be proper and successful; and in these cases he sent his patients to the Coffee-House rather than to the Apothecaries Shop’
However, he then records an unfortunate side effect of this treatment reported by the doctor:
‘which I am afraid will cow our Citizens from ever meddling with it hereafter, that it often makes men Paralytick, and does slacken their strings, as they become unfit for the sports and exercises of the Bed, and their Wives recreations…’
Despite these dire warnings, coffee houses became ever more popular in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. A cup of coffee was relatively cheap and the shops became venues for social networking, reading newspapers, doing business, gossiping and, allegedly, political intrigue.
In our Halliwell-Phillipps Collection we have a copy of the ‘Proclamation for the suppression of coffee-houses’ published in 1675 by King Charles II:
‘Whereas it is most apparent that the multitude of coffee houses of late years set up and kept within this kingdom, the dominion of Wales and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and the great resort of idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects, as well as that many tradesmen and others do therein misspend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise be employed in and about their lawful callings and affairs, but also for that in such houses, and by occasion of the meeting of such persons therein, many false, malicious, and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad, to the deformation of his Majesty’s government and to the disturbance of the peace and quiet of the realm, his Majesty has thought it fit and necessary that the said coffee houses be for the future put down and suppressed.’
From the same year, we have a tiny five-page pamphlet with an incredibly lengthy title, which echoes the concerns of his majesty about the costs to business of spending too much time in coffee houses:
‘Rules and orders to be observed in this room:
7th That if any person shall take any Newspaper, Book, Pamphlet,&c out of this Room, or cut out any Advertisement, Paragraph or Print, from such a Newspaper, Book or Pamphlet, he shall, on Discovery, be expelled the Room, whether he be a Subscriber or otherwise, and shall be deemed ineligible for future Admission’
8th That no subscriber, or other person, be permitted to put on, or pull off, Boots in this Room, nor come into it with Slippers on’ .