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The First Coffeeshops

Posted by Jonathan Osborn on
The First Coffeeshops


The First London Coffee House

"The first coffee house in London," says John Aubrey (1626–97), the English antiquary and folklorist, "was in St. Michael's Alley, in Cornhill, opposite to the church, which was sett up by one ... Bowman (coachman to Mr. Hodges, a Turkey merchant, who putt him upon it) in or about the yeare 1652. 'Twas about four years before any other was sett up, and that was by Mr. Farr. Jonathan Paynter, over-against to St. Michael's Church, was the first apprentice to the trade, viz., to Bowman."[67]

Another account, for which we are indebted to William Oldys (1696–1761), the bibliographer, relates that Mr. Edwards, a London merchant, acquired the coffee habit in Turkey, and brought home with him from Ragusa, in Dalmatia, Pasqua Rosée, an Armenian or Greek youth, who prepared the beverage for him. "But the novelty thereof," says Oldys, "drawing too much company to him, he allowed the said servant with another of his son-in-law to set up the first coffee house in London at St. Michael's Alley, in Cornhill."

From this it would appear that Pasqua Rosée had as partner in this enterprise, the Bowman, who, according to Aubrey, was coachman to Mr. Hodges, the son-in-law of Mr. Edwards, and a fellow merchant traveler.

Oldys tells us that Rosée and Bowman soon separated. John Timbs (1801–1875), another English antiquary, says they quarreled, Rosée keeping the house, and his[Pg 54] partner Bowman obtaining leave to pitch a tent and to sell the drink in St. Michael's churchyard.

Still another version of this historic incident is to be found in Houghton's Collection, 1698. It reads:

It appears that a Mr. Daniel Edwards, an English merchant of Smyrna, brought with him to this country a Greek of the name of Pasqua, in 1652, who made his coffee; this Mr. Edwards married one Alderman Hodges's daughter, who lived in Walbrook, and set up Pasqua for a coffee man in a shed in the churchyard in St. Michael, Cornhill, which is now a scrivener's brave-house, when, having great custom, the ale-sellers petitioned the Lord Mayor against him as being no freeman. This made Alderman Hodges join his coachman, Bowman, who was free, as Pasqua's partner; but Pasqua, for some misdemeanor, was forced to run the country, and Bowman, by his trade and a contribution of 1000 sixpences, turned the shed to a house. Bowman's apprentices were first, John Painter, then Humphry, from whose wife I had this account.

This account makes it appear that Edwards was Hodges' son-in-law. Whatever the relationship, most authorities agree that Pasqua Rosée was the first to sell coffee publicly, whether in a tent or shed, in London in or about the year 1652. His original shop-bill, or handbill, the first advertisement for coffee, is in the British Museum, and from it the accompanying photograph was made for this work. It sets forth in direct fashion: "The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink First publiquely made and sold in England, by Pasqua Rosée ... in St. Michaels Alley in Cornhill ... at the Signe of his own Head."[68]

H.R. Fox Bourne[69] (about 1870) is alone in an altogether different version of this historic event. He says:

"In 1652 Sir Nicholas Crispe, a Levant merchant, opened in London the first coffee house known in England, the beverage being prepared by a Greek girl brought over for the work."

There is nothing to substantiate this story; the preponderance of evidence is in support of the Edwards-Rosée version.

Such then was the advent of the coffee house in London, which introduced to English-speaking people the drink of democracy. Oddly enough, coffee and the Commonwealth came in together. The English coffee house, like its French contemporary, was the home of liberty.

Robinson, who accepts that version of the event wherein Edwards marries Hodges's daughter, says that after the partners Rosée and Bowman separated, and Bowman had set up his tent opposite Rosée, a zealous partisan addressed these verses "To Pasqua Rosée, at the Sign of his own Head and half his Body in St. Michael's Alley, next the first Coffee-Tent in London":

Were not the fountain of my Tears
Each day exhausted by the steam
Of your Coffee, no doubt appears
But they would swell to such a stream
As could admit of no restriction
To see, poor Pasqua, thy Affliction.

What! Pasqua, you at first did broach
This Nectar for the publick Good,
Must you call Kitt down from the Coach
To drive a Trade he understood
No more than you did then your creed,
Or he doth now to write or read?

Pull Courage, Pasqua, fear no Harms
From the besieging Foe;
Make good your Ground, stand to your Arms,
Hold out this summer, and then tho'
He'll storm, he'll not prevail—your Face[70]
Shall give the Coffee Pot the chace.

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