first coffeehouse is Britain appeared in Oxford during the mid seventeenth
century. Within a few years the first coffeehouse in London opened, and
over the next few decades coffeehouses would spread throughout the island.
Whether in Oxford, London or the provinces, the new coffeehouses were
first seen as novelties but invariably became "essential institutions"14.
of the British Empire.
As coffeehouses proliferated in Britain, they became places to regularly
conduct business in an age before offices. Before the coffeehouse, business
was transacted mostly in "…the [London] Exchange or markets,
the coffeehouse satisfied the functions of mailroom, boardroom, desk space,
and of course, cafeteria."15. Lloyds of London started when insurers
and bankers met merchants and ship owners in a coffeehouse near the docks
where coffee was imported from the Near East (Yemen, Turkey, North Africa)
and the Far East (Ceylon and Java). The author of Coffee House Civility
1660-1714, Lawrence E. Klein, describes the inextricable link between
the coffeehouse and the coffee trade: the coffeehouse by virtue of its
premier product, tied it to the great trade with the East, and the phenomenon
of coffeehouse inseparable from broader commercial trends in Restoration
and eighteenth century England.16.
14. Lawrence E. Klein, "Coffeehouse Civility, 1660-1714: An Aspect
of Post Courtly Culture in England," Huntington Library Quarterly
59, no 1(1997): 31.
to the coffeehouse, Britons met in inns, taverns and alehouses, where
they enjoyed "food, drink, and sociability."17. In the coffeehouse,
they met for sociability, yes, but the coffeehouse’s identity was
as a place for discussions of "general interest and public import."18.
Coffeehouses were places where the "Dutch, Danes, Turks, and Jews"19.
could make contact. They were places where unsupervised circulation for
news, either by word-of-mouth or in the printed form flowed freely. Anyone
who could afford the one penny for a cup of coffee could sit all day and
partake in endless discussions on politics, philosophy, and theology.
The term "Penny University"20. was used to describe the how
the uneducated masses were becoming versed on topics previously reserved
for the gentile classes.
This made Charles II and his court very nervous. In 1660, the Duke of
Newcastle wrote up recommendations for Charles II on limiting the activities
permissible in coffeehouses: "There should be no disputations except
in universities. There should be no books of religious or political controversy
except those written in Latin. On the other hand, all books of prayer
and piety should be in English. There should be no books written at all
except by divines or academically certified ‘philosophers.’
Any book that many make the least rent in church or state should immediately
condemned and burnt by the hangman, and the author should be severely
punished even to death."21. During this period, the suppression of
coffeehouses was considered on several occasions. In 1675, Charles II
made a proclamation against the coffeehouses "on the grounds that
coffeehouses attracted idle and disaffected persons and spawned false,
malicious, and scandalous reports to the defamation of His Majesty’s
Government."22. The coffeehouse owners successfully protested, and
the proclamation was reversed within one week.
17. Klein, Coffeehouse Civility, 32.
19. Klein, Coffeehouse Civility, 36.
20. Today, near universities throughout the English-speaking world, one
can find coffeehouses bearing the name "Penny University."
Klein, Coffeehouse Civility, 39. Quoting Thomas P. Slaughter’s
Ideology and Politics on the Eve of Restoration: Newcastle’s
Advice to Charles II (Philadelphia, 1984), 21. Slaughter declared
that he paraphrased Newcastle’s "rather irregular English usage."
22. Klein, Coffeehouse Civility, 40.