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 Explain the function of the London coffeehouse as a locus for commercial and intellectual exchange in the eighteenth century.

Discussion

London’s connection with coffeehouses, dates back to the 16th century. It was opened by the famous eccentric Greek, known as Pasqua Rosee in the year 1652. Coffee houses were one of the most visited places in the 18th century Britain. It was Rosee, who had initiated the import of this Turkish drink into London.  It was the centre of meeting for classes of people, for various debates, talks, meetings regarding different kinds of topics ranging from literature, economy, politics and the social life, of that time. They acted as social spaces, which had contributed to the growth of the culture of the concerned period. It was the centre of cultural, commercial and intellectual exchange for the people of London. Various kinds of topics were discussed in these coffee houses and they served as the centre for disseminating the information about the day to day activities, happening in and around the world. It was the place where a myriad of activities took place on a rapid pace. It was the perfect place for conducting intellectual discussions, for conducting the murkier business deals and where the lords and the commoners, won as well as lost, enormous amounts of fortune. In this report, a thorough enquiry has been made regarding the functions of these coffee houses as the medium of intellectual and commercial exchanges.

Coffee houses had invaded into the mainframe of London, in the 16th century and had taken the spotlight because of its pressing presence, back in those days. Being, the common meeting place for discussions and for enjoyment, invited many classes of people. Moreover, because of the absence of alcohol, more serious discussion were possible in these coffee houses. There were a wide range of reasons, which compelled these people to flock these coffee houses, instead of visiting the taverns. The crowd at these coffee houses included doctors, merchants, writers, politicians. Besides taverns, these coffee houses were the first places where people could meet and discuss important matters. They were one of the most effective places for circulating news. Moreover, runners were present, who were responsible for distributing important news, from one coffee house to another (Fairer, 2014).   It was a place for receiving the day to day news about the country and the world, discussions about political affairs, merriment and for the purpose of earning huge fortunes and finally a place, where the heartbeat of the common folks of London lay. It had become a part of the daily requirements and needs of an average British.

The coffee houses, initially appeared in the London framework, in the mid-17th century. At the first instance, the Turkish drink, had become an instant hit. Although, it had faced stiff competition from the local existing taverns. They had tried hard, to remain in the market, but they had to give in to the new drink, which had engulfed the city of London. It became the place where diverse range of clienteles and catered to their different needs and requirements. This new had become the talk of the city. From the lords to the commoners, all had become the part of the procession, who frequently visited the coffee houses, to be a part of this wide range of visitors (Burnett and John, 2016). As more and more consumers, started pouring in, the importance of these places increased significantly. Gradually, the coffee shops had become an integral part of the London lifestyle of the 17th and the 18th century.

The Locus

Coffee houses, back in their halcyon days, were a meeting place of a diverse range of people. Although nowadays, coffee chains have replaced these coffee houses, but the cultural importance of these coffee houses, has diminished drastically in recent times. In its halcyon days, these coffee houses, were regularly visited by the wits or the intellectuals. One of the most famous coffee houses, which was frequently visited by these intellectuals, was Will’s Coffee House in Convent garden. John Dryden and his famous literary group were regular visitors here. They used to discuss about the new plays, poets, poetry and their own creations too. They used to have a very witty and pleasant discourse (Hattox and Ralph, 2014). They used to have serious literary criticisms and even used to have amusement over the new pamphlets. Satires and epigrams used to be the most commonplace happenings, back in those days. One of the other coffee houses, which was frequented by the intellectuals, was the Button’s Coffee House. It was frequently visited by the next generation of writers and satirists, namely Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison and Jonathan Swift and others. Pope’s famous satirical poem, “The Rape of the Lock” was created and was entirely based on the coffee house gossips, which he had heard over at the Button’s. Addison was primarily responsible for promoting Button’s as one of the finest literary place (Manco 2018). He intensely advertised it in the local newspapers. Mr Addison had also built a letter box in the shape of a lion’s head. It was his idea that, the writers and the intellectuals would deposit their writings and topics, which would be discussed in the coffee house, the next day by the literary men.

Science was also one of the important subjects, which was discussed back in those days in the coffee houses. Not only literature, but Arts and Science, had also crept into the culture of coffee houses. In fact many of the scientific invention, of today, had their origin in these coffee houses. The Grecian, was one of the most preferred coffee house destinations and meeting place of the Royal Britain. One would visit Grecian, in order to listen to the lectures and witness new experiments (Smith and Woodruff, 2014). One of the most famous incidents, which had occurred in the premises of this coffee house, was when Sir Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley, had dissected a dolphin. One of the most famous coffee houses, frequently visited by Sir Newton and Sir Hans Sloane, was Don Saltero’s coffeehouse, which was located in Chelsea. In engaging such intellectuals in daily conversations, it created an impetus of the intellectuals of the yester years (Davidoff and Leonore, 2013). One of the most important factors, which resulted in the progress and the creations of these intellectuals was the vast and progressive coffee culture in the city of London.

The 18th century had seen a great increase and expansion in the trade and commercial aspects of Britain. It took place with the development of the consumer society and the exchange of the global exchange networks. These expansion networks, were able to help the East India Company and the British merchants to surge into different trade routes and places across the different parts of the world. London’s coffee houses were at the centre stage with regards to the execution of the business activities. These coffee houses, were the frequent meeting destinations of the trade merchants (‘Coffeehouse Culture In 18Th-Century London’ 2018). Most importantly, the first stocks and shares of London were traded in Jonathan’s Coffee House, by the Royal Exchange. In addition to this, the stock brokers were gathered and were traded shares and stock, mostly famously on the Jonathan office. These shareholders were not able to take part in any kind of trading activities in the shares and the stocks because of the restrictions imposed by the Royal Exchange because of their rude manners.  Apart from the initial trading of stocks and shares, there were other ways, through which the commercial operations of London were performed.

The initial settlement

These coffee houses helped in opening businesses, by initially operating through these coffee houses. Many insurance companies especially those which were engaged in the maritime businesses, had their origins in these coffee houses in London. Edward Lloyd, was the first gentleman, who had opened the coffee houses, for the purpose of ‘seafaring men’, who would eventually come and visit this coffee house, which was located in Tower Street and would discuss their adventures at sea and ships. One of the most famous examples of such kind of businesses is the Lloyd’s Coffee House. It was the place where the naval officers and the merchants would gather for the purpose of hearing the current maritime news along with the act of attending the auction and sale of the ships and the cargoes. Later on Lloyd Coffee House, played an instrumental role in the formation of the famous insurance market of the world, the Lloyd’s of London. Gradually Lloyd had become the main and primary focal point of the matters relating to the maritime issues and activities. As mentioned above, working along these lines, in 1771 a group of 79 underwriters (people who were engaged in the insurance of ships) helped in the creation of the Society of Lloyd , which was as mentioned above is the famous Lloyd’s of London (Brewer and John, 2013). The Lloyd's coffeehouse, in a similar fashion as that of Jonathan's and Garraway's, had initially started as a place for merchants and stockbrokers to come together for the purpose of conducting business, turning their tables and spaces into unofficial offices. The world famous London Stock Exchange had its origin in Jonathan’s Coffee House in 1698 where gentlemen used to meet in order to fix the prices of stocks and commodities. There used to be auctions in salesrooms which were connected to the coffee houses were the great origins of the many auction houses of Sotheby’s and Christies. As in these kinds of events, alcohol was not served, it used to prove as the perfect place for conducting the businesses between two to more people. These coffee houses used to provide the perfect setting, without any kind of rowdy behaviour, where business deals could be conducted. In fact many business deals were completed and done over a cup of coffee in the most private booths of the Lloyd’s and the Garraway’s Coffee Houses. Coffee houses were the perfect place where men were able to lay their hands on new contacts, businessmen, investors, networks, resources and about new business ventures. This used to provide them with the requisite opportunity for the purpose of promoting new business ventures and individual business enterprises. For the purpose of promoting new business ventures and for meeting potential customers and clients, these coffee houses served as the ideal place (Tucker and Catherine, 2017). These coffee houses provided the place where the clients can talk engage and discuss about the pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses of their businesses, with the hope of making new fortunes in the future. Coffee houses provided up to date and information of each and every minute about insurance, politics, foreign affairs and various other forms of information, which was indispensable for the businessmen for conducting their day to day businesses. If anyone wanted to know information about the condition of the ships, about their locations, current state or any information about their return, coffee houses came to their rescue, by providing up to date information about these matters, with the help of the hired runners. These runners were entrusted with the task of bringing in and transporting information from one coffee house to the other (Wills and John, 2013). Any kind of information which was required for the purpose of conducting the businesses, were available in these kind of coffee houses. Thus it could be said, that these coffee houses were the pioneers of the commercial and businesses, back in the Halcyon days of the coffee houses of London.

Conclusion:

Thus, it can be seen that coffee houses were one of the pioneers for promoting businesses and intellectualism, in the period of the 17th and the 18th century in London. Coffee houses were the centres for promoting the businesses back in the days. Both intellectuals and the businessmen, merchants used to gather in these coffee houses, for the purposes of plying their trade. The intellectuals used to review their works, engage in debates and discussions over a cup of coffee, with their fellow literary persons, which helped in garnering new experiences and knowledge. Some of the great works of that period, had their origins in the tables and chairs of these coffee houses. In a similar fashion, the businessmen and trade merchants, used to gather around for the purpose of initiating new deals and meetings with prospective partners. Meeting new partners, investors and clients, paved the way for future business proposals. Thus, on the whole the coffee houses in London had a deep and significant impact in the spread of intellectualism and commercialisation in the late 17th century.

References:

"Coffeehouse Culture In 18Th-Century London". 2018. Mentalfloss.Com. https://mentalfloss.com/article/53012/coffeehouse-culture-18th-century-london.

Brewer, John. The pleasures of the imagination: English culture in the eighteenth century. Routledge, 2013.

Burnett, John. England eats out: a social history of eating out in England from 1830 to the present. Routledge, 2016.

Davidoff, Leonore. "The separation of home and work? Landladies and lodgers in nineteenth-and twentieth-century England." In Fit work for women, pp. 66-99. Routledge, 2013.

Fairer, David. English poetry of the Eighteenth Century, 1700-1789. Routledge, 2014.

Green, Dr. 2018. "The Surprising History Of London's Fascinating (But Forgotten) Coffeehouses". The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/London-cafes-the-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-coffeehouses/.

Hattox, Ralph S. Coffee and coffeehouses: The origins of a social beverage in the medieval Near East. University of Washington Press, 2014

manco, jean. 2018. "Coffee-Houses Of Old London". Buildinghistory.Org. https://www.buildinghistory.org/primary/inns/coffee-houses.shtml.

Markus, Thomas A. Buildings and power: Freedom and control in the origin of modern building types. Routledge, 2013.

Peter, Sandra, and Markus Deimann. "On the role of openness in education: A historical reconstruction." Open Praxis 5, no. 1 (2013): 7-14.

Pyne, Stephen J. Fire in America: a cultural history of wildland and rural fire. University of Washington Press, 2017.

Rogers, Nicholas. "Money, land and lineage: the big bourgeoisie of Hanoverian London." In The eighteenth-century town, pp. 276-299. Routledge, 2014.

Sambrook, James. The Eighteenth Century: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1700-1789. Routledge, 2014.

Smith, Woodruff D. "From coffeehouse to parlour: the consumption of coffee, tea and sugar in north-western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." In Consuming Habits, pp. 158-173. Routledge, 2014.

Smith, Woodruff D. "From coffeehouse to parlour: the consumption of coffee, tea and sugar in north-western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." In Consuming Habits, pp. 158-173. Routledge, 2014.

Tucker, Catherine M. Coffee culture: local experiences, global connections. Routledge, 2017.

Wills Jr, John E. "European consumption and Asian production in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." In Consumption and the World of Goods, pp. 155-169. Routledge, 2013.

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