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Garraways coffee house : London coffee houses and taverns

A historical site about early London coffee houses and taverns and will also link to my current pub history site and also the London street directory

Garraways Coffee house
Garraways Coffee house - see more detail here

This noted Coffee-house, situated in Change-alley, Cornhill, has a threefold celebrity : tea was first sold in England here ; it was a place of great resort in the time of the South Sea Bubble; and has since been a place of great mercantile transactions. The original proprietor was Thomas Garway, tobacconist and coffee-man, the first who retailed tea, recommending for the cure of all disorders; the following is the substance of his shop bill : —
" Tea in England hath been sold in the leaf for six pounds, and sometimes for ten pounds the pound weight, and in respect of its former scarceness and dearness, it hath been only used as a regalia in high treatments and entertainments, and presents made thereof to princes and grandees till the year 1651. The said Thomas Garway did purchase a quantity thereof, and first publicly sold the said tea in leaf and drink, made according to the directions of the most knowing merchants and travellers into those Eastern countries ; and upon knowledge and experience of the said Garraway's continued care and industry in obtaining the best tea, and making drink thereof, very many noblemen, physicians, merchants, and gentlemen of quality, have ever since sent to him for the said leaf, and daily resort to his house in Exchange-alley, aforesaid, to drink the drink thereof ; and to the end that all persons of eminence and quality, gentlemen, and others, who have occasion for tea in leaf, may be supplied, these are to give notice that the said Thomas Garway hath tea to sell from u sixteen to fifty shillings per pound." (See the document entire in Ellis's Letters, series iv. 58.)

Ogilby, the compiler of the Britannia, had his standing lottery of books at Mr. Garway's Coffee-house from April 7, 1673, till wholly drawn off. And, in the Jour-
ney through England, 1722, Garraway's, Robins' s, and Joe's, are described as the three celebrated Coffee-houses:
in the first, the People of Quality, who have business in the City, and the most considerable and wealthy citizens, frequent. In the second the Foreign Banquiers, and often even Foreign Ministers. And in the third, the Buyers and Sellers of Stock.

Wines were sold at Garraway's in 1673, "by the candle," that is, by auction, while an inch of candle burns.
In The Tatler, No. 147, we read : " Upon my coming home last night, I found a very handsome present of French wine left for me, as a taste of 216 hogsheads,
which are to be put to sale at 201. a hogshead, at Garraway's Coffee-house, in Exchange-alley' &c. The sale by candle is not, however, by candle-light, but during
the day. At the commencement of the sale, when the auctioneer has read a description of the property, and the conditions on which it is to be disposed of, a piece of candle, usually an inch long, is lighted, and he who is the last bidder at the time the light goes out is declared the purchaser.

Swift, in his " Ballad on the South Sea Scheme' 1721, did not forget Garraway's : —

" There is a gulf, where thousands fell,
Here all the bold adventurers came,
A narrow sound, though deep as hell,
Change alley is the dreadful name.

"Subscribers here by thousands float,
And jostle one another down,
Each paddling in his leaky boat,
And here they fish for gold and drown.

" Now buried in the depths below,
Now mounted up to heaven again,
They reel and stagger to and fro,
At their wits' end, like drunken men.

" Meantime secure on Grarway cliffs,
A savage race, by shipwrecks fed,
Lie waiting for the founder'd skiffs,
And strip the bodies of the dead."

Dr. Radcliffe, who was a rash speculator in the South Sea Scheme, was usually planted at a table at Garraway's about Exchange time, to watch the turn of the
market ; and here he was seated when the footman of his powerful rival, Dr. Edward Hannes, came into Garraway's and inquired, by way of a puff, if Dr. H. was
there. Dr. Radcliffe, who was surrounded with several apothecaries and chirurgeons that flocked about him, cried out, "Dr. Hannes was not there/' and desired
to know " who wanted him ? the fellow's reply was, such a lord and such a lord ;" but he was taken up with the dry rebuke, "No, no, friend, you are mistaken ; the Doctor wants those lords." One of Radcliffe's ventures was five thousand guineas upon one South Sea project. When he was told at Garraway's that 'twas all lost, " Why," said he, " 'tis but going up five thousand pair of stairs more." " This answer," says Tom Brown, " deserved a statue."

As a Coffee-house, and one of the oldest class, which has withstood, by the well-acquired fame of its proprietors, the ravages of time, and the changes that economy and new generations produce, none can be compared to Garraway's. This name must be familiar with most people in and out of the City ; and, notwithstanding our disposition to make allowance for the want of knowledge some of our neighbours of the West-end profess in relation to men and things east of Temple Bar, it must be supposed that the noble personage who said, when asked by a merchant to pay him a visit in one of these places, " that he willingly would, if his friend could tell him where to change horses," had forgotten this establishment, which fostered so great a quantity of dishonoured paper, when in other City coffee-houses it had gone begging at Is. and 25. in the pound."

Garraway's has long been famous as a sandwich and drinking room, for sherry, pale ale, and punch. Tea and coffee are still served. It is said that the sandwich maker is occupied two hours in cutting and arranging the sandwiches before the day's consumption commences.
The sale-room is an old fashioned first-floor apartment, with a small rostrum for the seller, and a few commonly grained settles for the buyers. Here sales of drugs, mahogany, and timber are periodically held. Twenty or thirty property and other sales sometimes take place in a day. The walls and windows of the lower room are
covered with sale placards, which are unsentimental evidences of the mutability of human affairs.

" In 1840 and 1841, when the tea speculation was at its height, and prices were fluctuating 6d. and 8d. per pound, on the arrival of every mail, Garraway's was
frequented every night by a host of the smaller fry of dealers, when there was more excitement than ever occurred on 'Change when the most important intelligence arrived. Champagne and anchovy toasts were the order of the night ; and every one came, ate and drank, and went, as he pleased without the least question concerning the score, yet the bills were discharged; and this plan continued for several months." — The City.

Here, likewise, we find this redeeming picture : —
" The members of the little coterie, who take the dark corner under the clock, have for years visited this house ; they number two or three old, steady merchants, a
solicitor, and a gentleman who almost devotes the whole of his time and talents to philanthropic objects, — for instance, the getting up of a Ball for Shipwrecked Mariners and their families ; or the organization of a Dinner for the benefit of the Distressed Needlewomen of the Metropolis ; they are a very quiet party, and enjoy the privilege of their seance, uninterrupted by visitors."
We may here mention a tavern of the South Sea time, where the " Globe permits" fraud was very successful.
These were nothing more than square pieces of card on which was a wax seal of the sign of the Globe Tavern, situated in the neighbourhood of Change-alley, with
the inscription, " Sail-cloth Permits." The possessors enjoyed no other advantage from them than permission to subscribe at some future time to a new sailcloth manufactory projected by one who was known to be a man of fortune, but who was afterwards involved in the peculation and punishment of the South Sea Directors. These Permits sold for as much as sixty guineas in the Alley.

Lombard Street has generally been considered as being the special home of the bankers, but Fleet Street ran it very close in the early years of banks being established in England.
Messrs. Stone Martin and Co. are the oldest banking firm in London, and claim to be the direct successors of Sir Thomas Gresham. They still bear the grasshopper, as the sign, upon their doors in Lombard Street.
When Martin and Co. (the name of Stone seems to have been dropped out of the firm, in the fast flowing stream of time) absorbed the site of Garraways in the extension of their offices, they not only placed, at the corner, a tablet notifying that fact, but have surmounted it with the grasshopper, the crest of Sir Thomas Gresham, the great banker of Queen Elizabeth's reign.
They were very soon followed by Messrs. Child and Co., at the sign of the Marygold, at No. 1 Fleet Street next door to Temple Bar on one side, and the Noisy Devil Tavern on the other.
Their old books, old account books, which for many years were kept in the room over the centre archway of Temple Bar, contain many curious accounts ; one among them being that of Mistress Eleanor, or Nell Gwynne ; another of Alderman Backwell, who was the agent through whom that disgraceful sale, by King Charles IL, of Dunkirk to Louis XIV., King of France, was negotiated, and through whose hands the worse than blood-money passed from one King to the other.
At a later date, in Queen Anne's reign, this firm had a temporary pressure for ready cash, and were assisted over their difficulty and hour of need by Sarah Jennings, Duchess of Marlborough, who loaned them the necessary advances.
Hogarth painted a sketch in oil, representing this very interesting occurrence, which was sold by auction as Lot 270, on the 9th June, 1832, by a Mr. Hodson, to whom, I know not, or where the very interesting picture now is.

In 1811 a Mr Howell is listed at this coffee house, as were Benson & Miles, wine & brandy merchants, Garraways Coffee house, Exchange alley, also noted in 1811; in 1822, Anna Benson & Co  and then in 1829, Benson Widow and Co, were listed at Garraways Coffee house with Anna Benson & Co in 1833 at 3 Change alley - Miss Bland is also a member of the Licensed Victuallers Association in 1833 noted as at the coffee house; with George Bland there in 1843 and 1848 who was also listed here as Funge & Bland in 1836. It clearly closes soon after 1848, and is noted in the London Chambers guide (1862) as being a former coffee house.
Garraways coffee house is now still commemorated with a modern wall plaque.

Garraways Coffee house

Within an easy distance round the Royal Exchange, there were several old style chop and coffee houses. Many of them had a history of its own. In Change Alley the ever celebrated Garraway's Coffee House, notwithstanding the fact that it was a wine house and not a chop or eating-house, claims pre-eminent notice. Here, as is to be seen in Ward's well-known picture, was the focus of the Great South Sea Bubble, and of many another bubble too ; for Change Alley, in the days of Queen Anne and the first two Georges, was frequented by speculators as an open bourse.
Garraway's supplied wines, spirits, and bottled beer — no draught. Nothing eatable beyond a sandwich, biscuit and cheese, in those days, could be had.
The upper rooms of the house were used for auction sales of land and house property, and the business in this line in the latter years of its existence, so far as the City was concerned, was divided between Garraway's and the Auction Mart.
These sales of course did not include sales of foreign and colonial produce, which then, as now, were conducted at Mincing Lane — their native country, so to speak. At this time, 1845, to its demolition it was the property of a firm of wine merchants, Messrs. Funge and Bland.

The ground floor at Garraway's, when I first knew it, was one large room, occupying the whole area of the building, which reached from one of the lanes in Change Alley to the other. It was furnished with cosy mahogany boxes and seats. The floor was sanded, as was usual in the majority of such places. On entering, the bar was immediately on the right hand, almost behind the door, and at the extreme end of the room on the right was a large old-fashioned fireplace. Facing the door were broad stairs, leading upwards to the auction rooms and downwards to the cellars, where bins and bins of old port, madeira, and sherry, both brown and gold, reposed, not asleep, but ripening year by year. The waiters — one could hardly call them waiters, they were such decorous and stately individuals as almost to deserve the name of attendants — exactly befitted a place of such old associations.

It was a great place of rendezvous for friends to meet in the City, being conveniently situated for approach from either Cornhill or Lombard Street, and was quiet and removed " far from the madding crowd " and noise of street traffic ; moreover, it was readily found by the greatest stranger. Everyone knew Garraway's. Above all, it was eminently respectable.
Oceans of wine were drunk there (ah ! it was wine, well deserving of all the strophes and odes that poets have sung in praise of the glorious juice of grape). Each bin, each bottle, had its pedigree.
Its vintage and its date of bottling were carefully recorded. No one here ever presumed to imbibe too freely, although such wine was most enticing and seductive — it was not of the fiery, untamed sort that flies at once to a man's head and upsets both brain and stomach. The attendants at Garraway's would have regarded a tipsy customer with simple horror. I do not suppose a woman ever entered the place during the present century.
Garraways was twice the victim to the flames — once in 1666, the plague year, and again in March, 1748: and it was finally closed and pulled down in 1866;, when the great alterations in Change Alley were carried out. Its site now forms the rear part of the banking establishment of Messrs, Martin and Co.

The first proprietor was a certain Thomas Garway, who was the first man to sell tea in London — indeed, in England — in 1657. It was then known as "tay." The new importation from China was first introduced to the Court of Charles II. by the Earl of Arlington six years after the year of the Plague and Fire of London.
Whether the Merry Monarch patronized tea-drinking is very questionable; certainly, history is silent on the subject.
In 1673, when the new Garraway's was built, it became an auction mart for wines, which were first sold " by the candle" — that is, the biddings were received so long as an inch of candle was burning. When the flame expired the exciting moment arrived that is now denoted by the sharp rap of the auctioneer's hammer, and the last and highest bidder was declared to be the purchaser.
Change Alley and its vicinity was where the wild speculations of the South Sea Bubble and other equally mad schemes ran their rampant course. At this time Garraway's was turned into quite an open Stock Exchange.
It was here, in 1688, that the word "stock-jobber" was first used. So universal did the mania become that everyone resorted to Change
Alley. Fashionable physicians, indeed, had then special seats in the coffee room at Garraway's, where their patients met and consulted them.
The celebrated and eccentric Dr. John Radcliffe, who in the year 1685 rose to the highest practice in London, came daily, at the hour when the Exchange was full, from his house in Bow Street, then a fashionable part of town, to Garraway's, and was to be found, surrounded by patients, surgeons, and apothecaries, at a particular table.
All alike dabbled in a little " spec" in the shares of one or other of the mad schemes. Ladies, too, visited the place, on speculation bent. As a poet of the tim.e wrote : —

"The greatest ladies thither came.
And plied in chariots daily,
Or pawned their jewels for a sum
To venture in Change Alley.''

That literary scourge, Dean Swift, in 1721, thus lashes the frequenters of Garraway's : —

" Here is the gulf where thousands fell !
Here all the bold adventurers came,
A narrow sound, though deep as hell,
Change Alley is the dreadful name.

" Subscribers here by thousands float,
And jostle one another down,
Each paddling in his leaky boat.
And here they fish for gold — and drown.

" Now buried in the depths below.
Now mounted up to heaven again,
They reel and stagger to and fro,
At their wits' end, like drunken men.

" Meanwhile, secure on Garway's cliffs,
A savage race, by shipwrecks fed.
Lie waiting for the foundered skiffs,
And strip the bodies of the dead.''

Whether the members of the Stock Exchange in these days " Lie waiting for the foundered skiffs and strip the bodies" — or pockets— of the public, is best known to those who speculate and lose their money.

References :
Lots of references are made to two sources on the internet archive :
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2

And Last updated on: Friday, 15-Sep-2023 12:28:02 BST
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