Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: Coffeehouse and Tea Garden – Part One

The coffeehouse was a place where a man was safe from his womenfolk (who were forbidden to enter), and although the ladies in their drawing rooms complained about this, in truth no gentlewoman would have cared to set foot inside such establishments. Smoke from the outsized fireplace mingled with tobacco smoke from the clay pipes and the aroma of coffee being roasted and brewed, the melange heightened by the scents used by the fops present and the perfumed pomades almost all men of the day used as hairdressing. Since baths were by no means the commonplace they are now and most men rode horseback or drove carriages, body odors and the fragrance of barnyard and stable joined with the other smells to produce what a modern nose would consider a general stink. As twilight fell and the evening wore on, the light from the oil lamps and candles fought a losing battle with the thickening atmosphere until it was no longer possible to read the broadsides, newspapers, or Rules of the House thoughtfully provided by the proprietor. Besides much good fellowship, however, these noxious hangouts spawned a number of customs and institutions still in use today.

Our now-familiar ballot box made its first appearance in the Turk’s Head, where it was known as “our wooden oracle” and used when discussions could only be settled by vote. When business was brisk, patrons would place money for waiters and serving wenches in boxes marked T.I.P., “to insure promptness.” Commodities, property, and objets d’art were commonly sold at auction in salesrooms attached to coffeehouses and the great auction houses of Sotheby’s and Christie’s owe their origins to this tradition. One of Thomas Garway’s early competitors was Edward Lloyd, whose clientele was mainly seafarers and their associates. It was for their convenience that soon after opening his doors in 1688, Lloyd began keeping a roster of ships, their sailing dates, their cargoes, and which ones were in the market for insurance. Ship owners and captains, merchants and insurance underwriters made Lloyd’s their headquarters from then on and by the time of Lloyd’s death in 1713, the foundations were well laid for two important institutions–Lloyd’s Register of Shipping and Lloyd’s Insurance. The uniformed attendants in the insurance firm’s offices are still called “waiters” today, just as in coffeehouse times.

Continued in Tuesdays With Norwood: Coffeehouse and Tea Garden – Part Three