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Chapter coffee house : London coffee houses and taverns
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THE CHAPTER COFFEE HOUSE, Paternoster row.
In the first volume, pp. 179-186, we described this as a literary place of
resort in Paternoster Row, more especially in connection with the Wittinagemot
of the last century.
A very interesting account of the Chapter, at a later period, (1848,) is given
by Mrs. Gaskell. The Coffee-house is thus described : —
" Paternoster Row was for many years sacred to publishers. It is a narrow nagged
street, lying under the shadow of St. Paul's ; at each end there are posts
placed, so as to prevent the passage of carriages, and thus preserve a solemn
silence for the deliberations of the ( fathers of the Row) The dull warehouses
on each side are mostly occupied at present by wholesale stationers; if they be
publishers' shops, they show no attractive front to the dark and narrow street.
Halfway up on the lefthand side is the Chapter Coffee-house. I visited it last
June. It was then unoccupied ; it had the appearance of a dwelling-house two
hundred years old or so, such as one sometimes sees in ancient country towns ;
the ceilings of the small rooms were low, and had heavy beams running across
them ; the walls were wainscoted breast-high; the staircase was shallow, broad,
and dark, taking up much space in the centre of the house. This then was the
Chapter Coffee-house, which, a century ago, was the resort of all the
booksellers and publishers, and where the literary hacks, the critics, and even
the wits used to go in search of ideas or employment. This was the place about
which Chatterton wrote, in those delusive letters he sent to his mother at
Bristol, while he was starving in London.
" Years later it became the tavern frequented by university men, and country
clergymen, who were up in London for a few days, and, having no private friends
or access into society, were glad to learn what was going on in the world of
letters, from the conversation which they were sure to hear in the coffee-room.
It was a place solely frequented by men ; I believe there was but one female
servant in the house. Few people slept there : some of the stated meetings of
the trade were held in it, as they had been for more than a century ; and
occasionally country booksellers, with now and then a clergyman, resorted to it.
In the long, low, dingy room upstairs, the meetings of the trade were held. The
high narrow windows looked into the gloomy Row ; nothing of motion or of change
could be seen in the grim dark houses opposite, so near and close, although the
whole breadth of the Row was between. The mighty roar of London was round, like
the sound of an unseen ocean, yet every foot-fall on the pavement below might be
heard distinctly, in that unfrequented street."
Goldsmith frequented the Chapter, and always occupied one place, which, for many
years after was the seat of literary honour there.
There are Leather Tokens of the Chapter Coffee-house in existence.
In the 1829 Robsons directory is listed
J Ellis, at the Chapter coffee house, 50 Paternoster row
Lots of references are made to two sources on the
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2
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