“I like coffee, I like tea….”

Last we heard of us, in our 17th/18th century incarnations, we had just beat a hasty retreat from the Pleasure Garden. What a lovely time we had there, spoilt only by some rowdys who rampaged through the garden, snatching off wigs and hats, tipping the ladies on their bustles, pushing old gentlemen into the ponds and fountains, and generally disturbing the peace of the Garden with their raucous laughter and ribald comments.

This could be Flipin Bothersome or one of our Roaring Boys! Early 18th century dummy board private collection.

Sounds like today in some ways doesn’t it?

We shall leave The Right Honourable Flipin Bothersome and his friends to their amusements and take our carriage home.

The gentlemen amongst us might be tempted to let the ladies go off to their tea in the drawing room whilst we take up our walking canes, set our wigs firmly on our heads, draw our coats close around us against the slight and cool summer breezes of the early morning….( remember we were at the Gardens until the birds began to trill the dawn chorus), and march off to the coffee house to see what news we can gather.

The coffee house of the 17th century is another of those places to see and be seen. Not for the ladies though. They are barred from such establishments. The only women you might find there are the maids serving the drinks and they are likely to be hidden behind a curtain. The early coffee house is rather like a gentleman’s club but not quite so elite, as yet.

The Chocolatier. Mid 18th c. dummy board Private collection. Not coffee but never mind!

Coffee came into the country in the middle of the 17th century but we wouldn’t recognise it today. It came firstly to Oxford in about 1650 and one of the first houses to be called a coffee house is still in existence there today. The first London coffee house was established in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill in 1652. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of a trader in Turkish goods named Daniel Edwards, who imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment.

Great social levellers, the coffee house is open to all levels of society and as a result many business dealings are  transacted there. At Will’s coffee house, one can read the papers, write letters, read the scandal  sheets that were put out daily, chat with friends, debate and discuss the day’s doings, buy and sell, create an interesting  rumour yourself and perhaps make an addition to the scurrilous gossip flying around and…yes – drink coffee. The monarch has tried to repress these places as being

places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers

but I’m afraid it’s like trying to pin jelly to the wall….the people flock to them and…well…. enjoy them too much.

Here we can speak our minds. Royalist or Republican.

Let’s take ourselves off to Johnathan’s  in Exchange Alley in the newly built area of London devastated by the Great Fire in 1666.

The plaque commemorating the coffee house

So here we are in front of the building. Tucked into an alleyway, in a street where messengers pass up and down the runnels fetching and carrying all manner of goods and bit and bobs. There are many businesses crammed into this part of town and business is brisk between them. We push our way in.

The George and Vulture coffee house ...but not so unlike the late 17th century establishment

And manage to purchase our can of coffee, a tall cup rather like a flower pot from the girl in a special booth and look around us to see who we know and who we can join for a gossip.

Aha!…there neatly fitted into a corner we can see Sir Bumptious Grandly. He is a wealthy old codger but claims to be poorer than the King! ( Remember Charles 11 has been on the throne for a while now, but is still the most impecunious monarch going!)

Sir Bumptious Grandly actually the V&A Man with Cane c. 1690

Sir Bumptious  is scribbling furiously on a piece of paper and scratching his head,under his enormous ( and  dare we say it, lice ridden ) wig. He’s signing something.

“What News?” we cry loudly. This is the traditional greeting when entering the coffee house……nowadays more to indicate that we have arrived than to elicit  a response.

We manage to squeeze onto a bench and open the paper which is on the coffee stained table in front of us.

Goodness….” A PLOT TO KILL THE KING!”..We want nothing to do with it. We shall not even read it….it’s scary stuff.

Are they plotting do you think?

Inside the coffee house. ( both Museum of London)

Shall we take a sip of coffee? It is supposed to be good for our nerves!

UGH…I shall never get used to the taste…it’s like drinking burnt shoe leather! There is no milk or cream in it at this stage as there might be today perhaps. We drink it black with sugar…have to have sugar in it…Without it, it’s just like hot mud! Piping hot mud. And bits in the bottom just like mud too – can’t drink the cup to the dregs.

Maybe that’s why they say it’s ‘ground coffee’…. Ha ha!  😉

I prefer tea but that, my dears, is a ladies drink…so though I might have it at home, here…I have to swallow cups of this filthy stuff to save face!

We turn the page in the newspaper. Yes…newspapers are new too. Here, in the coffee house we can find many to read. Newspapers, I don’t think we would recognise either, as there are no photos of course and the columns of writing are very different to the way we see them now in the 21st century. There are adverts. Some things never change.

But the adverts themselves are decidedly different.{Of course, my friends and I are used to reading these things. For f read s.

Mmm….I think I might like to go and have a look at one of these ” Figuref ” that Mr Peter Pallete Painter paints. I think a nice dummy board in my hallway would be just the ticket! I should very much like to show my erudition and superb taste ( I HAVE been on The Grand Tour you know), by having a visual joke of a Black boy figure standing in the shadows under my staircase. That would please my rich friends greatly!

Now…who else is here at the coffee house? Ha! I catch the eye of my  neighbour, The Reverent Measly Mindful in his Puritan black, his copintank hat, sitting on the table beside him, tall as a Wren tower! He too is scribbling furiously and I lean over him to see what he is penning. Oh…another of his “tracts” denouncing the Theatre. A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage.

The sugar loaf hat often called the copintank

PAH! SHORT it is NOT…. I can see what he has written in his sloping and crabbed style, if I screw up my eyes…Three points especially draw forth his denunciations: the so-called lewdness of the plays, the frequent references to the Bible and biblical characters, and the criticism, slander and abuse flung from the stage upon the clergy.

Well nothing to worry about there! 😉

Nothing like a bit of lewd or politically inflammatory theatre to lift the spirits! Saw a damn fine play the other day by Aphra Behn ( one of the only women writers to gain fame…or should I say notoriety?) and outside to advertise the play was a fine dummy board…complete costume of an African Maid. Loved it! Womanliness personified! 😉

An 18th century possibly earlier dummy board figure of a female "African" warrior woman. There were some strange ideas about how they looked I think.

I’m not going to drink the rest of this muck! I reach behind me and pour the remainder into a potted plant ( yes we have those too….it’s looks a bit sick..I wonder if I am not the only one to jettison my coffee there?)

Back to the NEWS! A young man with a magnificent blue waistcoat enters…..” What News?” he cries. It’s that Irish rogue  Con Flagration. Been bitten by him before. He’s telling everyone that for a paltry sum they can make sure that their house, goods and chattels can be replaced, should a fire break out in their house! HUM! Fine chance of that. You would hand over the money and he would be gone in a flash! And he would probably fire your house into the bargain. No I’ll hang onto my pennies.

19th c. dummy board of an unknown man taken from an 18th c.painting. private collection. Switzerland

My meek and mild friend, Clearly Fragile the glass importer, enters. He lives on the other side of the street to me and plies his trade on the Southern bank of the Thames. He’s a wealthy man. Glass is a thriving luxury business. Oh no…he is parting with money…and I’m not quick enough to stop him. Ah well….

Dummy board of an unknown man. 18th c. Museum of fine arts (store), Boston U.S. with a passing resemblance to Mr. Fragile? 😉

I take a look at the paper he is given. Might as well be a page from a fairy story. He has been well and truly duped.

I’ve had enough of this….. I’m for home.

I step out onto the street, minding the filthy runnel in the very middle, full of all sorts of flotsam and jetsam. My  fine new silk stockings are spattered with mud as a carriage passes. I shake my fist. The carriage stops and out pops my friend Sir Filthy Looks. ” Oh Sir Filthy ” says I ” I didn’t know it was you”.

He apologises and lets me ride home in his superbly decorated carriage. ” Just taken delivery of it from the carriage painters”, he says…. “lovely work” I peer at the door of the carriage. Two entwined lovers, in a somewhat <ahem> gymnastic pose, naked as  plucked geese, freely sport on the panel, surrounded by roses and  little cherubs. ” Lovely indeed” I say and smile to myself. When I have my carriage painted it will knock this one into a cocked hat! I’ll get that Peter Pallete to do it when I get my dummy board done.

” Smoke” says Sir Filthy….” I smell smoke!”

“Nonsense “says I

” NOoooooooo!” I look out of the window. My house is on fire….all my lovely things!

I scramble from the carriage and head for the front door. My servants are all out in the street, some sobbing, some staring, one is even holding the broom she had in her hand when she fled the house.

The V&A sweeper mid 17th century.

” Come on you scurvy slubberdegullions   ” I cry ” in there and rescue my things.”

Hello hello…who do we have here lurking in the shadows, where the light of the flames cannot reach? It’s young Con Flagration.

“Should’ve listened to me” he says, waving a piece of paper. “If my house goes up, I got pounds and pounds to build it up again..better than before…all mod cons. And built in brick with stone. It’s called

I n s u r a n c e”

He tuts….” Should’ve listened to me….”



7 Responses to ““I like coffee, I like tea….””

  1. bonsmots Says:

    Hilarious story! And you had me ROFL-ing with Con Flagration.


  2. Sue Says:

    It was tremendous fun to write!
    And none of it a word of a lie…

  3. bonsmots Says:

    So are you saying that Mr. Flagration was the world’s first insurance salesman???


  4. pastmastery Says:

    haha…maybe not the very man…but someone was!

  5. The Lord of Misrule – Prepare! ( part one ) « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] we translate. ) ( See I like Coffee, I like Tea […]

  6. Shery French Says:

    I have a pair of Dutch dummy boards; 5′ tall, and probably 17th or early 18th century, according to people at the V&A. I’d like to know more about them….??? Shery

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