Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Chapter Coffee House


In our 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 flagged 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 left-hand 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.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. II
London, 1866