Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Garraway's Coffee House


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 Garway'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 "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 Journey 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 20l. 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 Garway 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 1s. and 2s. in the pound.[2]

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 sťance, 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 sail-cloth 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.

[2] The City, 2nd edition.

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