Week 13 | Temperance, Hospital Clubs & How to Make The Perfect Cup of Coffee: 05.04.10



April 6, 2010

“In other words, Shoreditch House without the booze or the rooftop swimming pool…”

Coffee Palaces

Our research into 19th century public houses continued this week with a visit to the British Architectural Library at RIBA HQ, where we read a few books, of all things, one of which was called ‘Victorian Pubs’ by the architectural writer and historian Mark Girouard.

Though we wouldn’t recommend it for light bedtime reading, the book about public houses does contain a chapter on the rise and subsequent decline of ‘the Coffee Palace and Coffee Tavern’, a fascinating read not least because no one at aberrant has ever heard of a coffee palace before.

According to Mr Girouard, these coffee establishments – essentially gin palaces or pubs that did not serve alcohol – were built in response to the temperance movement of the late 19th century.  

Coffee palaces were often multi-purpose or mixed-use buildings, which included other functions and leisure facilities to attract people away from the pubs.  These included supplying cheap and wholesome food, either in the form of regular meals or occasional refreshments, combined with free reading rooms where people could come and read books, periodicals and all of the local and national papers for free, as well as reasonable overnight accommodation. In other words, Shoreditch House without the booze or the rooftop swimming pool.

How to Make the Perfect Coffee

Girouard bases his chapter on coffee palaces around the work of the incomparable E. Hepple Hall, a man so low profile that he defies the long fingers of the most intrusive Google search. In his book ‘Coffee Taverns, Cocoa Houses and Coffee Palaces’, published in the late 19th century, Hepple Hall refers to a guide published by the Coffee Tavern Company Limited entitled ‘Practical hints for the management of coffee taverns’.

Amongst its handy tips, the guide says that coffee palaces should have rooms for meetings or for entertainments, but by far the biggest piece of advice was how to make good coffee…

Of course, we wouldn’t dream of giving away all of Hepple Hall’s secrets ourselves – they are not ours to tell and you should read the book yourselves – but as he determines in his caffeinated tome, the art of making coffee is “truly a simple process, and yet how few English men and women know it, or knowing it, care to practice it. It is not complimentary to our boasted civilization and our profession in the mechanic arts that we should long have lagged so far behind many, even of the least enlightened nations of Europe, in the manufacture of one of the staple articles of daily household consumption.”  

Unfortunately, we will never know what E. Hepple Hall would have made of the flat white.

House of Jonn at the Hospital Club

We finished off the four-day week with a visit to the Hospital Club where we met up with House of Jonn, the new ‘creatives in residence’ at the members club in Covent Garden.

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Naturally, after a few beers and a sighting of T4 lothario and professional Welshman, Steve Jones, we discussed the prospect of House of Jonn collaborating with aberrant architecture.

This joining of residencies, a duplex if you will, may or may not be scheduled to occur during the London Festival of Architecture, which takes place on 19 June to 4 July this year. All we can say is watch this space as well as every conceivable location across the capital where we might stage our temporary architectural event or intervention.

Don’t worry, we’ll be easier to spot than Banksy

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