On this day … 2 February 1878

The Preston Chronicle carried a report of a meeting to consider opening ‘Coffee and Cocoa Taverns’ for the ‘working classes’ of the town that perfectly captures the paternalistic views of Preston’s Victorian ‘do gooders’. At the meeting were the mayor, one of the town’s MPs, the vicar and other clergy, an alderman and three councillors, and numerous local gentlemen.

The meeting had been called by a Mr Whateley Cook Taylor, an inspector of factories, who ‘from his immediate knowledge of the working classes, was anxious to have a little consultation with other gentlemen to decide as to whether some steps might not be taken that would lead to ameliorate their condition with respect to their leisure hours.’

For which, read keep them out of the pub, as he went on to say that the taverns would lead to ‘a decrease of the temptation to intemperance’. In a while he hoped that people ‘would fetch cocoa to their homes just as they fetched beer, inasmuch as the former would be more nutritious’.

The vicar felt they should not be ‘inordinately decorated’.

The mayor said he had noticed cards in the windows of several pubs advertising hot coffee from six to nine in the morning, which was ‘evidence of a want of something of the sort on the part of the working classes, which these coffee rooms would, to a large extent, supply’.

Within the year, thy had formed the Preston Coffee Tavern Company and two taverns had been opened. These were the Queens at 89, Friargate in one of the block of new shops recently opened next to the Lamb and Packet, and the Alexandra in Church Street. More followed, with a ‘British Workman Public House And Coffee Tavern’, associated with the parish church at Syke Hill, opening in November, 1880. The ‘public house’ in the name did not mean it sold alcohol.

Two years later, the Preston Coffee Tavern Company was in difficulties, and in April 1884 the company was wound up.

Similar establishments in the town , independent of the company, continued to operate (see picture), as they did in surrounding towns. For coffee and cocoa establishments were opening throughout the country at this time. Many did not not have the paternalistic origins of the the Queens and the Alexandra. In complete contrast in Bristol, for example, it was found that:

When researching the socialists, anarchists and other radicals of late Victorian Bristol, it is striking how much of their activity took place in the gaslit interiors of what were variously called coffee houses, coffee or cocoa taverns or, most enticingly, coffee palaces. Several were hotbeds for radical and progressive ideas.

Orchard Coffee Palace, Preston
An 1882 Guild Advertisement for the Orchard Coffee Palace, Preston. Source: Preston Digital Archive.

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