Coffee Houses

The location of the two coffee houses on a section of the reconstruction of the 1685 survey of the town

The first reference to a coffee house in Preston is found in an entry in the diary of Lawrence Rawstorne for November 1684. He and his good friend and fellow diarist Thomas Bellingham were frequent visitors. It offered gambling, with Bellingham recording going ‘to play att ye Coffee house, where we won 30’, and the following evening ‘and so to play, to ye Coffee house, where I lost 20’. It is not clear what the stakes were worth (26 and 27 December 1688). It might also have had a cock pit: ‘I was wth Ld Brandon at ye Coffee house. There were some few Cock matches’ (Bellingham, 3 March 1690).

The diarists do not give the coffee house’s location in any of the more than twenty references to it in their diaries, and on only one occasion is the proprietor named: ‘Was at Mrs Jameson her Coffee house’ (Rawstorne, 29 November 1685).

There are several other references in contemporary documents to a coffee house in the town.

A court leet record for October 1720 finds Mrs Winckley in trouble ‘for not setting rails to her Cellar Stairs at the old Coffee house adjoining to the street to the dangr of his Majties Liege people’. [1] The Winckley family was recorded as owning properties in Main Sprit Weind in 1685 and 1732.

There are several references to a coffee house in the diary of Mary Molyneux edited by Trevor Kirkham. The diary shows she stayed there in October 1728, when she came to Preston. This was probably a different establishment from the one in Main Sprit Weind. [2]

A document involving the Bushells and the Molyneuxs bearing the date 17 January 1732 mentions ‘all the houses on the west side of Lambert’s backside (from the house in Roger Case’s possession); dwelling house called the Coffee house with a stable and garden, and the house adjacent in Lambert’s backside; 4 houses on the east side of Lambert’s backside; a stable in Lambert’s backside’. The document is in the possession of Prof Kirkham, who kindly supplied a copy; an undated copy is held at Lancashire Archives, DDX 900/139. Another reference to this coffee house appears in the Preston poor tax survey of 1732, located on the south side of Church Street near the parish church. [3]

In March 1738/9 Madam Sarah Sudell was in trouble at the court leet ‘for not repairing the Wall sepa[r]ting the Coffee Garden from Minspit Weend’ (Preston Court Leet March 1738/9). [4]

A deed of 1750 for a lease to a John Woods for 15 years is endorsed on the back ‘Old Coffee House’ and refers to the Bushell/Molyneux properties. It specifies a ‘messuage burgage or dwelling house situate standing and being on the south side of a certain street in Preston aforesaid called the Churchgate adjoining on the west side thereof to a dwelling house now in the possession of James Haydock innkeeper [his inn would be the the White Bull, the present Bull and Royal] and on the east side thereof to a dwelling house in the possession of Mary Bennett widow with the stable garden and little house thereunto belonging all situate lying and being in Preston aforesaid and now or late in the tenure or possession of William Sudell or his undertenants’ (Deed in the possession of Prof Kirkham).

The lease was renewed five years later, at which time Mary Bennett was still in possession of her property but Francis Daniell was now the innkeeper (Deed in the possession of Prof Kirkham).

In 1793 a document refers to ‘property in Back Wend and Minspit Wend, including the “Coffee Garden”.’ [5]  A piece of ground on the east side of Main Sprit Weind was shown as the Coffee Gardens on 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps, although by then all trace of a coffee house had disappeared.

There is a suggestion that the Main Sprit Weind coffee house was the haunt of prostitutes. An extensive study of English coffee houses by Markman Ellis, professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies at Queen Mary University of London, found that only a ‘few isolated references exist to the presence of women in coffee rooms, but only to suggest they were prostitutes’. And the writer infers from Thomas Bellingham’s record of an encounter with several women at the Preston coffee house on 19 January 1689 ‘I was after wth severall women att ye coffee house’ that ‘he did not think much of their morals’. [7]

In response to a query from this website Prof Ellis added:

My estimate is that these women are not gentlefolk because he refers to them as ‘women’, rather than ladies, or by giving their names, or marital status. I would expect a woman of good character in this period to be called ‘Mrs Bellingham’, or their character in some way to be commented on. ‘Several women’ is I think derogatory (cf 31 Jan: ‘ye Coll and his Lady’; 6 Feb: ‘we went to see Mr Barton’s mother and sisters: one is marry’d to one Peatson, and ye other, Mrs (Miss) Prudence is unmarried; she is pretty but inclinable to grow fat’) … I am certainly proposing that the evidence for the presence of genteel women in the coffee-house is slim. Nothing I’ve read since has changed my mind, though there is a lot of evidence that women worked in coffee-houses as servants, managers and prostitutes. [8]

Against this is the fact that Mary Molyneux, who would certainly be included among the gentlefolk, stayed at the Church Street coffee house. As Prof Kirkham has pointed out (email, 28 June 2017), she would have been unlikely to have visited ‘a haunt of prostitutes’.

However, Prof Ellis’s view that Bellingham’s referring to the females at the coffee house (the Main Sprit Weind coffee house, not the Molyneux one) as women rather than ladies is derogatory could be supported by other entries in Bellingham’s diary: ‘I walk’t wth ye women to Enam [Avenham], and treated them att ye ale-house’ (24 March 1690); ‘was in ye evening att Enam, where my cousen W. B. [William Bellingham] treated ye women’ (21 April 1690).

Set against this is Bellingham’s diary entry for 21 February 1689, ‘Ye women, all but Nabby [Bellingham’s wife, Abigail], were very peevish and ill humour’d’. This use of ‘women’ instead of ‘ladies’ does rather undermine Prof Ellis’s argument.

It does not seem likely that Thomas Bellingham would wish to be seen walking in public in the company of prostitutes, but it is also possible that the Avenham alehouse was a place of ill-repute. In the diary entries female members of the local gentry are occasionally to be found in the more reputable inns in the town but would be unlikely to visit a common alehouse.

[1] ‘Preston Court Leet Records’, accessed 29 January 2017,
[2] Trevor H. Molyneux, The Diary of Mary Molyneux of Preston, 1716-1739 (Preston: Author, 2015).
[3] ‘Regulation of Poor Tax Book’ (Preston, 1732), CNP/3/1/11, Lancashire Archives.
[4] ‘Preston Court Leet Records’.
[5] ‘DDX 726/2/1-2 Lease Including Preston “Coffee Garden”’, Lancashire Archives Catalogue, 9 September 1793,
[6] Nigel Morgan, Vanished Dwellings: Early Industrial Housing in a Lancashire Cotton Town: Preston (Preston: Mullion Books, 1990).
[7] M. Ellis, The Coffee-House: A Cultural History (Orion, 2011),
[8] Markman Ellis, ‘Email: Re: Preston Coffee House’, 17 June 2016.