London's literary haunts



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Coffee shops and cafés have always been central to London‘s literary culture. Time Out round up the most important

  • London's literary haunts

    Cup of knowledge...

  • Sancho’s Grocery Shop, 19 Charles Street (later King Charles Street)

    Ignatius Sancho, the first African writer in London, lived here from winter 1773 until his death in 1780. He ran a grocery shop selling sugar, tea and tobacco. A former slave, he had received a classical education from John, second Duke of Montagu, and in 1751 entered London’s café society. He wrote poetry, plays and musical works and was painted by Gainsborough in 1768. He was a friend of Dr Johnson and ‘Tristram Shandy’ author Laurence Sterne.

    Pasqua Rosée’s, Cornhill

    Rosee’s coffee shop, London’s first, opened in St Michael’s Alley in 1652 ‘at the Signe of his own Head’. Proprietor Rosée was the Sicilian servant of a Turkish goods trader (and coffee-importer) called Daniel Edwards. London’s second coffee shop, the Rainbow, was opened by James Farr in Fleet Street in 1657.

    Grecian Coffee House, 19 Devereux Court

    Leading off Essex Street, the Grecian was where Richard Steele wrote his contributions to the Tatler. It was also patronised by fellow journalist Joseph Addison and many members of the Royal Society, including Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley. In 1709 the Tatler described the Grecian as ‘attracting men of learning where the arguments become so intense that swords were often drawn leading to death’. The Grecian was open from 1702 to 1813. Today The Devereux pub stands on the site it occupied.

    London Coffee House, 41 Farringdon Street

    The London Coffee House occupied this site from 1731 to 1868. Benjamin Franklin held a fortnightly supper club here between 1764 and 1772, and James Boswell and various dissenters and polemicists regularly attended. It was also where Arthur Clennam sheltered from the rain in Dickens’s ‘Little Dorrit’ (1857).

    William Unwin’s, 20 Russell Street

    Known as Will’s, this became the meeting place of John Dryden and his circle from 1671 to 1701. Songs, epigrams and satires circulated from table to table. Among its literary coterie were Wycherley, Congreve, Butler and Aphra Behn, one of the first female dramatists. In ‘On Poetry: A Rhapsody’, Jonathan Swift urges young poets to publish a poem and then go to Will’s to ‘lie snug and hear what the Critiks say’.

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