Shopping and Coffee 120 years ago

Bill Curtis

How new is the ‘cafe culture’ of today? We tend to think that a high street coffee goes hand in hand with the i-Pad, social media and ‘Black Friday’ deals, but the high street coffee shop thrived in Westerham 120 years ago.  A walk along Market Square north side, past the George and Dragon around 1900 would have brought us to Charles Shawyer’s drapery and millinery shop, a ladies and gentleman’s clothing establishment and so much more. 

In this photograph of 'London House' taken around 1905 we can see that the whole building was one business, not divided as it is today. The young man and woman standing in the doorway are likely Charles Shawyer Junior and his sister Emily, who both worked for their father in this shop, the left-hand side of which is now Deli di Luca.
On the other side of London Road - in what is now Costa Coffee - John P. Hale ran ‘The Stores’ a high class grocery business with a staff of six young assistants. This photograph, unmistakably the same building but taken around 1920, shows a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to parking back then, still enjoyed by some at this point…
At that same location in 1915 a local fox-hunt were just returning after a successful morning, no doubt, over the park at Squerryes. They will make their way up Westerham Hill to the stables at South Street.
So where did the weary shopper go for refreshment and a catch-up with friends? A walk across the road to today’s ‘Ellenor’ charity shop would have taken shoppers to ‘The Fountain Coffee Tavern’ next to the familiar frontage of what was then a wet-fish shop and ice-dealer (there were no refrigerators in the 1900s home!). A popular haunt with cyclists at the time indicates that in some ways, little has changed, and Edwardian cafe culture drew the same audience then as it does today, but even though coffee shops these days don’t tend to sell alcohol, there was a blatant message revealed in the full title of that establishment being ‘The Fountain Coffee Tavern and Temperance Hotel’ where customers were invited to try ‘Temperance Wines and Syrups’ as their newspaper advertisement shows below. With eight pubs and two breweries in town, the Temperance movement obviously felt an alternative refreshment should be on offer!
This 1889 advert from the Westerham Herald tells the whole story. Curious readers may well wonder where the name ‘Fountain’ came from and there’s a good explanation for this that goes back to 1887 when local dignitaries and the Parish Council decided that a drinking fountain would be a fitting monument for the town to mark and celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Built of pink granite the four-sided structure contained button actuated drinking spouts on a grand circular base surmounted with a large gas-mantle at the top to add to the street lighting. The fountain was sited at the top of The Green where the statue of General James Wolfe was positioned in 1911. At that point the jubilee fountain was moved to the Fullers Hill junction with Market Square.
This 1907 Advert for John Gunn's Ice, Fish, Poultry & Game business next door to the Fountain Coffee Tavern shows true diversity - the offer of 'traps on hire' - no doubt when they were not delivering goods around the local neighbourhood.

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