The Temperance Movement of the early 19th century opposed the consumption of spirits though condoned the drinking of alcohol in moderation.
By the 1830’s, however, total abstinence was most accepted by most in society. This led to the need for new buildings where social gatherings could be held in a teetotal environment.
Thereby began the coffee house culture which led to the building of purpose-built establishments often grand in appearance in an attempt to mimic the public house in an effort to be seen as a real alternative.
The Leicester Coffee and Cocoa House Company.
The Leicester Coffee and Cocoa House Company was founded in 1877 with the aim of establishing houses, rooms, coffee carts and stalls in and around Leicester providing non-alcoholic refreshments. A total of eight establishments were built by the company; characterised by comfort and had newspapers and refreshments readily available.
A total of eight establishments were built by the company which were designed around comfort, they had newspapers and refreshments readily available. The quality of the decoration was often superior to anything available prior to this at the same price.
Locations & Design.
The majority of the company’s premises were purpose built and designed by architect Edward Burgess. Several of these buildings still stand though none operate as coffee houses. The High Cross on High Street is now a pub and the East Gates opposite the Clock Tower is now a shop. Perhaps the most impressive of the Leicester coffee houses was the Victoria on Granby Street, built in a French Renaissance style which is now the Italian restaurant San Carlo.
One of the most memorable of the coffee houses was the East Gates coffee house. It was designed in 1885 by Edward Burgess. It became grade II listed in 2011. The East Gates was a popular venue and provided an attractive alternative to the traditional public house. It was popular and profitable for over 40 years but closed after World War I. The building had several uses in subsequent years including a dance studio and ballroom in the 1960’s. It is now a clothing store, Cruise.
The establishments were not only well known for their food and drink but also their variety of facilities such as billiard rooms. They were originally intended as haunts of the wealthy but as taxes on tea and coffee reduced they spread down the social scale to the working classes.
The Decline of Leicester’s Coffee Houses.
Trade began to decline in the first decade of the 20th century as more modern cafes prompted competition and offered non-alcoholic refreshments too. This led to the closure of the company’s coffee houses; the last been advertised for sale in 1921. At least some of these magnificent buildings still stand though all being used in alternative ways to their original purpose.