Esoteric London

No. 671: St Michael’s Alley, EC3

Posted in Drink, Pubs by esotericlondon on September 24, 2012

Jamaica Wine House, St Michael’s Alley, London, EC3. Photo © Roger Dean 2012

From the notice in the window of the Jamaica Wine House:

History Behind The Jamaica Wine House

When the Jamaica Wine House was established in 1869 it had already been open to the public for over 200 years. Formerly the site was London’s first coffee house and widely used as a business address, so much so that ‘The Jamaica, London’ was sufficient to ensure the safe arrival of documents and letters.

The actual date on which it started trading is not recorded but it was built on the site of Pasqua Rose’s coffee house where ‘the virtue of the drink coffee was first publicly made and sold in England’. Pasqua was brought to this country for the express purpose of brewing morning coffee for Daniel Edwards, a wealthy merchant. He then, in 1652, set his former servant up in St Michael’s Alley, where ‘under his own head’ Pasqua began preparing it and purveying to a wider public.

Along with the Church, St Michael’s Alley was destroyed by the Great Fire of London and soon after Pasqua fled the country. The new Jamaica was established on the same site sometime between 1674 and 1680. A newspaper advertisement in 1681 mentions ‘a ship about to sail for Carolina, in which freight or a passage may be engaged at the Jamaica coffee house’.

But it was those with growing interests in Jamaica and the British West Indies who formed it’s growing clientele. By 1750 a contemporary report describes it as ‘having been used for 60 years past as the place at which letters should be left for Jamaica’. T he popularity and prestige of the house can be measured by the wide variety of traders who listed it as their business address in the directories of 1750-1799.

These traders included West India merchants, ship insurance brokers, owners and commanders of trading ships and also brokers and dealers in produce of the West Indies, including rum and brandy merchants (‘The best rum obtained here’ remarks Roaches handbook in 1793). Even the Duke of Wellington sent a letter here to Captain Barclay, thanking him for a gift of a turtle of which he enjoyed as company and then as soup.

In the transition from simple coffee houses and business exchange, The Jamaica, like many others gradually developed into a tavern. This was largely due to increased popularity of a new exotic brew – tea. Many coffee houses sank or were converted into private members clubs.

In 1869 it began trading as the Jamaica Wine House as it is known today.

The Jamaica Wine House was acquired by Shepherd Neame, Britain’s Oldest Brewer, on 30th March 2009.

Acquire the taste of history

[ To visit the Jamaica Wine House website click here. R.D.]

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