• The Victoria Coffee House in Granby Street was said to be “the best in the kingdom”
  • Thomas Cook, a supporter of the Temperance Movement, was a founder member of the Leicester Coffee and Cocoa Company Ltd
  • Most of the Company’s premises were custom built and designed by the architect Edward Burgess

Thomas Cook and Temperance in Leicester

The Leicester Coffee and Cocoa Company Ltd

Thomas Cook was a lifelong supporter of the Temperance Movement that encouraged people to give up drinking alcohol, believing drunkenness was the cause of many social problems. Cook, a devout Christian, was a founder member in 1877 of the Leicester Coffee and Cocoa Company Ltd., whose aim was to “establish houses, rooms, coffee carts and stalls” around Leicester to provide general refreshment.  

Working men’s restaurants

As more working men lived in suburbs on the outskirts of town, there was a need for working men’s restaurants in the town centre.  Working men would carry their lunch to work and eat it in a public house as there were few other alternatives available. The coffee houses provided hot and affordable food such as “a large basin of nourishing soup for two pence” and “nutritious, comforting and healthful beverages at the easy price of a penny a pint”.  Coffee houses were made  even more appealing by the fact they were designed to be bright, attractive and comfortable social spaces where both men and women could go, with newspapers and amusements readily available.  Some had a ladies’ room and others a billiards room.

"An extraordinary amount of success"

The coffee houses were praised for their “Size, decoration, fittings, cleanliness and order” surpassing “all that was formerly attainable except at high charges” . The duchess of Rutland, opening the Victoria Coffee House in 1888, praised the directors for combining commercial profit with the benefit of the townspeople , stating she “was constantly receiving letters from various parts of the country asking how it was the coffee houses in Leicester achieved such an extraordinary amount of success” . The company went on to set up 14 coffee houses in the town.

Thomas Cook statue outside Leicester Railway Station

The Coffee Houses

Most of the Company’s premises were custom built and designed by the architect Edward Burgess.  The following still remain although today they have alternative uses:

East Gates Coffee House, Church Gate (1885)

The East Gates, opened by the Duchess of Rutland in 1885, was described as “built in the domestic style of the 15th Century and both internally and externally much admired”. The East Gates provided a popular and profitable service for more than 40 years, but sadly closed soon after World War I.

Victoria House, Granby Street (1887)

Named in honour of Queen Golden Victoria´s Jubilee, this was the most magnificent of all of Leicester´s coffee houses. A five-storey turreted building in the French Renaissance style, it was considered “the best in the Kingdom”.

The High Cross Coffee House, High Street (1895)

Like the East Gates and the Victoria, the High Cross Coffee House was designed by Leicester architect Edward Burgess, a Quaker. The exteriors of the coffee houses were deliberately ornate to attract customers.

The end of the Leicester Coffee and Cocoa House movement

Despite a rise in the popularity of tea and coffee drinking and fall in the consumption of alcohol, the coffee houses failed to thrive after World War I and the company was liquidated.  Perhaps some of this could be put down to the fact they were not always commercially viable.  An account in the Illustrated Leicester Chronicle stated how “many regulars used to come in at midday, bringing their own food, ordering a cup of tea, which I believe was 1/2d., and asking for a plate for their sandwiches”.  Another account stated how customers “brought their own food, used the pepper and salt, and never spent a penny – and had a good warm against the stove in winter”.

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

Change time period...
  • Roman Leicester
  • Medieval Leicester
  • Tudor & Stuart Leicester
  • Georgian Leicester
  • Victorian Leicester
  • Edwardian Leicester
  • Early 20th Century Leicester
  • Modern Leicester
story of leicester
Your ultimate guide to visiting the city