Researching the history of eating-places

William fitz Stephen praised a cook-shop in late 12th-century London. Most people in the medieval period cooked their own food at home. We would expect cook-shops only in cities. Medieval Bristol had a row of them in the High Street, called Cook's Row.

A London coffee-house c.1700 (British Museum) London was well supplied with them by the 18th century, mainly created on the ground floor of a standard terraced house. Those catering to the wealthier client could be called chop-houses or beefsteak-houses, while pastry-cook-shops provided sweet as well as savory food.

The first coffee-house in the Western world opened in Oxford in 1651 and the second in London in 1652. By the end of the century there were hundreds in London and the concept had spread to Bath and elsewhere. They were almost entirely a male preserve, whereas the tea shops or tea rooms that sprang up from the 1880s were seen as respectable places for women to socialise. The first Lyons Tea Shop was established in Piccadilly in 1894; there were 250 by 1900.

Thomas Rowlandson, A London chop-house c.1800 (Guildhall Library)They were rapidly followed by Lyons Corner Houses - cafes sometimes on a grand scale. The 20th century saw the rise of purpose-built eating-places, including a few of architectural distinction, such as the famed Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Still many restaurants and cafes continued to be housed in buildings created for another purpose.


Primary sources

See also Pubs, Inns and Hotels, business history sources, maps and images.