London at the Library

A Salon for the City, Or: The Library is the New Coffee House
London at the Library or L@L, is a new ‘Salon for the City’ held at Westminster Reference Library on the last Thursday of the month, every other month.

Our speakers: Marcus Risdell (L) and Matthew Green (R)November’s salon, the first in the series, featured historian and journalist Dr Matthew Green on the effect of caffeine on the development of Fleet Street and journalism via London’s 17th century coffee houses. The second speaker was Marcus Risdell, archivist at the Garrick Club, who spoke on the history and tradition of London’s Gentlemen’s Clubs.

Dr Green’s illustrated, caffeinated talk, took the audience on a whirlwind tour of London’s original – and best – coffeehouses.  We heard how in 1652, a bitter black drink from Turkey transformed the face of London, brought people together and inspired brilliant ideas that would shape the modern world. We were taken back to a lost, candlelit world of flickering conviviality, intellectual enlightenment and unbridled creativity. We were confronted with the sharp contrast of today’s very different coffee culture, where people sit alone, with their iPad or phones in bland Starbucks or Costa places.

Gin punch

These events mean to be more like cultural experiences than library talks and free shots of gritty black coffee, brewed to a 17th century recipe, were tasted by the audience (yuk).  Luckily some posh gin punch (compliments of Hendrick’s) took the edge off that!

One of the images used to illustrate Marcus's talkAfter this very welcome gin punch interval, Marcus Risdell talked about the birth and development of the London Gentleman’s club, describing how the earliest London Clubs met in the coffee houses and inns of 18th century London.

Here, behind closed doors, gentlemen could enjoy each other’s sociability whilst gaining access to an exclusive network of contacts.

The subject of these talks is always and only London – planned events include London before London and London after London, Collecting London, Dying in London, London Over, London Under and so on.  Future speakers include writers Tom Bolton, Sukdev Sandhu, Craig Taylor, Anthony Clayton, Ross MacFarlane of the Wellcome Trust, Viktor Wynd, Amber Jane Butchard, Iain Sinclair, Stephen Walters and other exciting names.

One of the images used to illustrate Marcus's talkEach evening will feature two shortish talks or performances and some time for conversation. Before long we’ll be able to have one on ‘How one modern library turned into an original 17th century Coffee House’
For more information see:

[Rossella / Stephen]


One response to “London at the Library

  1. Pingback: Salon for the City | Books & the City

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