When asked to name a London coffee house, most people automatically say, ‘Lloyd’s’. In way they’d be right; Lloyd’s is famous for the birth of the insurance industry, but Jonathan’s was arguably a more important venue, and also based around Exchange Alley.
Jonthan’s was opened by Jonathan Miles in 1680. Along with Garraway’s, it was frequented by City businessmen, although the ‘quality’ was better at the latter. Trading in stocks was no new invention but it accelerated quickly with the arrival of the Huguenots. They had liquidated their assets on leaving France and some of them were very rich indeed. It is a mystery how they got their money out of France, but stocks would certainly have been one method, and there was a strong history of Huguenot stock trading in the Netherlands already.
By 1690, there were at least 100 companies selling stocks that were traded in London. Their value fluctuated according to the news that came and went along the international information routes: the ships coming and going from London’s docks. News of lost cargoes, huge hauls, diseased crews and delays for repair were brought back by thousands of vessels, both large and small. The coffee houses employed boys to go to the docks, hang around and wait for news, then run back as soon as they heard anything. They would also run to the houses of the biggest merchants and butter up the servants for information. Then they would report to the coffee house and their findings would be displayed on a board behind the bar. Entry to the coffee house cost a penny, and then the coffee was included, so this service wasn’t free. The better coffee houses such as Jonathan’s soon began to print their own news sheet, with the gossip relevant to their clientele. John Castaing was a Huguenot broker who spent a lot of time at Jonathan’s and he began to write up stock prices, bullion prices and exchange rates in 1698, publishing the sheet on a Tuesday and a Friday as The Course of Exchange and Other Things.
Castaing’s prices were relied upon by many of the coffee houses in the City, even though other more comprehensive sheets were printed. His exchange rate was commonly used, and the publication continued for almost a century. Castaing’s success was largely connected to his Huguenot background. It can be no coincidence that the packet boat from Harwich to the Hook of Holland ran on Wednesdays and Saturdays, taking Castaing’s prices along with the scribblings of Pierre Des Maizeaux from the coffee houses of the West End where men such as Newton informed the conversation. The Huguenots who remained in the Netherlands were a substantial network of both money and thinkers.
Jonathan’s burned down in 1748, ending an era. New Jonathan’s was built without delay, supported by various brokers and soon took on the name of The Stocks Exchange. The coffee house was close to the site of London’s original livestock market (The ‘Stocks Market); the two were soon combined, and the London Stock Market was born.
Future posts will include the other London coffee houses, their origin in the Levant Company and the first records of Muslim London.