Going backwards with Starbucks

As I sat in the Starbucks today I had a sudden realisation. For a quickA_small_cup_of_coffee glance around confirmed that I was the only ‘leisure’ coffee drinker in the place. Since in this coffee house outside the Metro Centre in Newcastle, the customers were all surrounded by laptops, netbooks and phones. Business meetings predominated but singletons tapped furiously on keyboards surrounded by A4 pads creating undoubtedly the next… Starbucks


It seems then that these specialist coffee outlets have rediscovered the Georgian Coffee House. Actually the first coffee house in England was established in Oxford in 1652. However the idea soon spread to London. In time they became business hubs with no less than Lloyds of London, the London Stock Exchange, Christies and Sotherby’s all having their origins in these establishments. Whether they had the same bored and surly staff that I encountered in Starbucks today history doesn’t make unclear.


However, the earlier Restoration coffee houses had another clientele; because in that turbulent era they were the centres of political agitation and dissention. So much so, Charles II was all for closing them down. A reputation they were to reinvent in 19th Century Europe where they brought artist, writers and intellectuals together for discussion and debate. Now if Starbucks and its ilk were do that, we may indeed see a revisiting of something else – fresh thought to go with the fresh coffee.

A visit to a house from the past

Today we visited the House of Tarvit near Ceres in Fife. A Georgian country house rebuilt by the Sharp family. This family were Dundee jute mill owners who had the original building pulled down and a new house designed Sir Robert Lorimer to house Fredrick Sharps’ art and furniture collection. And so each room depicts a different style from mock baronial to French 18th Century. Yet throughout this beautiful dwelling there were reminders that it was financed probably on the unrelenting labours of others back in the squalor of Dundee’s slums. Also a display gave an idea of the 12 indoor servants wages at today’s prices; even allowing that food and board would be included, it was hardly wage worthy of all its encumbrances.

Sharp was a self-made man who taught himself about the art he collected. In that effort, he was advised by Burrell whose collection graces Glasgow. To some extent their combined thoughts bore fruit as there are some very beautiful Netherlandish oil paintings. Some of these apparently were bought because the show a Dutch form of primitive golf; another the Sharp family passions. However there are truly hideous still lifes covered in dead birds. Proof if any is needed, that wealth cannot buy taste.

The family eventually died out with the Sharp’s son being killed in a train crash and the daughter dying without children. The house then passed into the hands of the National Trust of Scotland where it was used as a hospice for a period. Unfortunately, due to the Trust’s financial woes, it is only open a few days each summer month.