Chocolate In English Society

Appears in

Chocolate: The Food of the Gods


By Chantal Coady

Published 1993

By the 1660s the drinking of chocolate had been taken up by many ‘top’ people in England. Samuel Pepys entered in his diary on 24 April 1661 that in order to allay his appalling hangover, following the festivities surrounding the coronation of Charles II, he drank chocolate as a morning-after cure:

Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose, and went with Mr Creed to drink our morning draught, which he did give me in Chocolate to settle my stomach.

In 1666, when Lady Fanshawe, widow of Charles II’s ambassador to Spain, returned to present her accounts to the King, she brought with her: ‘ambar skins, gloves, Chocolaty and a great picture by Tishines [Titian].’
Hans Sloane, Physician to Queen Anne and Samuel Pepys, valued chocolate highly for its restorative qualities, and was the first person to try mixing it with milk. This was a closely guarded secret remedy, which was sold to an apothecary after some years. The secret was eventually bought by Cadbury Brothers in 1824, who successfully mass-marketed it. Hans Sloane had already made himself a considerable fortune, and invested some of it in cocoa plantations in Jamaica, where he had first observed the dramatic effects of cocoa in reviving sickly babies.
By 1675 chocolate-houses in London had become centres for gambling, so the King made a Royal Decree to suppress these institutions. In 1702 only five chocolate-houses remained in London: The Chocolate House on Blackheath; The Cocoa Tree, Pall Mall; Lindhearts, King Street, Bloomsbury; The Spread Eagle, Bridge Street, Covent Garden; and Whites, St James Street. However, this does not necessarily indicate a decline in the drinking of chocolate. It was sold at the majority of coffee-houses for twelve pence a quart, or twopence a dish, a price just about double that of coffee or tea. The chocolate- and coffee-houses soon became political clubs, to such an extent that members of opposing parties would be denied entrance. The Cocoa Tree and Ozinda’s became the meeting-places for the High Tories. Those who were discontented with the Hanoverians could drink a furtive toast there to the Pretender, James Edward Stuart, known to them as King James III. The leading Whigs met at the St James Coffee House, which became an exclusive social club, and was frequented by the writer Steele and the actor David Garrick.

White’s Chocolate House became the meeting-place for the most fashionable men and women. Horace Walpole wrote to Horace Mann on 26 March 1784: ‘To the present drama elections I shall shut my ears . . . and when I went to White’s preferred a conversation on Newmarket to one on elections.’ The main pastimes at White’s were gambling and gossip. Even so, the decorous atmosphere of the club was usually maintained, while men lost at cards what they had gained in business. George Harley Drummond, of the famous banking house of Charing Cross, lost £20,000 at whist, and was forced to resign his partnership in the firm. Sir John Malcolm, after losing the fortune he had acquired in India, remarked nonchalantly, ‘Another sitting of this kind will oblige me to return again to India.’ Women also played and lost. Some went away to borrow more money, and returned to play again, hoping to recoup their losses.

The importance of the coffee-house in London life is shown in the account of a visitor:

We rise by nine and those that frequent great mens levees find entertainment at them until eleven, or as in Holland go to tea-tables. About twelve the beau-monde assembles in several chocolate and coffee houses . . . If it be fine weather we take a turn in the park ‘till two, when we go to dinner; and if it be dirty; you are entertained at Picket or Basset [a card game resembling Faro] at White’s, or you may talk politics at the Smyrna and St James.

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