After 100 years serving coffees to Londoners, Syd's Coffee Stall in Shoreditch is pouring its last cup. But its life doesn't end there — the stall is being handed on to the Museum of London, where it will go on display.
The stall, on Calvert Avenue, was opened in March 1919 by first world war veteran Sydney Edward Tothill. He used £117 of his invalidity pension to set it up, and have it custom built by a coachbuilder on nearby Hackney Road, from mahogany with etched glass and brass fittings.
The stall's been touched up along the years, but has weathered well.
The stall has since passed down through three generations. Current owner, Jane Tothill, Syd’s granddaughter, has been running it for over 30 years. It's her decision to pass the stall onto the museum. And while it will serve its last fresh filled rolls, coffee, and loose leaf tea on 20 December 2019, the stall will give joy to Londoners and visitors for countless years to come.
Says Jane Tothill:
I feel it is the best way for Syd’s to continue as part of London's heritage and a great way to celebrate the place where you could get the best tea in London for over 100 years.
Despite its name, when it first opened, Syd's Coffee Stall didn't strictly sell coffee. Instead, it sold the cheaper, ersatz equivalent — Camp Coffee (made from essence of coffee-beans, chicory and sugar). The most popular snack back then was 'a sav and a slice' — that's a saveloy sausage supplied by Wilsons, the German butchers in Hoxton, alongside a slice of bread and English mustard.
In the second world war, the stall had a special licence to ignore blackouts during the Blitz, so it could serve hot drinks to ARP wardens. After the war, Syd Junior and his wife Iris expanded the business into catering weddings and events under the name Hillary Caterers' — a nod to Sir Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Everest in 1953.
Syd's will be on display at the Museum of London, when it opens at its new Smithfield home in 2024.