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Penny Universities?


Here at UKVending we love to look back at the long history that coffee and tea have had on our culture in the United Kingdom and we recently discovered something called the Penny University. A first we thought nothing of it until we looked deeper and discovered a link to coffee houses of the 1650’s.

1650 was the year that the first British coffee craze came about and it all started in Oxford. A small coffee house, called The Angel, opened and looked for all intents and purposes like a pub, but instead of alcohol this property sold coffee which had recently started to arrive in Britain from Istanbul.

Soon, all across Oxford, instead of the delirious effects of alcohol caffeine was making people act differently. Instead of drunkenness people were talking, their wits growing sharper with each cup of coffee, soon these coffee houses became known as ‘penny universities’. By 1675 there were over 3,000 in England alone.

King Charles II was so alarmed by the popularity of the new coffee houses that he tried to ban them claiming they had ‘evil and dangerous effects’. Perhaps fearing what had happened to his father, the king feared idle workers promoting and discussing seditious rumours. Parliament, however, was not having any of it, not too surprising when one considers how much the members of Parliament themselves enjoyed the taste of coffee.

By 1830, however, coffee was being replaced in the hearts of most English by tea and by Victorian times coffee had truly fallen out of favour. In the late 20th century coffee made a resurgence and today you cannot walk down even a small village without seeing a coffee house offering it’s wares.

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