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Article researched and presented by John Meads - 2006

The Burton Latimer Coffee House Company

The Coffee House in 1898
Burton Latimer Coffee House 1898

Whereas today’s upmarket coffee bars are more often than not frequented by upwardly mobile young people with high incomes, more than a hundred years ago their forerunners were seen as the saviour of the morals of the working man.

In 1897, in an unusual display of harmony, the established and the non-conformist churches in Burton Latimer joined forces to promote the provision of a coffee house for use by the working classes. This was to be an alternative to the working men’s clubs that were being formed in the village, and which were seen as offering the temptation of strong drink.

It had taken a long time for this to happen. Nearly ten years previously, a debate had started when some members of the parish council had proposed that the Free Libraries Act be adopted. The Free Libraries Acts of 1850 and 1855 required a town over a certain size to vote whether to adopt the Act. Once an act was adopted, premises had to be found, and the new free library was to be funded by a half-penny in the pound increase to the rates. However, following a public meeting at the Baptist Assembly Room, the majority of the council felt that money should be spent on improving sanitary conditions in the village before being spent on providing a public library and that the best way forward would be to form a Limited Liability Company to build a Temperance Hall with coffee and reading rooms combined, which would not need to be financed from the rates. (Click here to read extracts from the meeting.)  

A committee was formed but little progress was made until about 1895 when a site that had been offered to them on Station Road corner for 3 shillings per square yard was inspected. However, before agreement could be reached for its purchase, an alternative 2,000 sq yard plot on the corner of High Street and Duke Street was offered to the committee for £700 which, following negotiations with its owner, was later reduced to £650 and subsequently purchased. With the prospect of at last realising its objective the Burton Latimer Coffee House Company Ltd. was formed in 1897 and enough capital was raised to finance the first part of the scheme.

The coffee house was built that year and opened in March 1898 by E.P. Monckton MP, member for the North Northants Division. At the opening, the wish was expressed that the original scheme should be completed and a public hall should be built on the remainder of the site later that year but further funds would have to be raised to accomplish this. (Click here for an account of the opening ceremony.)  

Revd W.B. Jacques, Rector
Revd. W. B. Jacques
Mr. Thomas Collings, Baptist Pastor
Mr. Thomas Collings
The Rector of Burton Latimer, the Revd. William Baldwin Jacques, successor to the Revd. F.B. Newman who had been amongst the first promoters of the idea, and Mr. Thomas Collings, editor of the Evening Telegraph, and pastor at the Baptist Chapel, circularised a letter inviting shareholders to increase the share capital to finance the completion of the scheme and provide a public hall that would accommodate 400 people.

It is not clear whether the appeal was entirely successful, but the public hall never materialised and the scheme as a whole never seems to have been the success its promoters had hoped for.  It never paid dividends and according to one old Burtonian, “it was knocked over by the World War.”  When the idea was first proposed, it was envisaged that the establishment would be a place in which politics and religious rivalries would play no part, newspapers and books would reflect all shades of political thought and Church of England and Non-conformists could meet to take part in social activities together. In reality, this seems to have been more difficult to achieve because in 1914 it was sold to a consortium of local businessmen. The original plot of land had already been split up and a row of three shops was built between coffee house and Duke Street, and the area of land at the rear, which had been earmarked for a public hall became the site of the Electric Palace Cinema.  From 1905 to 1915, part of the coffee house building was used as the Liberal Club and when it was bought by the Burton Latimer Elecric Palace Company in 1914 “The Electric Palace Café.” was established to complement the other recreational facilities.

Side view of the Coffee House in 1902 Lawn at the rear of the Coffee House c1906
Above:Side view of Coffee House in July 1902 before the adjacent shops were built. The stonework of the original farmhouse can clearly be seen.

Above right:The lawn at the rear of the Coffee House c1906 on which the Electric Palace Cinema was later built.

Right: The Coffee House c1920 showing the adjacent cinema entrance.

High Street c1920 with the cinema entrance and the Coffee House

The first managers of the coffee house had been Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Tapsell, but in about 1915, after the changes, Charles Gossage, previously a dairyman living at the dairy opposite, became the manager and in the 1918 electoral register his address is given as ‘The Palace Café.’

Mr. & Mrs. Tapsell, first managers of Burton Latimer Coffee House
Mr. Thomas & Mrs. Elizabeth Tapsell c1900,
first managers of Burton Latimer Coffee House.

By about 1925 the building had been acquired by Barclays Bank, which initially occupied the left-hand section of the building with the caretaker’s accommodation on the right being rented out. From 1955 to 1975, the post office occupied the right hand side of the building, which had been built as the coffee house caretaker’s accommodation, but when the post office moved out in 1975, following long-serving postmistress Mrs. Dacre’s retirement, Barclays took over the whole of the ground floor of the building for its banking activities. The upper floor rooms were originally used as games rooms with billiard tables and bagatelle boards but were later converted to a flat. The bank manager’s living accommodation was originally in an older part of the building, which was said to have been a former farmhouse, and had been incorporated in the new premises in 1897. During one of the several refurbishments this became part of the bank’s office accommodation as there was no bank manager living on site. Barclays Bank closed its operation in Burton Latimer in 2017.

Mrs. Alice Dacre, Postmistress.
Mrs. Alice Dacre
Postmistress for 55 years, 20 of those in part of the former coffee house building.

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