The coffee house was often at the heart of eighteenth century sociability. These were public spaces where conversation and debate were actively encouraged and facilitated, where business transactions and deals were discussed, and where customers could see an ever changing programme of entertainments from exotic animals, to art exhibitions, human curiosities through to displays of new technologies, even unusual new medical and psychological experiments.
York could boast a number of coffee houses in the eighteenth century, many of which hosted travelling spectacles. Farnhill’s Coffee House on the corner of Ousegate regularly featured in advertisements. For example, in 1793 it was home to a travelling wax-work display which consisted of ‘figures of full size’ with ‘striking likenesses of the persons they represent’ and ‘all dressed in the most fashionable and splendid manner’. The venue also hosted displays of automata and exotic birds.
Coffee houses were also often locations for clubs and societies, such as The Good Humour Club (c1725-1800) which met at Sunton’s Coffee-House on Coney Street, in York. The society celebrated the twin virtues of companionship and conviviality. The members were men who belonged to polite, though not elite, trades and professions and included clergymen, doctors, masons, booksellers, mercers and drapers. They met weekly for supper and copious amounts of punch.