Southwark is a grand place for mixing old and new; and that’s true for its tea rooms and coffee shops as much as its architecture and its cathedral.
You’re not actually in Southwark until you’ve crossed right over London Bridge and passed the little dragons that guard every way into the City of London, but once you are over the river, it’s got a very different feel from the City.
And straight away, I learnt something new this week, as I wandered around the Southwark Cathedral gardens. There’s an intriguing memorial to a Native American chief called Mahomet, who apparently came over here in the 1730s to try to claim back lands we Brits had stolen from his people. Trouble was he caught small pox and died (without getting his lands back, of course).
But here’s the thing: did you realise that in those days a foreigner could not be buried within the boundaries of the City of London, so his body had to be transported over the river into Southwark? Ah, if only Mahomet could have bargained coffee for land, he might have achieved his goal, but I guess by 1736, it was too late for that and Garraways Coffee House was already thriving by then in the City…
Southwark Cathedral is a wonderful place, and well worth a visit, if you’re round these parts. I was fortunate to bump into the Day Chaplain, one Stefan Gatward, who was full of interesting stories and is the one to credit for spotting the Mick Jagger lookalike in the Shakespeare actors’ window in the Cathedral. Go take a look – you can’t miss the character he means…
There are so many stories making Southwark a ‘people’s cathedral’, rather than one deifying local dignitaries. It’ll make a great entry in our book next year.
But we were here for coffee too, of course. And first stop was Monmouth Coffee on Park Street, but really right behind Borough Market, if you’re trying to find it.
They say the queue for coffee begins the moment the place opens at 7.30 in the morning, and once you sit down (if you’re lucky!) for your cappuccino and pastry, you’ll know why. This shop has been open just over ten years, but the company has been roasting coffee since 1978, and they really seem to have perfected the art (or science) of coffee making.
And I loved the diversity of people who hang out here: from business bods to breast-feeding Mums; from arty, film types to passing tourists. Don’t be put off by the queue – they quickly get through to you, and they’ll take your order almost the moment you arrive. Great place!
I have to say I mourn the loss of the Bramah Tea & Coffee Museum which used not only to serve up a very good cuppa, but also told the history of the tea and coffee trade. Their website still speaks of them re-opening in 2009 (!), but there’s no sign of progress and the place remains under wraps in Southwark Bridge Road.
However, that did open me up to finding somewhere else for tea in Southwark and after a fascinating wander past Guy’s Hospital, The Shard and the Snow’s Fields (see what I mean about mixing old and new?), I dropped in on a very contemporary tea room in Bermondsey Street.
Tea Pod is part of the Fashion and Textile Museum, an interesting place in itself.
It has a funky feel, with modern fittings (no lace or lavender in sight); wonderful loose-leaf teas and some irresistible cakes.
It’s another example of an ‘independent’ coffee or tea venue, with more than one branch, staff working there rather than the owner, but managing to keep an independent, non-corporate feel (see my previous blog to this one). Actually, Huw, who owns the Tea Pod two, is very present in this tea room, with photos on the wall and messages on the website.
He clearly has good contacts in the media and entertainment world, because he gets involved every year with Comic Relief and gets various celebs to visit an HIV support group in Nairobi, which Tea Pod helps by selling tea cosies in the shop. And here’s the Russell Brand connection: his photo was on the wall during our visit to Tea Pod after his trip to Nairobi in this year’s Comic Relief.
So, lots of good reasons for feeling good by having a cuppa at Tea Pod. And you might want to take a spin round the Museum too. At the moment, they’re doing “The impact of music, art and celebrity on fashion: from rock ‘n’ roll to punk”.
Shame I didn’t have time to give it a whirl…