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Last Brew At Syd’s Coffee Stall

December 22, 2019
by the gentle author

Complementing my History of Syd’s Coffee Stall, here is my report on the centenary celebrations

On Friday, I joined the excited throng at Syd’s Coffee Stall on the corner of Calvert Avenue to celebrate the Tothill family’s monumental achievement over three generations, serving tea in Shoreditch for an entire century. Free cups of tea, mince pies and pigs-in-blankets were distributed to all, even cups of Camp Coffee were on offer to the adventurous.

We were grateful for the warm drinks and sustenance as we huddled together under the awning in the pouring rain, reflecting in vertiginous awe upon the notion of a hundred years measured out in tea cups. Sydney Tothill’s grandchildren, Jane & Stephen, presided over the poignant gathering of loyal customers, which included the grandchildren of William Richards, Carriage Builders & Wheelwrights of 280 Hackney Rd, who built the stall for Syd when he started out in 1919.

I chatted to a gentleman who was paying a sentimental visit after sixty-five years. During the fifties, while apprenticed as a furniture maker in Rivington St, he frequented Syd’s stall daily and could not resist returning on this last day to pay his respects and enjoy a final cuppa.

Cheryl Diamond who has worked at the stall since 1995 kept filling the teapot, while Jane Tothill sold raffle tickets and we all contemplated the display of old photographs illustrating the glorious history of Syd’s.

After he was gassed in the trenches of World War I, Syd senior used his compensation money to open the stall. In spite of being a Coffee Stall, Syd only sold tea and beef extract – adopting the description ‘Coffee Stall’ to impart aspiration to his endeavour. When World War II came along, the stall operated twenty-four hours during the London Blitz, serving refreshments to the firemen and auxiliary workers. At the time of the Coronation, Syd junior launched ‘Hillary Caterers’ in honour of Sir Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Everest. As the first and only caterer ever licensed to serve food on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, Syd became a Freeman of the City of London.

Yet all good things must come to an end and, when the teapot was drained to the last dregs on Friday, Syd’s Coffee Stall passed into legend as the crowd dispersed into the rain. In January, the old stall will be towed away by the Museum of London where it will remain in perpetuity as a modest wonder, emblematic of the indomitable spirit of Londoners and as enduring testimony to the sustaining properties of an honest cup of tea.

Passionate tea drinkers huddle in the rain

Cheryl Diamond

Stephen, Jane & Geraldine Tothill

Contemplating historic photographs of Syd’s Coffee Stall

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The Story of Syd’s Coffee Stall

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. December 22, 2019

    Surely, the Camp coffee was there for passing flagellants, not the adventurous? I’d as willingly internalize a spam pizza.

  2. December 22, 2019

    I HAVE Enjoyed this very Much!!!??????⛄??

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    December 22, 2019

    Glad to see pigeons hoovering up the last crumbs…how London is that?

  4. Jo N permalink
    December 22, 2019

    Wishing I’d known this was going to close – I was nearby a week earlier! Such a sad loss.

  5. Pauline Taylor permalink
    December 22, 2019

    A sad day. I think we all have affectionate memories of places from the past where we drank tea or, in my case, a bus park cafe where, after school, and before the long, over an hour, journey home, a kind lady would give us a crust of bread spread with margarine for a halfpenny. It was wartime !!

  6. Paul Loften permalink
    December 22, 2019

    What a sad day for Londoners . This tea stall has been there for 100 years and was a monument to the light and dark times we have seen. A tribute to the first man to climb Everest and the unrecorded heroism of the workmen and women who carried out their duties during the Blitz of London.
    My mother was an air raid warden during the Blitz and she once told me of the times she spent knocking on peoples doors in Stoke Newington during the air raids in the totally blacked out nights . Their lights were showing through the curtains and act as a target for the planes overhead to drop their bombs. Some offenders could be rude an offensive, believe it or not. Sometimes the police had to be called if they refused to switch them off. The only relief the wardens had was a cup of tea from the stalls . It may not have been Syd’s stall in Stoke Newington but anyone who had the courage to be out there serving tea during the air raids has a place in history. It is a pity the stall was not left where it stood as tribute to all those brave men and women .

  7. December 22, 2019

    Another famous East End landmark gone…..will make sure I go and pay homage to Syd’s stall next time I’m at The Museum of London.

  8. Sonia Murray permalink
    December 23, 2019

    What a shame that Syd’s has closed. Please tell us why! Surely this delightful piece of history belongs on the street where it has provided a century of service to Londoners in need of a cuppa, not tucked away in a museum. Bring back Syd’s!

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