Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 04, 2017.
Webpage updated: August 04, 2017




The Borough Arms Coffee tavern was situated at 35 Bedford Street, Plymouth, on the corner with Bank Street.  It was destroyed during the Second World War.

Plymouth in Victorian times suffered from drunkenness and many families were the poorer for their male members spending more on alcohol than on food or rent.  Many streets had pubs and beer houses in almost every other property so it was easy for the men folk to get distracted.  An alternative attraction was badly needed.

The Plymouth Coffee House Company Ltd, sometimes called the Plymouth Coffee and Cocoa-house Company, sought to provide 'establishments equal to, or superior to, in outward attractions and inward comfort, to the best and most showy public-houses and beer shops'.  In 1878 they purchased the property which formerly housed the drapery business of Mr William Radford and Company, in Bedford Street and converted it into the "Borough Arms Coffee Tavern".  It was opened to the public at 7pm on Tuesday October 1st 1878.

Mr J N Bennett was chairman of the Company, with Mr R C Serpell as vice-chairman.  The Company was managed by Mr Henry Short and the Borough Arms was managed by a Mr Leakin.  The premises were to be open every day except Sunday, from 5am until 11pm.  A takeaway service, known as the "jug and bottle trade", was provided.

The front room, or shop, on the ground floor was fitted out with a bar and marble-topped tables at which customers could sit and have a quick drink or snack.  Those wishing to take longer over their meal could use a saloon behind the shop part.  On the first floor, in the front room, was another bar at which 'refreshments of a somewhat superior class will be supplied'.  The back room on the first floor was set aside for the sole use of ladies and was considered to be 'of advantage to those numerous shop assistants and other female workers who so often find themselves of an evening, especially of it be wet, without a comfortable place to which they can properly resort'.  It should be remembered that shops were open until quite late in those days.  A board room and rooms that could be hired out to clubs occupied the second floor.

Mr Verran was the contractor employed to make the alterations to the building.  Messrs Randle and Prowse did the interior decorations, while Mr Westlake and Mr Henry Serpell, the biscuit manufacturer, provided the gas fittings and Mr Rowe did the plumbing work.  Messrs Fouracre & Son supplied some unspecified embellishments to the front.  Unfortunately the crockery and glassware ordered from Staffordshire and which was put on a train on the previous Thursday failed to arrive in time and Mr Cole, of Treville Street, had to come to the Company's rescue.  Mr Lavers supplied the 'substantial and comfortable' chairs.

That first evening was a roaring success, so much so that the opening speeches were somewhat disturbed by the clinking of cups and saucers as the customers poured in through the doors.  Ninety-six gallons of tea, coffee and cocoa were served that evening and the takings were upwards of 10.

It is interesting to note that during his opening speech, Doctor Prance pointed out that doctors would be the only people to suffer from the opening of such coffee houses.  Sober patients didn't need sobering up or treatment after injuring themselves and Doctors charged for their services in those days.

On Tuesday February 1894 the site including the Borough Arms and Messrs Underwood & Company's shop were put up for sale by auction.  The sale document reveals that the site was owned by Mr G D Radford.  He was the successor to Mr William Radford, who purchased the site on June 20th 1861 from Mr Duncan John Cowley and Mr William Scorer.  The Coffee House paid him an annual rent of 240 and Messrs Underwood's paid 90.  Their was an additional income from Bank Street Chambers, where the Plymouth Dental Hospital and the School of Art were located.  The premises were sold to a Mr Dawe acting for the Coffee House Company for the sum of 10,600.

The Borough Arms Coffee Tavern was closed around 1900 and the building became a branch of the Union of London & Smith's Bank, later the National Provincial Bank.  The building was destroyed during the Second World War.