19 December 2012

Coffeehouses and Stockjobbers

Jonathan's Coffeehouse
Jonathan's Coffee-House in Change Alley [Exchange Alley] is famous as the original site of the London Stock Exchange. The Coffee-House was founded by Jonathan Miles, in Exchange Alley, around 1680. In 1696, several patrons were implicated in a plot to assassinate William III, and it was thought to be associated with the Popish Plots. It was the scene of a number of critical events in the history of share trading, including the South Sea Bubble and the panic of 1745.

Change Alley – Exchange Alley
Exchange Alley or Change Alley is a narrow alleyway connecting shops and coffeehouses in an old neighborhood of the City of London in England, bounded by Lombard Street, Cornhill and Birchin Lane. It served as a convenient shortcut from the Royal Exchange to the Post Office. The coffee houses of Exchange Alley, especially Jonathan's and Garraway's, became an early venue for the lively trading of stocks and commodities. These activities were the progenitor of the London Stock Exchange. Similarly, Edward Lloyd's coffee house, at 16 Lombard Street, was the forerunner of Lloyd's of London.

A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss, 2000, Excerpts
“If its stock-jobbery you wish to discuss, I can think of no better place than Jonathan’s Coffeehouse, the very heart and world of Change Alley.” I then made my way to Jonathan’s Coffeehouse, where I was determined to spend a few hours among the engineers of the London financial markets. If I was to understand their intrigues, I reasoned, it was necessary I gain a better feel for stock-jobbers. I took a seat at a table, called for a cup of coffee, and began leafing through the papers of the day.

I listened to men shout at one another across the room, debating the merits of this issue or that. Voices cried out to buy.  Voices cried out to sell. I could hear arguments conducted in every living language and at least one dead one. There was something truly infectious about the exuberance of this place where momentous events were always about to happen, a fortune was always about to be made or lost. I had been in many a coffeehouse before where men argued about writers or actresses or politics with unbridled vehemence. Here men argued about their fortunes, and the results of their arguments produced wealth or poverty, notoriety or infamy. The stock-jobber’s coffeehouse turned arguments into wealth, words into power, and ideas into truth – or something that strangely looked like truth. I felt myself to be in a strange and alien land ruled not by the strong but by the cunning and the lucky. 

Lloyd's Atrium

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