As we move along the widening streets of Oxford, and into the heart of the city centre we go past two of Britain’s oldest coffee shops. Both with a curious look into the past. (A potential future of Star Bucks…)
Established in the U.K. around 1650/52, the coffee shop was something originally open to all but it came with a penny entry fee. With this would come the coffee and access to newspapers, pamphlets, and debates. The curious thing is why this didn’t continue and why has it only just resurfaced until recently, especially considering with the rise of chain coffee stores and with nothing particularly special in taste, and a crapacinno costing something in the region of £5. It seems crazy that people would go there still. Yet in Sicily, a cappuccino is £1.50, and if you were to try would probably convert you into not attending the chains. Most coffee is pretty much all coming from either South America or Vietnam, so it does make you wonder what is happening to inflate U.K. costs, for coffee of less quality and more sugar. The apparent reason for coffee shops disappearing was elitism, certain groups in society didn’t want people they considered to be common entering the shops, which drove down business, pushed people to the pubs and eventually caused a culture shift in coffee drinking.
(Rant over) the two coffee shops have different claims, the grand cafe, claims to be the first coffee shop in the U.K. and I believe they claim to have the biggest one-piece mirror in Europe.
Queens lane claims to be the longest continuous coffee shop in Europe. A claim that I know is being fought for in Venice and Milan, both having shops with equal and longer claims.
Continuing along the sand coloured stone buildings and colleges we come to a curious college called All Souls.
A curious college, with no undergraduates. Students may apply upon completion of their exams, they are then given an exam, once considered to be one of the “hardest exams in the world.” A friend of mine took the test or claims to. He said that the test consisted of a single word, I believe it was the word “Cow” and then expected to write a full essay based on this one word. What he wrote I can not remember, but interesting nonetheless. After the exam, those selected will be asked to attend an interview. If you pass this, you are given accommodation for a year in the college, and money to help support your studies. It has also been claimed that you may take the accommodation and money but does not work. Interesting bonus for the year if you decide to take the exam. The college has years of not taking students and if they do, it is normally only one student.
Finally, to add to the wackiness, there is a centenary tradition, around January, one the first year of each new century (2001) fellows have dinner and then go in search of a duck to kill, a wooden one as of 2001. The rumour goes that a duck was found in the brickwork during the construction of the college. Although I’ve also heard that this was a dream. Either way, I’m sure conspiracy theorist will come to their own conclusions with this strange ritual.
I’m going to have a Sicilian Cappuccino, more next week.