If you frequent the streets of east London, you may be familiar with a kitsch little wooden cart on Calvert Avenue, just off Shoreditch High Street. Syd’s Coffee Stall has become something of a city landmark, having served thirsty punters and peckish passers-by since 1919.
Sydney Edward Tothill used £117 of his invalidity pension to commission it during the First World War. He enlisted a nearby coach-builder on Hackney Road to craft it from mahogany and put in fine details like etched glass, brass fittings and working wheels. Testament to its quality and craftsmanship, Syd’s stand has survived some of the capital’s most defining moments, from being granted a special licence to serve in blackouts during the Blitz, to being the only caterer to ever trade on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
In its heyday, ‘camp coffee’ – also known as ‘poor man’s Bovril’ – a sludgey brown liquid made from the essence of coffee beans, sugar and chicory, was the most popular drink. Rumbling tums were served Syd’s speciality, ‘a sav and a slice’, which was literally a saveloy sausage on a slice of white bread with a dollop of English mustard. No oat milk, no avocado, no frills.
Despite maintaining its customer base this last decade, it was announced today that Syd’s Coffee Stall will cease trading for good on December 20. If, like me, you’re welling up at the disappearance of yet another much-loved London institution, then you’ll be pleased to discover that the Museum of London has saved the day. Syd’s super-cute coffee hut will become part of its collections, sharing its story with Londoners for many years to come.
Current owner Jane Tothill is the third generation to run it since her grandfather Syd handed her the reins. She said: ‘Celebrating 100 years of service this past March was an incredible milestone and one that I know Granddad would have been proud to have reached. These celebrations led to my decision that it was time for the stall to move on to tell a new story at the Museum of London. I feel it is the best way for Syd’s to continue as part of London’s heritage and a great way to celebrate the place where you could get the best tea in London for over 100 years’.
It’s a Christmas miracle!
Want to do your Christmas shopping somewhere traditional? Follow in the footsteps of generations at one of the city’s oldest shops.