History Bytes: Crown Coffee House

March 24, 2020

A ticket for admission to an assembly at Mrs. Mary Cowley’s Coffee House, dated November 6, 1766, FIC.2013.075, NHS Collection

In the 18th century Coffee Houses were social gathering places that offered alcohol as well as coffee. One such Newport establishment was run by Thomas and Mary Cowley who also sold dry goods, rented rooms to boarders and ran an Assembly Room for dancing all from their home on Church Street. After Thomas died in 1767 Mary took over the business. Mary’s “Crown Coffee House” was a popular place of amusement while the British army occupied the town and remained so after the British withdrew, and the French army settled in.

The following is a selection of Mary Cowley’s rules for her Thursday night dancing school published in the Newport Mercury, December 19, 1763.

I am resolutely determined, that no Lady who is not accompanied with a good Character, shall have any Admittance.  Likewise, no Gentleman or Lady, who exceeds the bounds of Decency or good Manners in one Point, or who will not be submissive to the Orders and Rules of the School, shall be countenanced here, on any Consideration The first who breaks the School before Nine, shall forfeit Forty Shillings, which shall be immediately paid, for the Benefit of the Fiddlers.

No Gentleman or Lady shall come in an Undress.

The Number of Gentlemen not to exceed Sixteen.

None to be admitted after Seven.

No Ladies shall pre-engage themselves.

No Gentlemen nor Ladies shall be admitted who don’t dance, except parents or Strangers


Banner: Verso of FIC.2013.075, NHS Collection