Frontispiece to Ned Ward's Vulgus Brittanicus (1710)
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw an explosion in numbers of coffee houses in Britain, particularly in London, and Lincoln’s Inn was no exception. In the Inn’s records there is an entry in 1704 referring to the ‘Coffee-house room in Serle’s Court’, ie in what soon became more commonly known as New Square. Many decisions of Council relating to Serle’s Court, which was developed and built under an agreement with Henry Serle made in 1682, were transcribed into a separate series of records, Serle’s Court Books (Archive ref: E2a/1-2), rather than into the Black Books, the main series of minutes of Council, though the printed edition of the Black Books as in this case includes selected extracts from them. Although the earliest express record to the coffee house, the entry clearly implies that it had been in place there before 1704 - doubtless before the Inn provided its own facilities such as the ‘Refreshment Room’ and now the MCR it was a useful amenity. Details gleaned from the Serle’s Court Books show that by the mid-eighteenth century Serle’s coffee house, as it had become known, was based on the ground floor of 3 New Square, at the south-east corner of the square next to Wildy’s archway. Until about 1760 it was on the right hand side as you go in the door and from 1760 in the rooms directly ahead as you go up the steps. In addition to the coffee house, there is also a mention in 1722 of there being a brewery in the basement of the building used by the then proprietor, Mr Hart. In addition to selling coffee, coffee houses also sold alcohol and served food, explaining why Mr Hart had a brewery in the basement.