Museum snaps-up 100-year-old coffee stall as it closes down

A coffee stall has been snapped up by the Museum of London after serving customers for more than 100 years.

Syd’s is shutting up shop in London’s East End, having “witnessed and survived some of the capital’s most defining moments,” the museum said.

During the Second World War, owner Syd Tothill and wife May obtained a special licence to ignore the Blitz blackouts and open the stall at night to cater for air raid wardens.

Syd Tothill Junior at Syd’s coffee stall
Syd Tothill Junior at Syd’s coffee stall (Jane Tothill/Museum of London)

First World War veteran Sydney Edward Tothill used £117 of his invalidity pension to open it in 1919.

Like most “coffee stalls” of its time it did not sell coffee, but a brown liquid containing the essence of coffee beans, chicory and sugar.

It also sold tea, cocoa and Bovex, known as the “poor man’s Bovril”.

The stall has passed down through three generations and current owner Jane Tothill, who is Syd’s granddaughter, has been serving serving fresh filled rolls, coffee, and loose leaf tea there for more than 30 years.

She is donating the stall to the Museum for its London Collection when the store closes for business for the last time on Friday.

The original owner, Syd Tothill, and Syd’s coffee stall
The original owner, Syd Tothill, and Syd’s coffee stall (Jane Tothill/Museum of London)

The museum’s curator of social and working history Vyki Sparkes said: “Syd’s is an invaluable piece of our shared history as Londoners, a quiet witness to the challenges and changes in the heart of the East End over the last 100 years.

“We look forward to sharing its fascinating story with our visitors in the new museum.”

Tothill said: “Celebrating 100 years of service this past March was an incredible milestone and one that I know grandad 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.”

The stall has sat on Calvert Avenue, just off Shoreditch High Street, since 1919.

It was made by a coachbuilder on nearby Hackney Road and custom built with mahogany, etched glass and brass fittings.

It will go display when the Museum of London moves to its new building.

During the Second World War, after May was injured by shrapnel from a nearby explosion, the War Office had Syd Junior brought home from a secret RAF mission to keep the stall running.

After the war, Syd Junior and his wife Iris adopted the name Hillary Caterers, commemorating Sir Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Everest, and expanded into catering for weddings and events.

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