Syd’s coffee stall, which has operated on Calvert Avenue in Shoreditch for over 100 years, will close tomorrow; the wooden wheeled cabin, which first opened in 1919, will be donated the Museum of London’s London Collection next year.
The cart, which sits just off Shoreditch High Street covered in Union Jacks and St George’s flags, has passed down through three generations: from Sydney – Syd – Edward Tothill to the current owner, Jane Tothill, Syd’s granddaughter, who has run it for over thirty years, serving rolls, coffee, and loose leaf tea mainly to cab drivers.
Syd, a veteran of the First World War used £117 of his invalidity pension to commission a coachbuilder on Hackney Road to custom build the mahogany cart with etched glass and brass fittings.
Like most ‘coffee stalls’ of its time it did not actually sell coffee, but instead mostly Camp (a bottled liquid made of coffee bean essence, chicory, and sugar), tea, cocoa, and Bovex, described as the “poor man’s Bovril.” The most popular snack was “A Sav and a Slice at Syd’s” — a saveloy smoked sausage supplied by Wilsons, the German butchers in Hoxton, alongside a slice of bread and English mustard.
Jane 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.”
While Vyki Sparkes, Curator of Social & Working History at the Museum of London, 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.”
Syd’s has a rich history: During the Second World War, Syd and his wife May were granted a special licence to ignore the blackouts during the Blitz and open the stall at night to cater for the Air Raid Precautions wardens. After May was injured by shrapnel from a nearby explosion, the Mayor of Shoreditch successfully appealed to the War Office to have Syd Junior brought home from a secret RAF mission to keep the stall running “as its service was so invaluable.”
Later, Syd Junior and his wife Iris expanded the business into catering weddings and events, adopting the name ‘Hillary Caterers’ to commemorate Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. This expansion led to Syd Junior became the youngest ever president of the Hotel & Caterer’s Federation, a Freeman of the City of London and the only caterer ever to trade on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
So long, Syd’s.