Tea Rooms End-of-an-Era Special


Over buttered scones and crumpets
Weeping, weeping multitudes
Droop in a hundred A.B.C.'s

T. S. Eliot A Cooking Egg

iRene Corsini pic: Peter Anderson

Moribundia mon Amour! Everything about the Tea Rooms was a bracing avowal of British dinginess at its most downbeat and determined. From the paint-stripper tea to the biscuit displays and bacon sandwich posters it was timeless, brilliant and perfect.

Located just off New Oxford St, this old parlour-style cafe looked like a staging post in the 1960s UK socio-mondo documentary 'The London That Nobody Knows': "the gritty historic fabric that was London in the sixties... facets of London life long since forgotten: street markets and their entertainers, residential slums the toughness of what it was to be homeless".

With its trademark Deco-yellow exterior sign, the Tea Rooms seemed to refract two previous centuries of caff half-life: a hint of nineteenth century worker's snack bar; a dash of twentieth century Lyons dining hall... The mosaic-Formica interior had an affecting spartan beauty. Stilled and perfect. The very picture of raw, essential English isolationism.

It was a window into a kitchen-sink existence from another era; the London of Bogarde's The Blue Lamp, Pleasance's The Caretaker and Baker's The Criminal. This Pinter-esque setting ­ there is no higher accolade ­ was further underscored as the owners Rene and Eugenio Corsini (RIP) attended to their flock from the tiny serving area: an old war-horse cooker called The London, situated under the shelves of biscuits and packaged sweets prepared the fry-up platters which swilled out from its central deck.

The (mostly) elderly male clientele seem to have been regulars for nigh on half a century. Tea Rooms lovers will not readily forget the lingering air of inertia and lost souls: the murmur of the long, atrophied afternoons, dolour condensing on the windows... The whole scene exuded the greasy immanence of William Ratcliffe's 1914 painting The Coffee House, which: "despite its colourful interior, conveys a characteristic melancholy and anonymity".

The Tea Rooms showed Britain doing what it has done so well now for over half a century: blanching the life from a working populace poleaxed from generations of managed decline. George Orwell would have felt very much on homeground.

It takes some kind of genius, heart and, above all, love to run a place like the Tea Rooms so well for so long; the Corsini's had it all in spades. For over forty four years of happy trading London was a better place because of them. We will miss them dearly.

Goodbye Rene.


Tea Rooms WC1 Special #1
Tea Rooms WC1 Special #2
Tea Rooms WC1 Special #3


Kavel Rafferty: from the exhibition 'Cafe Open', Clerkenwell House, Feb 2004

Intro | History | Criteria | Reviews | Research | FAQ | Tour | Acclaim | Links | News