A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

The Vanished Pubs of Chester Gallery

cocoa house poster
A late 19th century advertisment from a Chester visitors' guide book.

Originally the brainchild of the Society of Friends- the Quakers- cocoa houses came about due to pious concern that Chester's working men were preferring to spend their time and money in warm and cosy pubs and 'gin palaces' rather than staying in with their families in their cold, damp homes- or even going to church. Interestingly, prominent among those reforming Quakers were the Cadbury and Fry families- chocolate manufacturers! Could it be that their concern was as much about profits as moral improvement?

The Chester Cocoa House Company Ltd acquired a number of premises over time. These included The Little Nag's Head in Foregate Street, the still thriving- Falcon Inn, a splendid 17th century building in Lower Bridge Street, which became as a Grosvenor-sponsored cocoa house in the same year as the Little Nag's Head, 1878. There was also a business known as The Market Stall in Northgate Street and The Railway Cocoa Rooms in Brook Street.

The Little Nag's Head had previously been a conventional inn, converted from the grocer's shop of Mr Joseph Bellis in 1812. It traded as an inn until 1878 when it was converted by the Marquis of Westminster into Chester's first Cocoa House. The following poem, penned by a certain "Old Lady of the Parish", commented favourably upon the change:

'Old Nag' thy head for many a year
Brewed mischief with its gin and beer;
Henceforward we prefer thy tail,
In hopes that temperance may prevail.
And there are heads of restless power
Still brewing mischief hour by hour;
What wonder, if a wish prevails
That all such heads were turned to tails.
cocoa rooms sign

Despite energetic support from the Chuch and such worthies as the Grosvenor family, the movement proved eventually to be something of a failure. Quite how long the cocoa craze lasted locally is unsure, but by twenty years layer, 1898, the Little Nag's Head had reverted to the sale of stronger drink when Mr Charles Cordery became the licencee. He was still there in 1922.

cocoa house sign

Chester's only surviving cocoa house signs- and very fine ones they are (see aboove) - are beautifully preserved on the facade of what was until recently Donato & Sandro's Italian Restaurant in Brook Street- the former Railway Cocoa Rooms. In early Summer 2011 this attractive and historic building was reopened by Beer Republic as a bar / restaurant by the name of Kash.

cocoa house fracas cutting

I had always assumed that the Chester Cocoa Houses were established by the church and Grosvenors to encourage the working man that a nice cup of that stuff was better for him, his family and his soul than the demon drink, ie that they were temperance houses.

This cutting from the Chester Courant, 25th August 1897, recording a fracas in the Foregate Street cocoa house- the former Little Nag's Head Inn- seems to contradict this, however...

"Mr Shepherd.. said on Saturday night that two of the prisoners called at the house and had some beer.."

Chester's Vanished Pubs parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | gallery

Site Front Door | Site Index | Chester Walls Stroll | Old Pubs Gallery | Previous Picture | Next Picture