Postcard of the month - #50 - July 2004
Gun Dining Rooms, 63 Wapping High Street
Herbert Rogers, the owner, with his wife Harriett and daughter, Gladys, proudly standing
outside their Coffee House at 63 Wapping High Street. With them are two members of staff
and a cross section of their customers: locals, carmen, seamen, dockworkers, lightermen,
Charles Rogers had moved into the Gun Dining Rooms around 1898. In 1911 another member of his family, Henry Charles Rogers, became the owner of the premises and he was followed by Percy James Rogers in 1919. Percy Rogers left the Gun Dining Rooms in 1923. The Rogers family had been associated with the Gun Dining Rooms for over twenty-five years.
These riverside Coffee Houses were very similar in the food they served and the layout of their dining area. They opened very early for breakfast. Besides the usual fry-up, they provided "real" hot thick toast, "door steps", browned on a large open fire and held there by long metal forks. When browned the hot toast would be buttered or piled high with beef drippin. This was taken from a huge bowl of beef drippin that was half filled with lovely beef jelly.
Customers would sit on wooden benches with high backs on either side of a long wooded table. These wooden benches could seat six or eight or more according to the size of the premises. They were arranged in two rows on either side of a main aisle. Orders were given at the open kitchen and customers served at their table. The atmosphere of a Coffee House was always hot and steamy, with a wonderful smell of food cooking, especially bacon frying on an open fire. At dinner time, the usual "meat and two veg" was the set fare with, "for afters", a steam pudding served with sweet thick custard. This was all washed down by the compulsory mug of sweet strong tea. The Coffee House was a very noisy place when busy with plenty of lively banter between the owner and his customers. It was also a very friendly and happy place.
Coffee Houses served good wholesome food, plenty of it and cheap. Workers needed this high carbohydrate food to provide them with the energy needed for the hard manual labour that they had to undertake every working day. In winter, the food also helped to keep them warm.
The Gun Dining Rooms was destroyed during the Second World War, possibly during the heavy bombing of Wapping on 9th September 1940. This raid had set all of Wapping alight. During an air-raid all dock bridges were raised, thereby cutting Wapping off from the rest of Stepney. Wapping was ringed by fire and the only way to evacuate the people of Wapping was by the river. A fleet of rivercraft was assembled and they were taken by the rivercraft to places of safety. Some people went as far as Richmond-on-Thames.
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