From Penny Capitalist to Server of the Multitudes
This chapter explores the nature of catering in the City before the advent of the mass market. John Pearce’s transformation from a penny capitalist operating a coffee stall in Hoxton (London) for thirteen years to a caterer running a depot in the City on Aldersgate Street structures this chapter.
This revisionist chapter offers the thesis that Pearce, long before Lyons opened teashops in the 1890s, pioneered founding branches of coffee stalls in the 1870s. Later, Pearce would apply this same concept to his chain of depots in which his company sold the products it produced, not just coffee but bread. Critical to understanding these changes was the arrival of the mass market, its origins a major theme of this chapter.
Diverse traits contributed to John Pearce’s success and fashioned his character: marketing skills, Evangelical religion, advertising, business acumen, innovation, showmanship and class consciousness. Pearce also owed his success to business colleagues, who sometimes shared his temperance sentiments or to kindred spirits who wanted to assist the impoverished for philanthropic reasons. He was thus an extraordinary individual whose complex personality diverse influences had shaped.
For Pearce, the impact of his early formative experiences evolved as he aged into enduring personality traits. He held firm to his upbringing, always an unrepentantly humble, modest man who remained faithful to his working-class origins. Nor did his respectful, grateful customers ever forget this. Even when he went up-market in catering to the middle classes, he never lost his social compass.