Over buttered scones
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
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.
WC1 Special #1
Tea Rooms WC1
Tea Rooms WC1 Special
from the exhibition 'Cafe Open', Clerkenwell House, Feb 2004