Photos of London cafes from 2001

Before the London Sound Survey, I had vague plans for a website appreciating those homelier aspects of the scruffy old city which seemed to be on the way out. Nothing came of them apart from some photos of traditional-style cafes taken in 2001.

Tea Rooms, Holborn


London is a built on a honeycomb world. Down below are voids inhabited by ghosts who mutter “ta” and “pardon” and form slow, shuffling queues. Bronze uplighters and caged bulbs throw a tired yellow light. Fire-buckets line the passegeways, filled with sand and cigarette ends, for here everyone smokes. The honeycomb world resonates to the faint pounding of pile-drivers on the surface in their unresting war against the past.

In time all things above ground will take their place here, some sooner than others. Depressions appear in the earth into which settle gentlemen’s outfitters, shops run by old ladies selling cake decorations and balls of wool, painted wall signs for razor blades and Mullard valves. The edges cinch up, the circle of daylight overhead shrinks to nothing, and the descent begins.

The Tea Rooms on Museum Street in Holborn have since been lost from sight. In 2001 they looked curious in an area dominated by more opulent-looking coffee bars and chain eateries, like the recluse’s house in a tidy suburban avenue.

Inside the Tea Rooms

The name and signage hint at the 1930s but their ownership until 2004 by the same couple suggests the Tea Rooms began life in the post-war period. Inside there was a room, singular, with pew-type seats and narrow formica-topped tables. Custom seemed sporadic and for some reason the attractive Art Deco disappeared before the cafe itself shut, perhaps sold to a collector or salvage yard.