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One lump or two

Looking back at my ramblings I do seem to have written a fair few regarding drinks, whether they be alcoholic or just restorative and this post seems to add to the list.

Exmouth Market

Exmouth Market near Sadlers Wells theatre and a stones throw from Mount Pleasant sorting office has for a long time been a favourite of mine, but not for historical reasons. To be honest I didn’t really know that much about it till recently. I used to be home of a lovely pie and mash shop and I’d sometimes go well out of my way to stop off for a plate of the finest, sadly it closed some time ago, but the road hosts a very good street food market, which has to be smelled to be believed and with a decent although rather unloved pub in it’s midst it was a good place to spend lunchtime or evenings.

However having recently researched the area I know a little more about it’s background and as I promised refreshments at the beginning I’m not going to get side tracked with churches or clowns (bet that’s got you wondering).

In 1898 a rather novel centerpiece stood in the market in the shape of a large iron lamp installed by the Pluto Hot Water Syndicate Ltd. (Great name) and this caused quiet a stir with the good citizens of Clerkenwell, for it did not only dispense light. The picture below shows a fine body of Gentlemen who presumably ran the company at the inauguration of the lamp


It was actually a gas lamp cum vending machine. Feed it with a halfpenny and this miracle of the modern age would dispense you a cup of tea, coffee or cocoa, or a quart of boiling water. Before the age of disposable cups, users would take one of the two tin mugs that were attached to the machine by chains, judging by the picture not very long chains, so that were two people using it at the same time it must have been rather cosy. I noticed that there is a lady present in the photograph, whether she was one of the great and good or used to show that the machine was so easy to operate that even a woman could do it we’ll never know.

It appeared to initially be a success, probably due to it’s novelty value and the company’s marketing department began to roll out other offerings, so that within a month or so of it’s inauguration it could also dispense Beef Tea, cigarettes and even postcards. But to top it all a small telegraph terminal was added that had a direct line to Scotland Yard, so that should you wish to report a crime while having a cuppa you could.


Gradually the novelty wore off and the machine struggled to be profitable, in no small part because some enterprising person seems to have started fashioning pieces of lead that mirrored the weight and size of the halfpenny and a vast percentage of the coin box was taken up with these every time it was emptied. Within six months the writing was on the wall and the machine limped through to the end of 1898 before being dismantled and removed. What ever happened to the company that installed it I’ve yet to find out.

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