Today the world seems a very different place to what it was in 1953 at the time of her Coronation. Britain had a long way to go before paying off its huge war debts. That wouldn’t be completed until 2006. Package Holidays had yet to arrive and revolutionise the ability of people to travel to exotic destinations. Some foods were still being rationed. Young people were forsaking the pubs for the Espresso Coffee Bars and the Juke box. Not everyone had their own telephone.
Communication today is so different with the vast majority carrying around with them a small device that opens up the whole world. Change has brought with it great opportunities and sometimes huge challenges. Through it all Her Majesty has been there, devoted to us all and to the service of our country.
I remember Her Coronation Day 2nd June 1953. It was wet. My father had said Coronation Day would possibly be a once in a lifetime experience for us. My mother agreed but said she couldn’t stand in a crowd for hours. My father had other ideas.
We lived in North London, and he got us up very early to get to our shop and roastery then at 42 South Molton Street, where he said, from the roof, we would have an excellent view of the procession down Oxford Street. It was very early because buses would be re-routed, Oxford Street would be closed off, so we joined a host of sleepy but excited people, “All aboard the Coronation Express you lucky people” shouted the bus conductor. It was soon standing room only, with the driver waiving “I’m full up” to would be passengers at subsequent stops, so that apart from having to stop at traffic lights, where we made room for some enterprising folk, who hopped on while the conductor on the top deck shouted down to us “I know what you are up to down there”. In fact, we had a faster trip to the West End than usual. There was an excited holiday mood from everybody despite the weather. “Flaming June!” said someone, “Why couldn’t she have a fine day on this day of all days”. Crowds were already gathering as we crossed Oxford Street and we had to be careful not to tread on people who appeared to have camped out all night.
, of course was shut. In a few weeks I would be leaving school and joining the business full time. The premises seemed strange without the usual hustle and bustle, no coffee roaster sounding its rhythm and bringing the whole place to life. We listened to the radio, and when the time came, had a wonderful view of The Coronation Coach as it came down Oxford Street with the Queen waving to the massed crowds who had been waiting in the rain for hours, but still roared their cheers and good wishes. Up on the roof my mother said “Harold, hang on to me”, it was a bit scary, it had only a minimal barrier. Later, with the weather brightening, my sister and I went out with the object of getting near to Buckingham Palace. Very optimistic of us as thousands were packing The Mall and though we went with the crowd our view of The Royal Party on the balcony was to say the least, very distant. But we had shared moments in a great day, so it didn’t seem to matter.
I am often asked “Mr Higgins, from when your father started the business in the 1940’s what would you say has been the key factor responsible for its growth? Reflecting from when I started as a trainee to becoming Managing Director in 1967, I would say that personal recommendation has been the key factor.
One such instance came in the Summer of 1975. It was a hot day, it had been hot for some time that year and I was hot, I had been roasting coffee all morning and was taking a break and gathering myself for the afternoon session, we were busy, despite the heat.
As I sat in the downstairs office, with a coffee, our accounts manager said to me “Mr Tony, I have just taken a call from Buckingham Palace, they are talking to Miss Audrey now”. Some of you will remember my sister Audrey who had joined my father in the business almost from its conception. My coffee went cold as I speculated on what this call could possibly be about. I didn’t have long to wait; I heard my sister coming down stairs and the familiar sound of her high heeled shoes on our wooden staircase. She was excited, I could tell without seeing her.
She explained. A sample of our coffee was requested. The caller from The Royal Household apologised for not being able to give very much information. I am not going to give any details of that conversation, but to say that almost from my start in the business I had been taught to listen and hear what customers and possible new customers would say about the kind of coffee they wanted. Sometimes almost throw away comments would open the door, so to speak, and give me the vital clue. That was true in this case. It was now up to me, and so the sample was sent.
I know we all wondered if there would be a follow-up. Had I got it right? Sometimes in life you only get one chance at something. The news when it came was positive and after a trial period and with the help of The Royal Warrant Holder’s Association and The Royal Household Tradesmen’s Warrants Committee, on Friday 29th December 1978 the Official London Gazette published H R Higgins (Coffee-man) Ltd Coffee Merchants to Her Majesty the Queen
. It is a joy and privilege to serve Her Majesty and The Royal Household.
Who was it first recommended us, and instigated that first telephone call? I do not know, as I do not know who recommended you to visit or contact us.
Modern communications, like the internet are now vital tools, we use them, they can open up so many opportunities. I still believe at the heart of our business personal recommendation remains the most important factor. It is a joy and privilege to serve you. Thank you for all your custom, we shall go on listening to you, and striving to bring you the coffees and teas that give you the most pleasure, whatever challenges the future holds.