J. Atkinson & Co. have been supplying Tea & Coffee to the good citizens of Lancaster since a young Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, just eight years after Stevensons Rocket had been launched.
Five generations of continuous trading in the City have resulted in a marvellous accumulation of wonderful Tea & Coffee Artefacts, such as Tea Canisters from the 1820s, an original spice drawer-run complete with Uranium glass knobs, a 1930s Tea Blender, the size of a small cement mixer, from the same decade two constantly working Whitmee Coffee Roasters and in the window the famous small roaster, an Uno dating from just after WW II that still wafts its delicious aroma out into the streets of Lancaster today. Everything from scoops to scales have been lovingly mended and cared for over the years and are still very much in use on a daily basis.
Many things have changed since Thomas Atkinson opened the first Grasshopper Tea Warehouse way back in 1837, but reassuringly some things remain very much the same such as a good cup of Tea or Coffee. Stepping back in time into Atkinsons shop reminds us that some things, such as quality, never go out of style. No trip to Lancaster would be complete without a visit just follow your nose!
Quakers Thomas Atkinson and his wife Jane moved to Lancaster and founded 'The Grasshopper Tea Warehouse at No.1 Cheapside-offering an opportunity for the City's occupants to buy teas: 'equal to those sent from London'. The name for the business was based on the Ancient Chinese proverb: 'The Grasshopper only eats the finest leaves'. Thomas and Jane had son, also named Thomas who was born in 1844 who was to take over the running of the business after his parents. Thomas senior died in the 1850's and ownership passed to Jane, who very successfully ran the business and renamed it: J. Atkinson & Co.
Following his mother's death, Thomas junior took over the company while he was still a young man. He became a leading member of the thriving business community as a Borough magistrate, Freemason and Port Commissioner. The old Lancaster Borough Coat of arms was put on some of the coffee canisters at this time, which are still in use in the shop today.
Due to its prosperity in the centre of town, Atkinson's moved to a larger premises on the prestigious Castle Hill, its exact location is unclear, but it was certainly a good move, pitching themselves near such businesses as the Kings Arms Hotel. Here, the wholesale side of the company continued to grow. The shop was moved in 1902 to its present location on China Street.
Thomas and his wife Margaret both died in the 1930's. Their daughter Florence took ownership and bought out each of her four siblings for two hundred and fifty pounds each. The business was being run at this time by Richard Marsden Riley, who was the son of Constance, Florence's sister and Richard Lister Riley.
In 1960, Richard Marsden Riley and his wife Ann bought the business from Florence Atkinson. Ann was a member of the Dugdale family who owned a cafe on Common Garden Street. Staff from Atkinson's shop were sometimes asked to work there on busy days. The business was inherited by Richard and Ann's daughter Constance Anne on 2nd November 1989 and she remained the owner until 2005.