Our founding figure: the Widow Bourne


Our business was founded more than 320 years ago by a woman we know only as “the Widow Bourne”. Although we no longer sell tea and coffee, we’re incredibly proud of our roots as a grocer’s.

Little is known about the mysterious woman who founded our business in 1698. We don’t know how or when she was widowed, or really anything of her life before she set up shop on St James’s Street. We do know, however, that she was a canny businesswoman.

St James’s Palace was built in the 16th century by King Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn, as a place where they could escape formal court life. When Whitehall Palace burnt down in 1698, however, St James’s became the principal residence of the monarch. The arrival of the royal court in St James’s transformed the area – which rapidly evolved to cater to its new, affluent residents. It is likely for this reason that the Widow Bourne chose No.3 St James’s Street for her new business.

At that time, wine and spirits weren’t on the agenda; the Widow ran an Italian Grocer’s, selling the most exotic and fashionable goods of the day – tea, snuff, spices and, most importantly, coffee, supplying the area’s popular Coffee Houses.

The Widow Bourne had at least two daughters, one of whom was Elizabeth, who married William Pickering. When the Widow died, William and Elizabeth took over the business.

The Widow is one of the characters from our history to feature on our tote bags, illustrated by John Broadley.