History of Cogers
Convivial debating clubs formed part of the social, intellectual and commercial life of London during that period. Taverns and coffee-houses throughout the capital already functioned as important centres of trade and commerce and gave rise to Lloyds, the Baltic Exchange and the Stock Exchange. In this period Fleet Street was the natural home of publishers and lawyers and by the reign of George the Second as least a dozen clubs had been established for the purpose of reviewing and discussing the contents of newspapers.
The first meeting of the original "Society of Cogers" was convened in the upper room of a tavern in Bride Lane, Fleet Street, in 1755. Its founder members were friends of John Wilkes, a leader of popular agitation against the ministers of George the Third in the cause of freedom of the press.
John Wilkes was the first of three members of the Cogers to be elected to the office of Lord Mayor. Since its foundation, the membership list of the Cogers has also included Aldermen, Members of Parliament, Judges, lawyers, politicians, editors, journalists, publishers and writers.
Many debating societies were suppressed by an Act of Parliament of 1795. The Cogers survived by adopting a policy of strict political neutrality. Over the years the society has provided a platform for the views of Whigs, Tories, Jacobites, Chartists, Liberals, Conservatives, Socialists, Monarchists, Republicans and Democrats as well as those owing no allegiance to any political party or political movement.
The Oldest Speaking Society in the World
The old "Society of Cogers" is mentioned in encyclopaedias and several histories of the City of London. Its meeting place – the Cogers Hall – was for a great many years a part of the City of London’s fabric. During the last century, until the late 1960s, the meetings were held on licensed premises in Salisbury Square. When this place was eventually closed down, the traditional debate was conducted in an informal manner at various pubs in the "Square Mile" before moving to Fleet Street’s ‘Old Bank of England’ hostelry in the 1990s.
Nowadays, with the establishment of the Cogers Trust, additional Cogers clubs have been formed, and the Cogers debating style (see under ‘Procedures’) is at times used in other speaking arenas. The Society of Cogers is the only one of the original coffee house debating societies to have survived. The 250th Anniversary was celebrated in 2005 with a special programme of events (see under ‘Events’). The Cogers can now claim to be the oldest "free-speech forum" in the world, and the Society’s future survival is well assured.