Memories of Preston's cafes and restaurants
How eating out has evolved in the city since the 1960s
Cafes, restaurants and fast food outlets are going through a tough time as Lancashire finds itself in lockdown again.
But before the pandemic the catering industry has thrived during recent decades and fast food outlets are nowadays commonplace. Had we been around a century ago the choices were much more limited, with Preston having just over 30 eating houses or restaurants.
Cookson’s White Horse Restaurant and the Hippodrome Dining Rooms on Friargate; Bertha Ivey’s County Cafe, the Kardomah Cafe, the Tokio Creamery and Cafe, the Alexandra Cafe and the Rowntrees Cafe on Fishergate, and the Harker’s Empress Cafe on Church Street being amongst the most popular, while the Refreshment Rooms on the Fishergate railway station catered for travellers, as did Thompson’s cafe on nearby Butler Street.
They did, of course, have competition from public houses like the Farmers Arms, which had its Orchard grill room offering chops and sumptuous steaks. In December 1933 the Art Deco styled Rainfords Restaurant was opened on Orchard Street to accommodate up to 300 diners. It prospered for two decades and the elegant building was most recently a branch of Yorkshire Bank.
When it comes to fast food outlets Preston became something of a market leader in May 1965 when the first overseas branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken opened at No. 92 Fishergate sharing a frontage with the Wimpy Bar that in time became the Popinere Cafe (pictured, inset)before KFC expanded into the neighbouring space.
Fishergate has always been a popular place for cafes and restaurants with the KFC’s famous neighbour the Brucciani café, a delightful place for coffee and ice cream since 1932. While another cafe destined to remain in the mind of Preston folk was the Kardomah, which was run by John Victor Christian for 40 years until his retirement in 1966. Thousands of Preston people having popped in for a chat, a cuppa or lunch through the years.
KFC was ahead of the game in 1965 opening almost a decade before the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut arrived on the scene. The franchise was set up by business partners Harry Latham and Ray Allen under the supervision of Colonel Sanders who divulged his secret recipe of herbs and spices to them and insisted that a life size cut-out of himself, in a white suit with walking stick, was on display outside the premises. With KFC’s also now on Portway and on the Deepdale Retail Park things are still finger lickin’ good.
In May 1966, to cater for the lovers of fish and chips who were no longer content to take them away in a newspaper wrapping, a pioneering restaurant was opened on Cross Street. It was fittingly named The Plaice and it had cost £15,000 to convert a derelict dwelling into a restaurant, serving fish brought daily from Aberdeen.
The arrival of the motorways also had a hand in the changing eating habits, no more did travellers have to rely on the greasy spoon cafes along the trunk roads with their bacon butties and mugs of tea.
The motorway service stations with restaurants within were emerging such as the Fortes services at Charnock Richard, opened in July 1963, and the Forton service area, opened in January 1965, along the M6. They were soon popular stopping off points, although they earned plenty of criticism for the high price of food and fuel.
By the 1980s Preston had a diverse selection of places to dine with foreign food clearly becoming more popular, for Italian dishes there was Angelo’s on Avenham Street, Emillos on Fishergate and Tiggis on Guildhall Street; for a spicy Indian dish you could visit the Bengal on Friargate, the Kismet on Derby Street or the Maja Raja on Church Street; while other continental cuisine was available at the Bistro French on Avenham Street, the Danish Kitchen on Lune Street, Peppers Bistro on Hill Street, the Bodega on Cannon Street and Danielle’s in Miller Arcade.
Vegetarians had the choice of Ansers on Church Street or the Millwheel on Friargate and other restaurants with tasty treats included Alexanders on Winckley Street, Asha on Church Street, Moses on Cannon Street and the Rendezvous on Lancaster Road.
Other traditional places to dine or snack included the Bird Cage on Marsh Lane, Emily’s Pantry in Miller Arcade; Eat Easy, Sarah’s, the Precinct and the Larder in St George’s Shopping Centre, Jackson’s Cafe on Cannon Street, the Snack Bar on the bus station, the Snack Box on Market Street, the Snack and Grill Bar in the Market Hall, the popular Tea Bar on Lancaster Road, the Ploughman’s Sandwich Bar on Fishergate and the Wimpy Bar that had moved on to Church Street.
The Guild Hall with its Celebrity Restaurant was another temptation, along with the Crest Hotel where you could dine in the Hamilton restaurant. If you fancied a burger on a bun then the Real McCoy was on Church Street and by 1985 it had moved across the road to the corner of Pole Street where its neighbour was a Happy Haddock one of three in the town, the others on Ormskirk Road and Lune Street.
You could at this time have a break from your shopping by visiting the tea rooms of Owen Owen and Marks and Spencer and, until 1984, visit the E H Booth’s first floor cafe a popular afternoon tea venue. Ornate ceilings, red carpets, starched tablecloths and silver service were all part of the ritual where Joan Dashfield was the manageress for more than 37 years.
When it comes to students we inevitably associate them with fast food and takeaways and the UCLan student guide of 1993 besides recommending their own Greenhouse cafe, Polygon Bistro and Mr Nibbles, suggested Winstons on Lune Street and the Deep Pan on Fishergate both places offering a pizza buffet for £3, where you could eat as much as you liked.
Add the Pizza Hut and Pizzaland on Cheapside and a visit to the Hot Potato man on the Market Square and no student would starve that’s for sure. They also suggested the students stay clear of the beef and chicken burger outlets, reminding them that animals were their friends.
That protest seems to have fallen on deaf ears as a survey last year placed Preston in the top three of the greatest McDonald’s lovers with five outlets in the neighbourhood on Fishergate, Friargate, in Asda Fulwood, on the Deepdale Retail Park and on Riversway.
Many of the food outlets mentioned are now of distant memory and others have emerged such as the Bistrot Pierre which has transformed the once neglected Fishergate Baptist Church into a place to dine, Turtle Bay offering Caribbean cuisine in a revitalised Cubic the former Crystal House, Totto’s on Fleet Street, once home to the Beachcomber Cafe, offering Turkish delights, on Friargate there is a Taste of Thailand and Asian cuisine at Azuma, or if you prefer down Church Street at East Z East you can enjoy Punjabi cooking.
It has never really been plain sailing catering for the hungry customers. Perhaps we should spare a thought for James Cobb a 32-year-old cook, previously employed preparing banquets at the Bull Hotel, who back in 1849 opened Cobbs Cafe on Fishergate with great expectations. Despite his best efforts it failed to succeed and he was declared bankrupt two years later and left town penniless.
If you had wandered along Fishergate 12 months ago you would have observed many a shopper stopping for a bite to eat and sitting outside the likes of Costa, Starbucks, Subway, Moka, Caffe Nero or Greggs and enjoying a coffee,pastry or cake. Let’s hope when the pandemic is over we can all wake up and smell the coffee once more.