Britain’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken flies the coop after 49 years

Prestonians get their first glimpse of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Prestonians get their first glimpse of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
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Opened in 1965, Britain’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken in Preston’s Fishergate was an instant hit and has been a favourite ever since.

Now with restaurants across the city, KFC has announced it is to leave the restaurant which gave thousands their first taste of that ‘secret recipe’. Rebecca Bretherton looks back on our introduction to American fast food.

An advert from the Lancashire Evening Post

An advert from the Lancashire Evening Post

In May 1965 KFC opened its doors to the British public for the first time, trading from number 92 Fishergate in Preston.

It was the first US fast food chain to open in the UK, nine years before McDonalds, with Ronald and the Hamburglar in tow.

Ray Allen, who was an established caterer in Lancashire, masterminded KFC’s expansion to the UK after meeting Colonel Sanders in 1963 and securing the rights to his ‘secret recipe’ fried chicken in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

By the mid 1970s Allen had expanded KFC to 250 restaurants across the UK.

Long after one of Preston’s more unusual claims to fame, the Fishergate restaurant is set to close its doors, just six months shy of the 50th anniversary of its opening.

There is no doubt this is a cherished piece of Preston history, and many loyal customers will be sad to see the branch close its doors after 49 years of trading from the same Fishergate shop (they eventually expanded to occupy the Popinere Cafe –formerly a Wimpy Bar next door).

Rumour has it Colonel Sanders himself was at the opening of the Fishergate outlet, although no concrete evidence of this can be found – not even in the Colonel’s autobiography.

That said, the UK as a whole and its role in the KFC story is given little attention in the 1974 autobiography.

There is not even any mention of Ray Allen the man behind KFC’s first restaurant outside the US and Canada, whose contribution to the company led to him being made a Colonel of the State of Kentucky.

Could this perhaps have something to do with the father and son team of Ray and Tim Allen later deciding that the UK would appreciate a ‘home grown’ fried chicken outlet?

The pair opened their own chain of restaurants ‘Allen’s Fried Chicken’ complete with their own secret recipe chicken.

What is certain is that one of the Colonel’s family DID visit the Fishergate restaurant.

During the opening weeks of the new KFC, the LEP ran a story on a millionairess cooking chickens in the shop.

That millionairess was none other than Mrs Mildred Ruggles, daughter of the great Colonel.

She was demonstrating how to cook chicken the Kentucky way.

Coming all the way from Lexington, Alabama, she explained in her deep southern drawl:“You know, it’s a cardinal sin to eat them with a knife and fork”

She was there with a special mission to “make sure that the chickens are cooked just to my father’s recipe.” It was her first trip to England and she would be staying for three weeks.

As she surveyed the queue of customers Mrs Ruggles said “They all look very happy, it’s wonderful isn’t it?”

It would seem that Ray Allen was right, the people of Preston were ready for the new taste sensation of the Colonel’s fried chicken.

The staff wore white shirts, with striking black string ties as they attended to the customers, an homage to the company’s roots in the southern states of America.

Mrs Ruggles was staying with Ray Allen in Lytham.

It is also known that the Colonel himself did, on several occasions, also stay with Ray while the business was taking its first tentative steps into the British market.

So maybe the originator of that secret blend of herbs and spices DID visit his first British restaurant.

Maybe YOU recall his visit, or even have a photograph.

Write to RETRO and tell us your memories of this little piece of Preston history.