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What are your memories of the Kardomah Cafes?
Kardomah Café, Briggate
Kardomah Café, Briggate in 1937 - photos courtesy Leodis.net

A recent development in British society is the desire to avoid our high streets becoming clones.

The last twenty years have seen a decline in single businesses dotting the landscape.

Blame has been levelled at modern retail chains and one of the most visible innovations has been the chain coffee shop.

Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Caffé Nero can now be found all over the UK, but this is actually no new phenomenon.

Kardomah Cafés were an integral part of the British High Street (as well as further afield in places like Sydney, Australia) from the Edwardian era onwards peaking in the 1960s before gradually dying out.

The last remaining cafe in the UK is perhaps the most famous Kardomah Café of them all - sited in Swansea, it was the meeting place for Dylan Thomas and his peer group of writers, artists and musicians who actually became known as The Kardomah Gang.

The cafés were an offshoot of the main business, The Kardomah Coffee Company, which was founded in Liverpool in 1845. The early 1900s saw the company start opening up cafés, including a Leeds branch on Briggate in 1908.

Now, James France who runs the Kardomah Café blog wants to hear your memories of this near-extinct institution that used to be such a fixture on our high streets. BBC Leeds asked him all about it:

Kardomah Café, Briggate
Kardomah Café, Briggate (left) - photographed in 1962

"The company I work for used to produce items for the Kardomah brand - which still exists, mainly selling coffee whitener - and I became interested in the whole Kardomah Café phenomenon. After all, they were the Starbucks of their day, when national chains were much fewer in number than today."

"They became meeting places - it was very much a social thing. It's only relatively recently that attitudes towards women drinking in pubs has softened so back in the day, it was a place to socialise - even a place for a night out."

"The company caught on to this and they were seen as a sophisticated destination, especially between the wars, providing live music from string quartets. Later on, in the 1960s, they became hangouts for Mods who wanted to be seen drinking a sophisticated coffee to go with their Italian suits and Vespas or Lambrettas."

"Sadly, they went into decline, gradually disappearing from our towns and cities but that hasn't dulled my ambition to find out more about them and collate people's memories of visiting the Kardomah Cafés."

The Leeds branch was at 65-66 Briggate and closed its doors in 1965. Do you have any memories of this café? James would like your contributions to his Kardomah Café blog.

Turn Back Time on the high street
26 Oct 10 |  People & Places



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