Happy as a sandbag


The Kardomah coffee shop in London’s Fleet Street was leaving nothing to chance when war broke out in 1939. This chap casts a wary eye to the skies as he passes the cafe in November of that year. 

The air raid shelter sign suggests that the sandbags were a marketing gimmick to attract custom. No doubt there were second thoughts when the real hostilities started.

None of the buildings in this picture is still there, we think, but the Kardomah’s address was 182/3 Fleet Street which would have been at the Law Courts end of the road as pictured below.

Reader Roger Watkins observes: "No.185 (the Dundee Courier offices, I believe) is said to be where Sweeney Todd's barber shop was situated. He often went for an early cut apparently.”

Cracking gag, eh? 

Actually, if you look closely at the picture a barber shop can be seen next door to the Aerated Bread Company, another tea room chain which traded as ABC.

The chain of Kardomah cafes disappeared in the 1960s. The Fleet Street branch was frequented by the novelist Barbara Pym where she often sat and wrote in the 1930s and featured in at least one of her books.

The cafes were all decorated in an extravagant art nouveau manner at a time when that particular movement was considered bizarre and old fashioned. They featured mosaic-covered walls with peacocks spreading their tails on a sea-blue background, rickety tile-topped tables and a great deal of hand-beaten copper work.

The Kardomah name still exists as a brand of instant coffee.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre