Apetite for History – Cafe Cargo

Cafe Cargo
Thomas Randell with an old photograph of busy Foulridge wharf, taken from the same spot.

Customers enjoying a delicious meal or a coffee and cake at Cafe Cargo are surrounded by 200 years of canal history.

The Randell family are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the warehouse they converted from a deteriorating shell into a must-visit cafe/restaurant for canal trippers and locals alike.

The history of the warehouse, and how the Leeds and Liverpool canal brought industry to the area, has become a fascination for Thomas Randell, who heads the family business along with wife Ombra, sons Edward and Robert and daughter-in-law Kirsty.

Visitors are intrigued to see the walls of Cafe Cargo adorned with old photographs of the narrowboats and wharfside cranes, the boatmen and warehousemen going about their arduous jobs, the nearby lime kiln and the railway that failed to outlive the canal.

“It’s actually the second warehouse on the site,” Thomas says. “The first one was built from timber and opened in 1796 but it burned down through spontaneous combustion of cotton. The second
one was built in stone in 1815, the same year as the Battle of Waterloo, and it cost exactly £368 eighteen shillings and fourpence.”

The canal helped Foulridge develop as a cotton village before Colne became a major cotton town, and vast amounts of cotton and coal were being carried along Warehouse Lane. In its heyday, between 60 and 70 canal men were employed there loading and unloading at the warehouse and wharf, legging boats through the nearby Mile Tunnel and handling the boat horses for the entire stretch between Skipton and Burnley.

As canal transport declined, Foulridge wharf became a coal depot, then a British Waterways depot, then a canal cruise headquarters and mini-museum. It was in a sorry state when the Randalls took over in 1997 and embarked on a £450,000 restoration scheme to create Cafe Cargo, a 60-seat daytime cafe-restaurant with evening bistro and upstairs function room for a further 60-70, catering for all kinds of special events.

They had to take into account no fewer than 149 listed items – even including some rusty nails in the wooden beams – and when they built the extension, they went to the trouble of locating demolition stone that had originally come from the same local quarry as the warehouse stone, to ensure a perfect match.

If you haven’t already been to Cafe Cargo, give it a try. You’ll certainly develop an appetite for history!

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