Inside the first McDonald’s in London – 21p cheeseburgers and ashtrays at each table

It’s hard to imagine London without McDonald’s today.

The fast food giant has been opening branches all over the capital since the 1970s, and it is now possible to get some chicken nuggets pretty much anywhere in the city.

But this was not the case until 1974, when McDonald’s opened its first London restaurant in Woolwich, south London.

The opening day was a sight to behold, with crowds gathered outside and wanted to have a look at the shiny new fast food store.

Inside, they were greeted with wooden seats, an ashtray placed on each table and some of the cheapest food the British had ever seen.



The fast food giant has been opening branches all over the capital since the 1970s
The fast food giant has been opening branches all over the capital since the 1970s

Admittedly, the interior was nothing to write home about, with muddy browns and creams – as well as massive photo portraits along the walls.

But the tasty hamburger, “made from 100% pure beef, topped with pickles, mustard and ketchup, served in a freshly roasted bun” cost a good deal 15p.

A cheeseburger was again a ridiculously cheap 21p, and those with a bigger appetite could buy a Quarter Pounder with cheese or a Big Mac for 45p.



The food was incredibly cheap
The food was incredibly cheap

Ian, who worked in the first store in Woolwich, spoke to MyLondon about his experience.

He said: “It was a very different place back then. It wasn’t quite the robbing end of London, but it was pretty average.

“That’s actually why McDonald’s chose it because they wanted the most average place in the UK as a test to see how well it would perform.

“Woolwich was a bit like a dystopian apocalyptic nightmare back then. There was a pub, a department store, a pretty rough market and a station, and that was it.

“Interesting enough in terms of how it is now, the staff was very diverse. There was an older Asian guy, but the rest were basically white London cities.



A former employee admits that the food was not always as fresh as it should be
A former employee admits that the food was not always as fresh as it should be

“Every part of the store was made of stainless steel, and you had to clean almost every square inch of it every single day. It was an absolute nightmare.

“It was not quite as hygienic as it is now. There was this backyard where everyone went out to smoke, and it was about four inches deep in manure of various kinds. When people came back, they trampled it in with their feet.

“They would make you go and clean the toilets and then put you directly to work on the grill.”



There are now 1300 McDonald's branches in the UK
There are now 1300 McDonald’s branches in the UK

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The former employee admits that the food was not always as fresh as it should be.

He added: “There were small numbers in the ranks of burgers, which were small times for when they should be used by, otherwise they would have to be thrown away.

“But if the manager had pulled up, you would just move the cards a little bit so that the food you served was significantly older than it should be.

“If you dropped something on the floor, it was classified as ‘a good catch’ and would be sold again.”

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