1950s

Photo:Undated photograph of J. Lyons & Co's tea room at 14 North Street, Brighton. The company's tea rooms were hugely popular. They were also known for the care taken in the design and decoration of their shops. In spite of its success throughout much of the century, Lyons & Co's fortunes declined in the late 1960s. By the early 1980s, the company had been broken up and sold to various buyers.

Undated photograph of J. Lyons & Co's tea room at 14 North Street, Brighton. The company's tea rooms were hugely popular. They were also known for the care taken in the design and decoration of their shops. In spite of its success throughout much of the century, Lyons & Co's fortunes declined in the late 1960s. By the early 1980s, the company had been broken up and sold to various buyers.

Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton and Hove

Lyon's Corner Houses

By Philip Burnard

Art deco frontages

In the 1950s, Brighton had two Lyon's tea shops; one on the corner at the bottom of St James's Street - a real 'Lyon's Corner House' - and the other in North Street. Lyon's tea shops were instantly recognisable by their art deco frontages. The shops were always painted in white, with gold lettering across the top of the window. They were typically fairly huge, inside, with rows of formica topped tables. My mother often took me to the Lyons tea shop in North Street when I was young. I always had the same things: a raspberry milkshake and a dish of jelly with artificial cream. It always felt like a luxury. Jelly was associated with parties - although I never went to many.

Coffee cup trick

As I remember, they were always busy. In those days, almost everyone smoked. The cafe must have been full of smoke from pipes and cigarettes. We did not notice it at the time, of course, as this was the norm. Lyon's coffee came in two versions: the small cup or the large one. Once we stood behind a man who performed an odd experiment. He asked for a small coffee and a large cup. He poured the contents of the small cup into the large. The 'small' coffee filled the large cup. Thus there was only really one sized cup of coffee. It was just the shape of the cups that seemed to make a difference. He must have rehearsed this. Whether or not Lyon's had a rethink about their cups, remains a mystery. But I was very impressed.

Do you remember Lyon's tea shops? Please share your memories by posting a comment below

This page was added on 22/08/2015.
Comments about this page

I can remember going in Lyons with my mum. One at the corner of St James street, one at North Road, and one at Western Road.

By Dennis Fielder (23/08/2015)

I used to visit the one in St James's Street fairly often. I recall that in late sixties or early seventies, they increased prices at the weekends. On one occasion, I went with my father, and he had a row with the manager over it. It was probably only a couple of pence, but as my father said, we were regular customers, who lived in Brighton, not day trippers from somewhere else. I don't think we went there again.

By Derek Evans (23/08/2015)

Perhaps the small cups were meant for the ladies, Philip. My mother used to take me to a Lyons in Notting Hill Gate where I usually had tea and a millefeuille slice. Sometimes we had lunch at another branch which consisted of steak and kidney pie in a brown dish, which had to be carefully decanted onto the plate together with separate veg. It always gave me indigestion even at that young age! I always thought the tea was good, however.They did try to resurrect the brand in the 80s, and a branch opened near Trafalgar Square with the girls in their old-style uniforms, but it never took off with so much competition from the various burger bars, Wimpy, and McDonalds.

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (23/08/2015)

Hello Stefan, I lived in Notting Hill for a little while, in the mid 60s. I had a tiny room in Elgin Crescent. Lyon's would have been a treat but we were much too cool to go to one. We lived, mostly, on fruit and veg left over from a day in Portobello Road. A steak and kidney pie would have been much better. 

By Philip (23/08/2015)

On balance I think your fruit intake was probably the best option, Philip! We didn't live in Notting Hill, but I went to schools in Edge Street, and we dropped into the Lyons on the way back to Queensway, Bayswater. I notice in my local Waitrose that Millefeuille slices retail at around £2.50. A far cry from the few pennies we paid back in the '50s! The pie was consumed in the Putney branch after we moved to Roehampton. That was my last visit.

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (24/08/2015)

I remember the Lyon's Corner Houses mentioned in Brighton with affection; always just a lovely reminder of days soon to be going. When I lived in London in the '70s I worked as a ganger for a builder who got a contract to build a Chinese restaurant on the site of the Lyon's Corner House on the corner of Coventry Street and Rupert Street in the west end. At the time the Corner House had been used as a disco, but after a fire it was closed down. When the restaurant was finished I believe it was the biggest Chinese restaurant in Europe. Anyway one of my jobs at one time was to demolish the beautiful toilets, and the ladies' rooms and cloakrooms and all the rest of it to make way for more modern facilities. I was really heartbroken at the destruction of mahogany woodwork (all to be burned) and marble sink units and so much ornate craftsmanship that was there. Nothing was to be saved as it was deemed by the very rich Chinese owner that it would be a waste of time carefully dismantling everything to be saved. The building must have been a hive of industry in it's heyday. There was one floor for the bakery, another floor for the washing of plates and everything to do with catering. There were rollers carrying the washing up through copper water spray tunnels and driers. The building was like a ship with many decks. Many a time I would wander around in my lunch break and just go down to the basement and up to the other floors just looking in wonder at the immensity of it all. It was a beautiful building inside.

By Mick Peirson (24/08/2015)

I presume that was part of the Trocadero development, Mick? Not one of London's greatest architectural or cultural gifts to the capital!

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (27/08/2015)

I worked there in about 1974/75 Stefan, and you are right, it was part of that whole complex. I believe just before we developed the site it was also a bowling alley as well as a disco. If my memory serves me right the main entrance was right at the bottom of Rupert Street almost on the angle of the two streets. There was a wide staircase gently sloping up to the main hall. There were also two doors a little way up Coventry Street which I think were fire exits.

By Mick Peirson (29/08/2015)

I remember my older sister used to work at the Lyons in North Street in the early 1950s.  I was about 11 or 12 years old and would often meet her after she was finished her work at Lyons and we'd take in a film at either the Regent or the Essoldo across the street. It was a lovely little tea shop. Anyone remember the Martha Gunn tea shop, it was somewhere in the Lanes and had the best cream eclairs and other delicious tea cakes?

By Sylvia Stickel (07/09/2015)

I can remember going to the Lyons Corner Shop at St James Street as my father was the manager at The Home and Colonial and we used to go and have tea there. Next door to the LCH there was a Maynards sweet shop and I used to enjoy going there. Those were the days.

By Margaret Wesche (08/09/2015)

As a five year old mother used to take me to Lyon's Corner House at the bottom of St. James Street. One day I could not contain myself when the lady on the next table drunk her tea out of the saucer. Mum, look at that rude lady I called out. Mother said SSSShhhh, but little children tell the truth.

By Julian Saul (16/09/2015)

But was it rude in those days? We had a gardener when we lived in Sussex Square about that time and he always used to drink his tea out of the saucer when it was too hot. He told me it was called 'saucering'.

Technically correct I suppose as this gave a larger surface area to cool the hot tea.

As an aside; in 1947 my grandfather had a 1938 Daimler straight eight with Sedanca de Ville coachwork by Gurney Nutting or Barkers I think which had been specially made for Jo Lyons. FLK2 was the number. I've got a photo of it somewhere. It had been stored throughout the War and was in immaculate condition. The only car I have ever seen with felt bladed wipers on the inside of the windscreen for use when the screen got steamed up.

By Tim Sargeant (17/09/2015)

I once got told off by a lady in the Lyons in Putney because I was staring at her due to the speed with which she was eating her meal. "Don't you know it's rude to stare like that, young man?" She said, glaring at my mother sitting next to me, who mumbled an apology! We laughed when she left, but it was fairly naughty of me.

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (17/09/2015)

As the Front Shop Manager at Coventry Street Corner House, I recall the high standards required for the shop assistants where there was a waiting list for available positions. Sadly these standards no longer exist as indeed the service we provided to customers throughout London. Many will remember the patisserie counter with its selection of gateaux unique to Lyon's Corner Houses.

By Donald Green (17/06/2016)

Stefan mentions some time ago that the Lyon's company couldn't compete with other outlets such as Wimpy. Interestingly, Wimpy was bought by J Lyon's and Co in the '50s and was marketed as an alternative for the emerging 'teenager' who preferred coffee houses and milk bars to old fashioned tea rooms. It was named after J Wellington Wimpy of the Popeye cartoon!

By Helen (17/06/2016)

What Helen said regarding Lyon's buying Wimpy in the '50s is interesting. As mentioned above, when I worked in the old Lyon's Corner House in Coventry Street in the '70s, part of the building housed a large Wimpy restaurant at the time, just around the corner from Rupert Street going towards Piccadilly.

By Mick Peirson (18/06/2016)

To avoid confusion, there were only four Corner Houses: on Coventry St; The Strand; Oxford St and a Maison Lyons at Marble Arch - all in London. The other establishments were Lyons tea shops.

By Donald Green (28/08/2016)

Hello Donald, I believe there was a Maison Lyons on Shaftsbury Avenue too. 

By Helen (28/08/2016)

I worked in Lyons in North Street between 1965-66, the manageress was Mrs Forster and assistant managers were Mrs Chick and Mrs Shakespeare. I also worked at their shop at the bottom of St James's Street. One of the things I remember when I helped out in the front shop (which sold bread and cakes) was that we had to weigh the bread every morning. If it was underweight it went back! My wages were £4 7s 6d a week. Other people I remember working with were Madeline Challoner, Margaret House, Eileen Fogden's, Peter Jarvis, Mrs Jane Ward, Mrs Minter (Minty) and Doug who worked in the kitchen.

By Jeanette Chapman (26/01/2017)

I worked for Lyons in 1967/68/69. That was just at the time that they were closing everything! a bad time for a colleague who was a personnel officer whose job it was to notify staff. I worked in offices, first above the Sloane Square shop, then above Westminster shop.  That was chaotic, especially busy in the summer with school parties. We then moved to Cadby Hall and I transferred from Personel/customer complaints to buying. Great fun getting all the sample stuff in. Also they opened a branch in Brussels, so all the start up was done.  I left in '69 to go abroad.  Fond memories.

By Ann Channack (29/03/2017)

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