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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Oral testimony and the Interpretation of the Crafts > Themes > Lyons Corner House
 
THE LYON'S CORNER HOUSES: STEAK HOUSES & BIG BUSINESS

This stage of the module uses the following article from Design magazine as a primary source. The images on this page are all from the article:

Anthony Adams, 'Thought for food', Design, no.90, June 1956, pp.20-23.

Before the growth of the coffee bar phenomenon, Lyon's Corner Houses and Fuller's tea rooms were amongst the few places you could go for a cup of tea or coffee and whose opening hours were much less restricted than pubs and licensed restaurants. Staffed by waitresses in black uniforms and serving tea and cakes, they were not the haunts of a young crowd. The first Lyons teashop opened in Piccadilly in 1894, the first Corner House in 1909 and by 1920 they had the largest tea-packing plant in the world. The Lyons Company was a major force on the British high street during the first half of the twentieth century.

Discussing what was on offer before the advent of the coffee bar, Newland stated that,
 
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The first coffee bar started and they were very, very successful and at the time in London, the young, the adolescents couldn't go anywhere to sit and talk without being kicked out. You had 'Lyons Corner Houses' which were quite posh with bands playing, and the alternative was a thing called 'Fullers Tea Rooms', which were terribly posh with dressed up waitresses and you had to drink your tea and bugger off. You know, you're given your bill. So the coffee bar provided a great place where the young could go and talk as opposed to going getting drunk in a pub. And if they went in to a pub they had to keep buying pints in order to stay there, they couldn't afford it. So the coffee bar was a great sort of social revolution and when you think of clay and pottery its nice that we played our little role, it's seldom mentioned now...1
Copyright the National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts, 2002.
 
 
To quote Ken and Kate Baynes' 1966 article:
 
... at the end of the second world war, catering was a kind of visual and nutritional desert between the works canteen and the Ritz'.2
 
After the end of rationing in 1954, foodstuffs became more widely available and a wider variety of food outlets began to appear. At a time when highly individual coffee bars were opening all over London, Lyons Corner Houses opened 11 new specialised restaurants between 1954 and 1956, in an attempt to offer a wider choice of food at a reasonable price and in more individual surroundings. The company was always experimenting with new ideas in their Corner Houses: huge buildings housing a variety of restaurants, all linked by one central kitchen. These included the 'Grill and Cheese', the 'Bacon & Egg' and the 'Wimpy' Bars (first opened in 1954, established before the importation to Britain of MacDonalds and Burger King, and firmly aimed at a burgeoning youth market).
 
Activity:

Write 500 words in response to the following activities:

Compare the images on this page with those of the coffee bars in Reilly's article. What are the major differences and why do you think those differences exist?
 
IMAGES:
 
Tea Centre, 1955 OTC00032 Tea Centre, 1955

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Tea Lounge, Tea Centre, 1958. OTC00012 Tea Lounge, Tea Centre, 1958.

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Coffee House, Fleet Street, 1957 OTC00011 Coffee House, Fleet Street, 1957

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'Bacon & Egg', Lyons, 1957. OTC00022 'Bacon & Egg', Lyons, 1957.

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'Restful Tray', Lyons, 1956 OTC00319 'Restful Tray', Lyons, 1956

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'A La Carte', Lyons, 1956. OTC00023 'A La Carte', Lyons, 1956.

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Entrance to 'Grill & Cheese' and 'A La Carte'. OTC00006 Entrance to 'Grill & Cheese' and 'A La Carte'.

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Interior of 'Grill & Cheese', 1956. OTC00024 Interior of 'Grill & Cheese', 1956.

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Different view of interior of 'Grill & Cheese', 1956 OTC00320 Different view of interior of 'Grill & Cheese', 1956

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Different view of above. OTC00025 Different view of above.

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Self-service Lyons Tea Shop, 1951 OTC00322 Self-service Lyons Tea Shop, 1951

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Different view of self-service Lyons Tea Shop, 1951. OTC00321 Different view of self-service Lyons Tea Shop, 1951.

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Different view of above. OTC00005 Different view of above.

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The coffee bars were exposing customers to new experiences and J.Lyons and Co Ltd had to move with the times to retain, and build upon, their market share. Lyons were trying to offer something to eat in every sector of the restaurant/café market. To quote Adams' 1956 article about the specialised Corner Houses:
 
The average time spent by each customer in the 'Grill and Cheese' [one of the specialised restaurants], where a meal costs at least seven shillings and sixpence, is 53 minutes; in the 'Wimpy', where you can have a snack for two shillings, the time is 17 minutes.
Anthony Adams, 'Thought for food', Design, no.90, June 1956, pp.20-23.
 
J.Lyons and Co Ltd were a very large catering company and its new specialised restaurants were designed under the supervision of an American expert. It is worth noting that in the introduction to his 1956 article, Adams states that one of the new restaurants is
 
... more economical to run than the larger units, and the interiors have been designed to keep down maintenance costs.
 
Lyons were aiming for a more individual experience whilst retaining a degree of design control which ensured costs were kept down.
 
Activity:

Write 500 words in response to the following activity:

Conduct your own survey of a modern fast-food restaurant and calculate the average time spent there by each customer and the average price of the meals purchased. Do the same thing with a more upmarket restaurant chain (such as Pizza Express). What conclusions do you draw from your findings?
 
Footnote:
1. NEVAC, CD708, (00:18:15 onwards), video interview with William Newland, 1994.
2. Kate Baynes, 'Eating out can be fun', Design, February 1966, p.29.
 
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