The J. Lyons flagships shops were the Corner Houses situated on or near the corners of Coventry Street, the Strand and Tottenham Court Road in London. They were started in 1894 and remained until 1977. They were gigantic places with food being served on four or five floors. In its heyday the Coventry Street Corner House served about 5000 covers and employed about 400 staff. There were hairdressing salons, telephone booths and even at one point a food delivery service. For a time the Coventry Street Corner House was open 24 hours a day. In their heyday, Lyons had 250 Corner Houses in London.
In 1926 there was a staff competition to name to choose a nickname for the Lyons teashops’ waitresses – the former name of ‘Gladys’ was now seen as old fashioned. The name ‘Nippy’ was eventually chosen, presumably because the waitresses nipped speedily around – often trying to avoid the advances of middle-aged men? Although it was reported by Picture Post that 800-900 Nippies got married to customers ‘met on duty’ every year and they wrote that ‘being a Nippy is good training for a housewife’. If ‘Nippy’ sounds a trifle strange as a name for a waitress, it’s worth noting that other rejected suggestions included ‘Sybil-at-your-service’, ‘Miss Nimble’, Miss Natty’, ‘Busy Betty’ and even ‘Dextrous Doris’.
Interiors were a pragmatic mix of stainless steel hot counters and elegant cornices!
The Corner Houses finally closed in 1977, partly, I imagine, due to Lyons refusal to redecorate in the 1970s seemingly obligatory scheme of geometric patterns in oranges and browns (I think I once owned a zipped cardigan in said scheme!). A rather superior version of the tea house still exists in the form of Betty's of Harrogate, York & Northallerton. I'm off now for a spot of tiffin!