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I remember those! Lyons Corner Houses

Posted on Jan 27, 2012 by Paul Tiernan

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!



  • In the 1960’s I was secretary to Michael Salmon one of the family directors of J. Lyons & Co. Ltd, son of Barney Salmon, Chairman of the Company. I worked on the Fourth Floor at Cadby Hall, Hammersmith, next door to the Olympia Exhibition where Bertram Mills Circus played every December. The ‘fourth floor’ was an out of world experience, uniformed messengers, laid on morning coffee, cakes, afternoon tea and scones, free, served in the office.

    Posted by Judith Bogod
  • My father (1922-2008) told me how as a bachelor in London after returning from wartime service in India in 1946, his preferred entertainment was to spend Friday evening at the Lyons on Tottenham Court Road, where there was live music for entertainment.

    I remember having lunch at one on the road outside South Kensington tube station, on the left as you walk towards the Science Museum, where we had a school day out from my home town of Worthing. I remember white plates, mashed potato and older waiters, with white jackets. The lunch cost 5 shillings at a time- this must have been 1965 or 1966- when a school lunch cost a shillings. This seemed a lot to me, a 6 year old boy, because although the meal was copious, plain but 😋 tasty, I remember thinking it wasn’t worth the cost of 5 school lunches.

    Does anyone know the exact address of either or both of these Lyons branches?

    Posted by Chris Webb
  • Lots of great memories training and managing restaurants during the late sixties and early seventies . I started at the Strand corner house ,run by. Mr Odwyer. Met many wonderful people. Joined the steak house group run by Peter Byford. Last position manager of Fisherman Wharf Wimbledon.

    Posted by Peter Briere Edney
  • I began my career as a trainee manager in the 60s. Wonderful training. I worked. For Peter Byford and my father was a great friend of Harold Young. I managed the Camellia restraint in Syon Park my management post was at the Fisherman’s Wharf in. Wimbledon. I left Lyon’s in 1973 to start my own restaurant. I will never forget my time withLyons and the purple I worked with

    Posted by Peter Briere-Edney
  • We remember the big Corner Houses in London where you could watch, through a big window, chefs cooking. When frying eggs, they could hold two eggs in one hand, between their fingers, and break them individually. I, even, think that we saw some who could do the trick with three eggs.

    Posted by Frank Singleton
  • My mum worked in a Lyons tea house don’t know which on in 1948 ,her name was Kathleen Lucas,then hambidge if anyone knows her at all, she loved it there ,would love to know which one she worked in.

    Posted by Linda murton nee hambidge
  • In 1957 I was coming to the end of my national service time and was offered the opportunity of leaving the army early to go on a catering course which meant working at Lyons Coventry Street Corner House as a trainee manager. I was posted to Wellington Barracks with a guards unit and travelled into the restaurant each day. I learnt how to be a banquet waiter, before taking up the position of trainee manager in the service sector for the Grill and Cheese and Seven Stars restaurants. My colleague was a young man called Spinks . The Seven Stars restaurant had a chef dressed in his best whites and with a brilliant heated silver trolley which had a three large joints of beef in it. He would attend the tables to serve the customers with their meat either, rare, medium or well done, wonderful experience.
    We had many celebrities including, Kenneth Williams, Charlie Chaplin, Sheila Hancock and her her husband, most of the leading stars of the original cast of West Side Story who were playing in one of the nearby theatres. My kitchen staff were some of the early West Indian immigrants and were wonderful workers and always smiling great ladies and just one man who kept me amused with his slow sense of humour. The working hours were not good on the Sunday shift it working from 10am to 11pm with a break in the afternoon when I went over to Leicester Square area to relax.
    I moved out of the Wellington Barracks after a short time and moved to live in Brixton so commuted daily. Happy and interesting times finished up working for one of the big banks for 30years and now have been retired for 30 years. Aged 86 and keeping well considering!!!.
    Take care all.Stay safe.

    Posted by Frank Milner
  • Was there a J Lyons & Co Tea House on Buckingham Palace Road. I seem to recall that my Mum (who will be 100 in a couple of months from now) told me that she worked in one of those tea shops in the late 1940s or very early 1950s. She was Maura Ward at that time. She has difficulty remembering the details, which I wish to include in a This is Your Life album. Does anyone have any any recollection of this particular shop which I believe was subsequently demolished? Dare I ask has anyone a photo of the said shop which I could use, please?

    Posted by Gerard Stenson
  • My mother took me to the one on Charing Cross Road when I was small. We didn’t have much money, so I declined to have a dessert. Imagine how pleased I was to be told it was included in the price and I could have one after all.

    Posted by Patrick Hogan
  • I worked for jolyons on two occasions: in the autumn of 1970 I worked at the jolyons cafe opposite the strand corner house clearing tables, cooking food, serving behind the counters etc, all done under the eagle eye of the manageress who was a tough but lovely lady from Belfast. My actual job was as a merchant seaman, I was having a few problems getting a ship, ahem! Hence working at Lyons whilst lodging at a seaman’s hostel in Aldgate. After a couple of months I was able to ship out once again
    My second stint was two years later, thinking that working and living in the smoke would be a cracking idea, I secured a job at the corner house on the strand as a chef on the large carvery in thar establishment. I stayed for three months, living in a bed sit at Kilburn. Mostly an enjoyable time, especially food wise; the reason being that I palled up with one of the chefs on the grill. Most nights I would secretly scoff 2 ten ounce steaks with veg and salad by courtesy of Cadby Hall! I did enjoy my time there, but after three months I returned to sea and carried on sailing round the world and getting up to mischief!,,,,

    Posted by Peter shirtclffe
  • My mother was Betty Green in Wolverhampton in 1927. Around 1948 she joined Lyons Tea Rooms, Wolverhanpton who sent her to the Lyons Corner House Marble Arch to train as a manageress. Is this the same Corner House as Oxford Street? I am not sure how many there were then. Mum died last year aged 92. I would very much like to know more about her working life at the time she was at the Lyons Corner House.

    Posted by Denise Hughes
  • My mum worked for j lyons in Wood Green and Tottenham Court Road in the 1950S her name was Mary Mcenaney it would be great if anyone remember her although it was so long ago or any photos

    Posted by Patricia dwyer
  • My mother was a singer at Lyons corner house. Anyone has a mother who also sang there?

    Posted by Does anyone remember the teddy bear ice cream?
  • I am keen to talk to anyone who worked as a Corner Houses employee – as a Nippy, cook, manager, any type of work. It is for a BBC radio programme which we hope to broadcast later this year, or the start of 2020. I would love to hear from you about your work experiences there… so please email me at mike.lanchin@bbc.co.uk All communications will be treated with the utmost confidentiality and not passed on to others without permissions.

    Posted by Mike Lanchin
  • My grandad was brought up mainly by his aunts in Islington who all worked as Nippys in the Lyons teahouses. I’m intrigued by the Gladys term as my family came up from Wales, so I’m sensing a strong Welsh connection with the particular line of work. My aunts would’ve been first and second generation Welsh people who lived in Welsh communities in turn if the century north London. My grandads still alive (was 99 last week) and remembers it well (born/grew up around Highbury). All my aunts had Welsh names such as Blodwin etc, so maybe the original Gladys was a relation of mine…..

    Posted by Andrew Vaughan
  • I’m a journalist writing an article on Lyons Corner House Nippies for national magazine The People’s Friend. You can check them out here https://www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2016/03/peoples-friend-media-pack-october-2015.pdf
    I’d love to have a chat with anyone who was a Nippy or has a parent who was one. Email me on alltheyogastuff@gmail.com if you’d be up for an interview. Ali 😇

    Posted by Ali Henderson
  • My mum now coming up 95 tells me about her life as as a Lyons nippy, she was born in Tottenham, I would love to get more Info as any details I have are a bit sketchy

    Posted by Victoria Newland
  • My father Thomas James shine worked at Lyons corner house Tottenham court road, head chef. My mother Gladys Jones wad a nippy and married my father.
    The year was 1920/30.

    Posted by Tracy Creamer
  • My mum worked for j Lyons in Tottenham Court Road around 1940s1950s then worked at Wood Green Lyons she 95 now her name was Mary mcenaney

    Posted by Patricia
  • My dad worked as a catering engineer often was based at Olympia Wimbledon and queens garden parties, prepared all the kit for the chefs !! 1920 -1960 any memories ?

    Posted by Alick ungerer
  • I began my training as an assistant restaurant manager in 1964 at the Oxford Corner House. My very first shift was a 3-close in the Brasserie. I think I was destined for teashops but the training manager, Miss Alibert was ill and Miss Chambers took me to the Strand Corner House where I stayed for several years. I spent ten years altogether with J Lyons.
    I began in the Hamilton Room and Salad Bar with Mr Myhill, Mr Glanville and Miss Price sometimes relieving in the Bacon and Egg. Nippies, Clara, Hilda and Dickie worked in the Hamilton Room then. I later transferred down to the ground floor, Trafalgar Room, Wimpy and Cocktail Bar originally under Mr Bettsche and later Mr Gray. The Monks Tavern was constructed during that time. I well remember Miss Elliot, Miss Bennet and the three Davies’s. I was a raw recruit of 19/20 but they had to address me as ‘madam’.
    I later moved on to the London Steak Houses at Streatham and Dulwich. I even did a Buckingham Palace Garden Party in my very early days!
    I can still remember so many names and faces: Mr Byford, Mr Calnori, Mr Crisp, Mr Jones from Essential Services, Mr Feldman, barmen, waiters, waitresses, chefs and service personnel, hall porters and cashiers and my flatmate, Miss Offord who managed the Grill and Cheese, Carving Room and Fisherman’s Wharf on the first floor.
    And I still remember the other assistant restaurant managers guarding the doors and ticktacking across the restaurants.“How many? Follow my colleague please. Mind the step.”

    Posted by Barbara Wayland now Barbara Bush
  • My mother worked for Lyons around 1950 if anyone knew her Bridget Purtill or has photos around that time.

    Posted by Angela Brown
  • My grandmother worked as a nippy in 1920. Her name was Lena Cox and her best friend then was Florrie Glover, also a nippy. I never met Lena but she sounded like a real party girl!

    Posted by Heather Hudson
  • My sister and I would love to hear from anyone who worked at or has photographs of the Strand branch, or the one near the Law Courts as our Mum, Theresa Fox, worked there up to 1939 when she got married. She was asked to have a ‘perm’ to enter a competition, she didn’t win but was no doubt pleased to have a free ‘perm’

    Posted by Christine Roshanzamir
  • My mum told me she worked for the Lyons corner house making newspaper cuttings of promotions from regional papers to file away! She was picked to have a set of pictures taken dressed as a nippy for some promotional thing but not sure if it was a poster? I would dearly love to trace those photos to surprise her! Her maiden name was Joan Osborn.

    Posted by Nicola keen

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