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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!



  • 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
  • In the 1950’s I worked as a trainee chef in the Strand Corner House. One of the things that sticks in my memory is how every thing that we cooked was weighed and portioned before it went out to the restaurant. There were three restaurants in our building, the top restaurant was the posh one. I don’t know if you are aware but J Lyons invented the self service, it was the only restaurant in London that was open on a Sunday. I also worked at the Lyons tea factory in Greenford, Middlesex.

    Posted by JOHN REEVES
  • Trying to find out about a Restaurant on the north side of Oxford Street at Marble Arch in mid 50’s. There were three on site and one was called The Bacon & Egg. Always taken to that one by my Dad. Had wonderful eggs and bacon followed by Lemon Merengue Pie about 6" high! We had never seen anything like that before. Was this part of a Lyons Group?? Does anyone remember this? Pictures??

    Posted by Mary Heath
  • One of our latest piano restorations is ( the) (a) art deco Strohmenger grand in the most outstanding marquetry rays you ever did see. The lady selling it told us it came.from “the famous Lyons tea house in Piccadilly”. So would that be the Corner House ? Did J Lyons order a Strohmenger for.every floor as did Fred Olson who.famously went into Steinways dressed.as.a tramp. When he’d screwed them.right down on price just to get him out of the shop, he said I"ll take 8 and put them on his ships. Does.anybody remember (a) or (several) stunning grandpianos with eye-catching veneers? Please contact 07876795325. Nov.2016

    Posted by Chris Welch part of an artisan collective called High End Pianos
  • Does have any photographs of a lady called Ellen Skeet / Cook she would have worked at the Piccadilly cornerhouse in around 1933 as my grandad remembers his father taking him to visit her working there as a nippy when he was about 10 yrs old. She is my great grandmother and she disappeared from his life when he was around 14 yrs old in 1937. We’d love to find out some more information about her. Thanks

    Posted by Laura Hatton
  • My dad would take me there in the early 70’s when he would visit me at boarding school. I always remember the grand staircase the smoked salmon and the roast beef ! Wonderful time to be alive!

    Posted by Matthew Claxton
  • I worked at Lyons at Tottenham, Court Rd in 1950, it would be good to hear from anyone from this time

    Posted by Rosina Morgan
  • My mum, Lillian Hitchens was a Nippy at the Strand Corner House during WW2 and for some time after. Her best friend was Ivy, I believe for a time towards the end of the war some of the staff went to work in the NAAFI at the armed forces bases in Lincolnshire. Can anyone shed any light on this as I cannot find any documented trace of this. Many thanks

    Posted by Gill Hitchens
  • I remember going to the Corner Houses in the late 1950s and being astonished at the piled up plateful of salads in the Salad Bar restaurant at Coventry Street. I was 10 in 1959 and I couldn’t believe that anyone could eat so much. You could load up your plate without restriction and desert was à la mode – a disc of ice cream with fruit. I believe that the whole meal cost just 2/6d. Later in the 1960s I was a frequent visitor to Maison Lyons at Marble Arch, where you could buy elaborate cakes and other foods. It was a sad day when these Corner Houses closed.

    Posted by Paul Battram

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