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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!



  • 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
  • I. Rember my dear. Mum taking me there every time I had to go to hospital in. London it was my treat from her I so looked forward to it and I was overcome with the very nice ladies that served us bless them all.

    Posted by Judith Heaton
  • I danced with the Lyons Dancers in the 1940s trained by Muriel Hare Simmons, a dancer and wife of a director of Lyons: John Simmons who introduced computers into the business world. Training us and conducting us through many performances was her “War Effort”. We rehearsed at Sudbury in the summer and Elms House in London during the winter. I dance the only solo. I have many pictures of the group ,a wonderful event during World War II in the history of the company. I should try to get it into print.

    Posted by Hazel Walker West
  • In the 1950s I went for interview with J.Lyons to be a trainee Manager. but when I discovered I would have to start in the bakery, and then in the delivery section, and serve about 7 years before making any money as a manager, I thought better of it. The Corner House at Marble Arch got turned into an egg business, and served a whole range of different egg things, but this seemed to have failed, but I thought it was very innovative and I enjoyed eating there. They were very advanced in computerising their delivery and purchase systems.

    Posted by William Austin.
  • As a child in the 1930’s (!) my treat was a glass of hot lemon in a glass with a special metal holder! Later , working at King’s College in the Strand, the treat was a “salad bowl” lunch at the Strand Corner House. You queued up . took a bowl and filled it from a selection of interesting salad selections. I have seen some piling an amazing amount into theirs ( never mine of course!). There was a standard charge to fill a bowl-it was not expensive (can’t remember quite how much) .Thank you for the memories, Lyons!

    Posted by Jennifer Harvey
  • Does anyone remember Mary (Theresa) Farrelly who worked in the Oxford Street Lyons in 1952. If so I would so love to hear from you, especially if you have any photographs of those days.

    Posted by Margaret
  • Yes, I recall going to the Liverpool Bold Street Lyons Corner House with my Mum Olive in the 50s and 60s. It was a wonderful place, so clean and the service was always superb. It’s a pity there aren’t any left now, but great memories. My Mum worked in Lewis’s department store years ago, and told me about these corner houses, and I’m so glad that I was able to experience these with their “Nippy” waitresses!

    Posted by Phil Price
  • My sister and I are looking for anyone who remembers Grace Flannery who worked in the Lyons tea rooms in the 1920’s. her husband was Thomas and she had 2 children Alfred and Elsie. She lived in Acton Street, Caledonian Road, Offord Road and Hollingsworth Street.
    Sue and heather

    Posted by Heather Blockley
  • HI, does anyone know the name of a café opposite the Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road back in 1959 please? I used to visit it with my late husband when we first started courting but cannot remember the name. They were a branch seen all over London and possibly called ‘Kenco’ as the name was something to do with coffee but that is a guess. I would love to remember to pass it on to my children/grandchildren. Thank you.

    Posted by Maggie
  • I used to dance in cabaret at Showboat theatre restaraunt at Strand Corner house from 1966/68 which starred Ricki Renee’ Dave Allen Aimi McDonald & Janet Mahoney I was in The Tommy Shwa Dancers would like to hear from anyone related to this period you will find me on FB

    Posted by Annette Lee nee Searle
  • From my mother’s stories her Aunt Della & her friend Mimi were quite high up in Lyons – I believe that Mimi might have been an Area Supervisor as she or they travelled a lot for J. Lyons. I recall that they shared a flat in Wymera Mansion Maida Vale London – I have a Gold Medal for A.Lewin (Della – Adel) ‘Nippy £100 Competition 1928-9 – 9th Prize A.Lewin SB’ Not sure if the SB was a Branch or a particular Department? If anyone has info regarding Mimi (Surname unknown) or Della would appreciate a contact. Michael Dixon

    Posted by Michael Dixon
  • I remember going to the Marble Arch shop, and the smell of flowers and chocolates as you entered remain in my memories of wonderful times, being taken their by mum and dad on Sunday afternoon listening to Ivy Benson and her band, and I wax too small to sit at the table I remember sitting on a cushion, what wonderful memories

    Posted by Sharon Corper
  • My Nan worked in the J. Lyons in Ealing Broadway on the till. She had to leave in 1964 because the administration discovered that she was actually 70 – she always looked younger than her age! I remember visiting the teashop as a child and was amazed at how quickly she could add up everything in her head before totalling it on the till.

    Posted by Sheila Sharpe

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