J. Lyons and Co.
Joseph Lyons and Co. was a British company which controlled the largest food empire in the 1930s. It had a large central Checking Department at its headquarters in
Cadby Hall, Hammersmith, Londonwith hundreds of clerks and mechanical Burroughs adding machinesto run this empire. The company was founded by Isidore and Montague Gluckstein, Barnett Salmon (formerly Solomons) and Joseph Lyons. The niece and nephew of the Gluckstein brothers were Hannah Gluckstein, a painter; and Louis Gluckstein, a Conservative politician.
To the public, Joseph Lyons and Co. were best known for their chain of
tea shops which were originally opened 1894 and finally closed in 1981, and for the Lyons Corner Houses in the West End of London. The tea shops were slightly more up-market than their ABC ( Aerated Bread Company) counterparts. They were notable for their interior design, from the 1920s Oliver P. Bernardbeing consultant artistic director. Until the 1940s they had a certain working-classchic, but by the 1950s and 60s they were quick stops for busy shoppers where one could get a cup of tea and a snack or a cheap and filling meal. The tea shops always had a bakery counter at the front, and their signs, art nouveaugold lettering on white, were a familiar landmark. Before the Second World Warservice was to the table by uniformed waitresses, known as 'Nippies', but after the War the tea shops converted to cafeteria service.
The Corner Houses, which appeared in 1909 and remained until 1977, were noted for their
art decostyle. Situated on or near the corner of Coventry Street, the Strand and Tottenham Court Road, they and the Maison Lyons at Marble Archand in Shaftesbury Avenuewere large buildings on four or five floors, the ground floor of which was a food hall with counters for delicatessen, sweets and chocolates, cakes, fruit, flowers and more. As well as this they had hairdressing salons, telephone booths, theatre booking agencies and at one period a twice-a-day food delivery service. On the other floors were several restaurants, each with a different theme and all with their own musicians. For a time the Corner Houses were open 24 hours a day, and in their heyday each one employed in the region of 400 staff. They were colourful and bustling, with bright lights and ingenious window displays. In the post-wargloom, the Corner Houses, smarter and grander than the local tea shops, provided a degree of escapist relaxation. Between 1896 and 1965 Lyons also owned the Trocadero, which was similar in size and style to the Corner Houses.
As well as the tea shops and Corner Houses, Lyons ran other large restaurants such as the Throgmorton in Throgmorton Street (pictured above). Their chains have included Steak Houses (1961-1988), Wimpy Bars (1953-1976) and
Regent Palace Hotel, Glasshouse Street, Londonwas operated by Strand Hotels Limited, a subsidiary of J Lyons and Company and opened on 16th May, 1915.
In 1938, Lyons purchased the Bee Bee Biscuit Company, which manufactured biscuits from its factories in
Blackpool. Six years later, Lyons changed Bee Bee Biscuit's name to Symbol Biscuits Ltd. and began selling biscuits under the Symbol and Lyons brand names. They introduced Maryland Cookiesin 1956. In 1990, Lyons changed Symbol Biscuits' name to Lyons Biscuits Ltd.Citation |last= Bird |first= Peter |title= Symbol Biscuits Ltd (Lyons Biscuits Ltd) |year= 2002 |url= http://www.kzwp.com/lyons/symbol.htm |accessdate= 2007-11-05]
upporting the war effort
The rearmament period just before
World War IIsaw a big expansion in the number of Royal Ordnance Factories, (ROFs), which were UK government-owned. However, due to shortages of managementresources some ROFs were run as Agency Factories; and J. Lyons and Co. ran at least one ROF: ROF Elstow(Bates, 1946). The management and stock control systems needed in the ROF's, in respect of control of raw materials and "perishable" finished products, were somewhat similar to those used in the catering business; and Joseph Lyons was ideally suited to this task. They did not appear to have any involvement in managing these after 1945, when the ROFs started to run down.
Contribution to computing in business
Joseph Lyons's top management, with its background in the use of mechanical adding machines, saw the potential of new electrical computers for organising the distribution of cakes and other highly perishable goods. They, therefore, built their own programmable
digital computers and became the first user of these in businesses, with the LEO I digital computer: the "Lyons Electronic Office I", designed and built by Dr. John Pinkerton under the able leadership of John Simmons. It handled the company's accounts and logistics. Lyons also factored in the weather forecast to influence the goods carried by their "fresh produce" delivery vans
The company was losing money in the 1960s but remained under the control of the Salmon family, descended from a founding partner. Lyons began to close some of its London tea shops and hotels; in 1963 it also merged its LEO Computers business with
English Electric's computer interests to form, the jointly-owned, English Electric LEO.
In 1964, Lyons sold their half-stake; and English Electric merged the company with Marconi's computer interests to form English Electric LEO Marconi Computers. A continuing problem in the UK computer industry was both lack of investment capital and competition with much larger USA computer companies, such as
IBM. "English Electric LEO Marconi Computers" became International Computers Limited, (ICL), but "ICL" has now also disappeared as a UK computer company.
In 1978, Lyons was acquired by
Allied Breweriesand became part of the resulting "Allied Lyons". It fell on hard economic times in the late 1980s; and was sold, eventually being broken up with its ice creamand ice lollyproducts, which were branded as Lyons Maid, being sold to Nestlé. Other parts that were sold off included Lyons Cakes being sold to RHMand ending up as part of their Manor Bakeries subsidiary which also makes Mr Kipling's Cakes and Ready Brekcereal ending up being owned by Weetabix Limited. At the end of 1994, Lyons sold its Lyons Biscuits Ltd. to Hillsdown Holdings, which later sold it to a U.S. investment firm which subsequently sold it to large biscuit manufacturer Burton's Foods Ltd..
J. Lyons' papers are now stored in the
London Metropolitan Archives.
Greasy spoon, the antithesis of a Lyons Corner House
* [http://www.brighton.ac.uk/designingbritain/html/lyons.html Designing Britain 1945–1975: Lyons Corner House]
* [http://www.kzwp.com/lyons/index.htm J. Lyons & Co.: An illustrated history by Peter Bird 1887–1998]
* [http://www.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/ead/363col.htm The papers of John Simmons] relating to Lyons' computerization
* [http://www.leo-computers.org.uk/ LEO Computers Society]
* Bates, H.E. (1946). "The Tinkers of Elstow: The Story of the Royal Ordnance Factory run by J.E. Lyons and Company Limited for the Ministry of Supply for the World War of 1939–1945". Privately Published.
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