LYONS, Joseph (1847-1917)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 11a Palace Mansions, Hammersmith Road, West Kensington, London W14 8QN, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham
Pioneer of Mass Catering
Commerce and Business, Food and Drink
Sir Joseph Lyons 1847-1917 Pioneer of mass catering lived here
Sir Joseph Lyons is best remembered as the man behind London’s iconic Lyons teashops. As the Managing Director of J. Lyons and Company, he pioneered mass catering in Britain and had a particular impact on West Kensington, where the company’s headquarters were based. His blue plaque can also now be found there, at 11a Palace Mansions on Hammersmith Road, where he lived in 1894–5.
Before going into the teashop business, Lyons invented a stereoscope (a scientific device for viewing glass slides) and travelled to exhibitions to showcase it. ‘I had personal and painful experience of the deplorable way in which the public were catered for,’ Lyons told the London Evening News in 1895. As the figurehead and later Managing Director of J. Lyons and Company, he made sure their catering was up to better standards.
J. Lyons and Company opened their first teashop at 213 Piccadilly in September 1894. Catering to a growing market of London office workers and pleasure-seekers, the Piccadilly teashop was followed by others at Queen Victoria Street and Chancery Lane and, in the following year, by a dozen more. Later still came the larger ‘corner houses’.
The Lyons teashops were organised along different lines to those of the firm’s competitors, with tea being brewed freshly for each customer, at a reasonable price and in more refined and luxurious surroundings than those to which the public had been accustomed. Later establishing restaurants and hotels, J. Lyons and Company reportedly employed over 12,000 staff by 1913.
Most of the food for the growing chain was prepared off site, at large scale kitchens and bakeries at Cadby Hall, the West Kensington headquarters of the Lyons empire. Lyons lived nearby at 11a Palace Mansions in 1894–5, during the early development of the Lyons business.
The area was, as Nikolaus Pevsner observed in The Buildings of England, shaped by Lyons and Company’s presence: ‘Lyons’s have altered the appearance of this part of Hammersmith considerably. Their vast offices and factories started a new scale in a street, Hammersmith Road, which until then had still possessed quite a human scale’.
Palace Mansions was the first to be completed of a series of mansion blocks that sprung up along the north of Hammersmith Road and today occupies a prominent location opposite the Hammersmith Road entrance to Olympia.
LYONS THE MAN
Lyons had scientific, theatrical and artistic interests and recorded his profession as ‘artist’ in 1881. He also went on to become a published writer, co-authoring two detective stories, The Master Crime (1907) and The Treasure of the Temple (1910), with the actor and dramatist Cecil Raleigh.
An agreeable, gregarious and generous man, Lyons was reportedly sympathetic to the social misfortunes of others and had a sense of public duty. He was an active member and supporter of the Territorial Army and organised the first Territorial Athletic Meeting in 1909, in which year he was created a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of London. He was knighted for public services by King George V in 1911 and awarded the Coronation Medal.