As news today announces that Galliford Try and AHMM architects have been appointed to oversee to the the area’s landmark redevelopment project – Marble Arch Place – we thought it only fitting to enlighten readers on the sites previous illustrious history with a past British social institution. Just as Marble Arch Place will help to reinvigorate the Marble Arch area, providing further retail, office and leisure units, the bygone tenants – Maison Lyons Corner House – offered patrons a revolutionary experience for the time and the company served over 100 million meals per year, employed more than 400 people and stayed open 24 hours a day.
The original Lyons tea rooms had slightly more humble beginnings before growing into an empire. The first Lyons Tea Shop opened in September 1894 in Piccadilly with 200 seats. The tea shops quickly grew in popularity and in 1909, Lyons started opening and operating its famed Corner Houses and Maison Lyons – the large institutions that occupied the space where Marble Arch Place will be located. These were huge restaurants and department stores experiences covering four to five levels with each floor featuring a different thematic restaurant and its own orchestra playing nonstop for patrons.
The ground floor featured a large food hall stocking Lyon brand speciality products, as well as hams, cakes, pastries, hand-made chocolates, exotic fruits, wines, cheeses, flowers and more. The closest contemporary comparison would be the food halls of Harrods or Fortnum & Mason in London or Dallmayr in Munich. Not merely a restaurant, the Corner Houses and Maison Lyons also housed hair salons, telephone booths, theatre booking agencies and a food delivery service to any address in London, twice a day.
Lyons Corner House and Maison Lyons were notorious for their waitresses, affectionately known as ‘Nippies’ following an in-house renaming challenge for the wait staff in 1925. The nickname originated from the waitresses tendency to ‘nip’ around as they worked so quickly. The terms became so ubiquitous that it passed into the language via the Oxford English Dictionary. Nippies soon became a national icon, known for their distinct uniforms, and appeared in advertising, on product packages, and on promotional items.
Sadly, as times changed, life became more hectic and varied cuisines were more readily available, the Lyon Corner House, Maison Lyonses and Tea Rooms were not able to adapt to these changing demands. All Corner Houses and Maison Lyonses were closed by 1977. Today, you can see memorabilia and a Lyon Tea Room recreated in the Museum of London. We’re proud that the revolutionary legacy of Maison Lyons will remain in the Marble Arch area with the redevelopments at Marble Arch Place, bringing a new landmark destination.