Lyons Corner House

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The Lyons Corner House, Coventry Street, London | The Old Farts Cook Book | 14263

In 1910 “London homosexuals began to gather openly in public places such as pubs, coffee houses and tea shops for the first time. Waitresses ensured that a section of Lyons Corner House in Piccadilly Circus was reserved for homosexuals.”

The Corner Houses first appeared in London in 1909 when Lyons opened the first on the corner of Piccadilly and Coventry Street (now the Trocadero, pictured). It employed about 400 staff. As well as different restaurants on each floor, and live music from an orchestra at times during the day, there was also originally a Food Hall where many products from the kitchens could be bought.

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Customers enjoying Afternoon Tea at Coventry Street Lyons House | 1942 | Wikipedia | 14264

Some Corner Houses were like shopping centres with hair dressing salons, telephone booths, theatre booking agencies and food delivery services.

The tradition of, even though homosexuality was illegal, allowing homosexuals to use the premises, was not confined to Lyons Corner House on Piccadilly. My own parents met and courted during World War II. Due to petrol rationing they could not often venture out for a night to a nearby city, and most weeks went to a local dance at the local Town Hall. All the local gays and lesbians congregated in one corner of the Hall, and many became friends with the heterosexual patrons.

Piccadilly has long been linked with the gay world, and as a place where people might, er, meet; as early as 1700 the slang term among Londoners for venereal disease was “the Piccadilly cramp”. Your Activist suspects that gay people have been meeting each other on Piccadilly since much earlier than 1910!

The Dabbler notes that “John Bull magazine fulminated in 1925, allegedly appalled by ‘a well-known teashop and public house in Coventry Street where painted and scented boys congregate every day without molestation of any kind . . .sitting with their vanity bags and their high-heeled shoes, calling themselves by endearing names.”

SP

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4 thoughts on “Lyons Corner House

  1. I was employed in the fish department as a stock control clerk c. 1965. As a mere clerk, I recall running up the stairs from around the corner, to my small office. I am afraid I did not know until later of the more colourful details in its history. On one occasion I did partake of breakfast as a customer. The ambience was most impressive.
    A very tall gentleman was employed as a Security Officer at the staff entrance. I think he was a Jamaican. He may have been someone of distinction, as I heard a lady being interviewed on the BBC many years later. She was speaking about her husband and she said he had been employed in Lyons’s for a time. I would very much like to learn more about him.
    I recall Lyons’s had a very well stocked canteen for the staff. More than once I saw people coming in from outside, pretending they were staff. Those were good old day’s long since gone. I finally had to leave, when the smell of fish contaminated my clothes and offended fellow passengers on the ‘tube’
    Is it too much to hope that someone may pick up on this? Joe keane

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      • Hello Paul,
        I fear there may have been a misunderstanding. I was merely trying to connect with past employees of Lyon’s Corner House, Piccadilly where I was employed for a period in the 1960’s. When you reach my age nostalgia becomes a passion and you like To go down ‘memory lane’ once more.
        Thank you for your prompt reply. I feel that my quest to revisit the many haunts may not prove successful, but I will probably keep trying, nevertheless.

        Best wishes, Joe Keane

        Like

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