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Modern-day tea drinking (part one)
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The rise in tea drinking continued unfettered in the early part of the twentieth century. By the early 1930s, and despite the high unemployment and destitution of the Great Depression, tea drinking reached its peak, with over 10 lb consumed per person per year, equivalent to an average of about five cups of tea a day.

In times of hardship, it seems that most Britons turn to tea for solace. This was certainly true of Gordon Comstock, hero of George Orwell’s 1936 novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Impecunious and living in a grimy bedsit, Comstock finds comfort in secretly drinking cups of tea, which are banned by his despotic landlady.

For the growing numbers of people who could afford tea, there was a vast number of venues to choose from, the most popular and numerous of which were the Lyons tea shops. After opening its first tea shop in Piccadilly in 1894, the company became one of the first successful catering chains in the country, opening over two hundred tea shops in the capital alone. During the first half of the twentieth century, the Lyons name became synonymous with consistency of service and products as well as value of money. Its Nippy waitresses – smart young ladies clothed in a black dress with a rounded white collar – became an icon for the brand. The Nippy was used on advertisements, packaging and promotional items.

Modern-day tea drinking (part one)

A French 1920s poster celebrating the fanciful idea of a ‘tea promenade’, during which travelers would be able to savour tea and cakes while enjoying glorious mountain views from a luxurious, chauffeur-driven car.

Rather than being the haunt of the rich and well-to-do, Lyons tea shops were particularly popular with the growing numbers of female workers, who were attracted by the clean, safe surroundings, not to mention the affordable teas and cakes and the simple hot food.

Lyons’ tea shops and restaurants were often strategically located on busy streets in London and other large towns and cities. Situated at the junction of major roads, the Lyons Corner Houses were well placed to attract customers. One of the first to open was the Strand Corner House, established in 1915 at the intersection of the Strand and Craven Street. Sometimes as high as five storeys, Lyons Corner Houses employed about 400 staff, while orchestras - a different one on each floor – played continuously.

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