Subsidiary Companies





The J.Lyons website thank Terry Boden for the use of pictures and other historical detail in respect of the Airport Bowl.

......Airport Bowl.......

.....................................Airport Bowl (JL Catering Ltd)

The Airport Bowl at Bath Road, Harlington (near Heathrow Airport), was opened in 1962 by the American Brunswick Corporation, a leading manufacturer of ten pin bowling equipment. Its opening came just in time to host an inter-airline tournament shortly followed by the second British Ten Pin Bowling Association's national championships. Along with bowling in the rest of the country at this time, the Airport Bowl flourished. The centre ran as a twenty-four hour operation with 60 employees on the payroll. With bowling centres at Wembley, Hounslow and Slough, a large nucleus of bowlers was formed leading to tournaments and competition. The Airport Bowl benefited most from these events particularly when Wembley and Slough closed.

When Brunswick Corporation decided to withdraw from the UK in 1970 the Airport Bowl was sold to Strand Hotels Ltd (a subsidiary of J. Lyons & Co Ltd) who ran the complex until the hotel business was sold in January 1977. It was then transferred to JL Catering Ltd (also a subsidiary of J. Lyons & Co Ltd) which became part of Allied Breweries Ltd in September 1978. The peculiarity of this operation was that the Airport Bowl was not a registered company in its own right but operated as part of JL Catering Ltd along with Tavern in the Sky (within the airport itself) and the other numerous catering operations. In effect the Airport Bowl was the only non catering business within JL Catering Ltd.

At this time the Airport Bowl managed 24 bowling lanes with snooker and pool tables and car parking facilities. However, J. Lyons & Co had little experience of operating a bowling facility and the centre became neglected and shabby. This was in part due to the difficulty in obtaining bowling equipment spares from Brunswick Corporation. Nonetheless, when the Hounslow Ambassador Bowl converted to bingo the Airport Bowl became the only remaining centre for miles around and business began to improve. A major fire behind the pinsetters in 1975 nearly caused the closure of the centre just prior to the 8th Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs World Championships which were being staged at Tolworth. The disorder was cleared up after a few days enabling the centre to reopen to accommodate many of the overseas bowlers needing practice for the global event at Tolworth.

In 1988 JL Catering Ltd completed a £2 million refurbishment programme of the entire premises - with money raised from the sale of adjoining land - making it one of the biggest and best equipped ten-pin bowling centres in the country. The investment enabled the number of lanes to be increased from 24 to 36. New snooker and pool tables were installed, parking was increased to 200 and the whole premises refurbished with improved catering and bar facilities. This refurbishment programme was an important development as far as casual players were concerned because 12 lanes were reserved solely for public play, the other 24 being used during weekday evenings for matches in the 30 leagues that use the bowling centre. Not only that, it was profitable too making a profit of £0.25 million in the year following the refurbishment rising to £1.25 million profit in 1992 on a turnover of £2.5 million. It was a sensational achievement.

Other facilities at the venue included a snooker club with five full-size tables, an amusement area with a range of video games and the Keglers Cafeteria and Keglers Bar. Keglers being an old name for bowling. About 45 people worked at the bowl, many in the evenings only as control clerks, mechanics and cafeteria and bar staff. In April 1989 the bowl staged an exhibition match featuring top American bowler Earl Anthony, known to the buffs as the 'doomsday stroking machine'. Lyons had wanted to build a hotel on the site but was prohibited because a by-law stated that the site must be used for entertainment purposes. There was also a problem with the sale of drink as the Watney Brewery, who owned the freehold, would not allow other manufacturers' drinks to be sold. By now J. Lyons & Co Ltd (with its subsidiaries) had been acquired by Allied Breweries Ltd.

The bowl was open from 9 am till midnight and sometimes all night. The cost of playing was £2.50 for the game, made up of 40p admission and 50p for the hire of obligatory soft-soled shoes with each subsequent game costing £1.60. Balls varied in weight so that young and old could play together. The age of players at Heathrow was between 6-84. One game with five players lasted for about an hour. Some 6,500 people used the bowl per week in 1988.

The attraction of bowling is that it is easy to play and members of a family can compete on equal terms. The rules are relatively easy. Each game consists of ten frames - a total of 100 pins, ten in each frame. Players are allowed two balls in each frame, a total of twenty balls for the game. The perfect score is 300 but most players average around 150 and, as in other sports, practice and skill are needed to perform consistently well. Players could enjoy a game for £1.80, including shoe hire, before 6 pm and some local schools included ten-pin bowling in their curriculum. Bowling, as well as being a top class international sport, was an increasingly popular pastime in the UK at this time. Children as young as six often played the game. An indication of children's interest in the game were the birthday parties held at the bowl which were very popular and noisy!

Much of the success of the Airport Bowl was due to Tom Leggatt. He steered the centre through its most difficult periods, particularly during the 1975 fire, and was the centre's most popular manager. He died in the 1980s and the assistant manager, Howard Newman took over the responsibility and managed to survive the centre's most difficult period. It took much longer than expected to persuade the Lyons management to invest in the facility.

By about 1992 the Lyons business, which had already been absorbed into Allied Breweries Ltd had largely been sold off by what had become Allied Domecq plc. The Airport Bowl, still profitable, was transferred to Ind Coope-Taylor Walker Ltd, Nicholson's and Punch Taverns eventually ending up within the Spirit Group of Allied Domecq plc. On 15 August 2007 the Airport Bowl was sold to Riva Properties Ltd, a property development company.

In February 2009 it was reported that the Airport Bowl was to be redeveloped to include a 560-room hotel, with a conference centre and ballroom, plus a 20-lane bowling centre with parking. The 60,000 square meter complex included six basement levels with three restaurants, two bars, a swimming pool, gym, beauty treatment rooms and a 20 lane bowling centre. According to the local Council there was a shortage of hotel rooms in the area, with an estimated 3,800 more rooms required by 2012 when the London Olympics open. Before work can begin several conditions have been imposed: £25,000 must be used to monitor and improve air quality, while up to £110,000 was to be earmarked to upgrade bus stops and to develop a Green Travel Plan. A contribution of £2,500 for every £1 million spent on building the development must also be paid towards the cost of construction training initiatives. This ambitious plan came at a time when the UK slid into recession brought about by a global banking crisis. Many thought that the plan was too ambitious and that the 2012 completion date was too optimistic.


... © Peter Bird 2009