Location map




The Angel Cafe Restaurant‚ Islington


The Angel Hotel, situated at the junction of Pentonville Road, City Road, Upper Street (High Street, Islington) and St John Street, was purchased by Lyons in 1921 and opened as the Angel Cafe Restaurant on 21 February 1922. Some contemporary records wrongly attribute it as having opened in 1899 as a Corner House. It did not open at this time nor was it a Corner House. Nevertheless it was a fairly grand restaurant on two floors with a rather conspicuous external dome which became a local landmark. The earliest reference to this property's acquisition by Lyons is dated 21 May 1921 when the firm registered a Mortgage to the value of £24,000 for what was described as:

a) A piece of land situate at the corner of High Street, Islington, and Pentonville Road with the Inn and premises thereon known as 'The Angel' and;

b) The fixtures and fittings therein and the goodwill of the business of a licensed victualler therein and the benefit of the Magistrates and Excise Licenses for carrying on the said business.

The property appears to have been bought from: Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co Ltd, a company incorporated under the Companies Acts 1862 to 1886.

The Angel had, from Jacobean times (1603), been a coaching inn and went though a number of rebuilds before Lyons acquired the property in 1921. The area in which it was situated used to be called Merry Islington because from time immemorial it had been a great entertainment centre of London. The Collins Music Hall, the Grand Theatre and the Philharmonic Hall were all situated here. Being outside London, Islington also became a refuge after the plagues and the Great Fire of London. It was also a refuge for those travellers entering London from the north. Here they would rest overnight as the open land between Islington and the City itself was dangerous to cross lest highwaymen vagrants, rouges or sham soldiers would relieve them of the valuables and possibly their lives. There were large fields for the farming community to rest their animals before the onward journey to Smithfield meat market. Charles Dickens also used the location for the meeting of the Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist in his famous novel of that name. In chapter VIII The Artful Dodger (John Dawkins) it reads: "John Dawkins objected to their entering London before nightfall, it was nearly eleven o'clock when they reached the turnpike at Islington. They crossed from the Angel into St John's Road. ..."

Although the Angel Cafe was one of the larger restaurants, ranked between a teashop and a Corner House, it has received little publicity within the J. Lyons house journals. In fact only two or three references are made to The Angel Cafe and these only to the memorial wreaths which were laid by the staff at the annual memorial services at Greenford. A brief reference appears in the Board Minutes of 1945 when a liquor licence was applied for. This paucity of information makes it difficult to document details about the restaurant. It is known to have been a popular meeting place for residents of Islington as its dome made it conspicuous. Furthermore, it was directly opposite the Angel underground station and adjacent to bus and tram routes which served many areas of London. Some people held their wedding breakfasts there in the upstairs restaurant which could be hired for such functions after the Second World War.

The Angel Restaurant, like the teashops, suffered from neglect during the war and went into decline thereafter. By 1959 it needed a considerable sum spent on it but the County of London Development Plan provided for the compulsory acquisition of the premises in a few year's time. This ruled out the heavy expenditure necessary to bring it up to acceptable standards. Lyons therefore approached the London County Council in 1959/60 and reached an agreement with them for its earlier acquisition. The precise date of transfer of ownership is not known but it is thought to have been in early 1960 as it was mentioned in Isidore M. Gluckstein's Statement to Shareholders dated 10 June 1960. In the event the plans which the London County Council had drawn up for the modernisation of the Angel did not affect this site and the building, with its dome, is still intact. Memorial wreaths continued to be laid by the staff, at the Lyons war memorials in Greenford, until its closure.


© Peter Bird 2004