Anecdote Index





.....The..Lyons'..Cake..Van-Boy........ ...

(20) by John Edser



From a talk given to the Roads and Road Transport History Association by John Edser on 28 September 2002

From the summer of 1956 to Easter 1960 I was employed during my sixth-form and university holidays as a van-boy/assistant roundsman with Lyons' Wholesale Cakes, based at Chessington.

The depot served a large area from Brixton Market to East Grinstead, Haslemere, Basingstoke, the whole of the Aldershot/Farnborough armed forces complex and most other places south of the River Thames. The actual furthest point served was the village post office/store at Worting then still a separate community 2-3 miles west of fast expanding Basingstoke.

The few casual employees like myself were normally used on the longer runs, so I got to know the Basingstoke/Alton/Aldershot/Farnham area fairly well. Balham High Rd., Streatham, Herne Hill and Crystal Palace were the heavy suburban runs which welcomed assistance on their heavy days. (We didn't work some rounds as the drivers concerned never asked for assistance.)

The vehicles employed were mostly normal-control Morris Commercials, possibly the 2/3 ton payload van-bodied Equiload series introduced in 1951. There were also a few forward control Thornycrofts from the Nippy or Sturdy ranges, having the 1949-50 styled cab shared with contemporary Guy models. These were not liked by the regular drivers: poor acceleration, an awkward gear-change and a climb in to the cab compared with the step-in Morris Commercials.

Each round had its regular driver/salesman, each with a weekly sales target to meet. The Saturday rounds were much shorter that on Mon-Fri., only calling on major customers except in the run-up to Christmas when the cake trade was extremely busy.

Each round had its list of daily calls, which were varied according to the needs of the customer. A few were daily, others 2/3 times a week and the smallest shops only once a week.

Each driver was responsible for both 'cashing-up' at the end of each day and ordering his stock for the following day. Practices varied with the drivers I accompanied; some did it all back at Chessington, others after we made our last call and were sitting in a 'caff' (of hugely varying quality) enjoying a break.

Cakes being perishable, they were all delivered from Cadby Hall by 1950s style artics in the late afternoon and evening and loaded by evening staff according to each driver's order ready for a 7.15/7.30 am departure the next morning. Fresh cream cakes came down very early in the morning but doughnuts were baked on the premises and we often had to wait for them before leaving. This meant that we always sold cakes normally made the day before and, as they were all coded, roundsmen could check the age of stock being sold to the public. Any shopkeepers found selling 'out-of-date' cakes were suitably warned, then reported and, if they persisted, could have their calls withdrawn.

There was a complete bread bakery on the Chessington site and another set of rounds based on that. There was considerable rivalry between 'bread' and 'cakes' with 'cakes' considering themselves far superior. This was probably seen at its best on Saturdays which was the really 'heavy' bread day. There were many regular 'Saturday bread boys' who worked every week but, occasionally, they ran very short of help. The Chief Salesman would then approach the Chief Cake Salesman to see if any of us would help out. I only worked one Saturday and finished quite exhausted, heaving the old long wooden baker's trays with up to 36 large loaves in them was not easy particularly as you often had to go in the front entrance of the shop and fight your way through Saturday shoppers to the shelf-space.

My rate of pay never altered: 3/5d per hour (never 3/6d) and I was nominally paid for each hour I worked. However, Friday evening was pay day and the Chief Salesman always knew how successful, or otherwise, the cake rounds had been that week. Usually I received some added 'bonus' hours and at Christmas I worked a flat 12-hr stint every day I was there. As my University grant (I lived at home) was only £30 a term, my Lyons pay was a huge addition and I certainly earned far more at Christmas than my colleagues working at the Post Office.

Basingstoke was one of the furthest areas covered. It was just beginning its expansionist period when we served it but the original town centre round a small square was still very much the shopping hub. Lyons served 4-6 shops in or near the square but, even then, there were tight well-patrolled parking restrictions in force. On Fridays in particular it was a race to get there by about 8.45 am, get a space, see the policeman and agree our time limit. Then the race was on: into all the shops, back to the van, make up the orders, deliver them and collect cash or signatures and get out in time.

The rounds served most NAAFIs in the area when National Service still existed, and here it was pure bulk. The two rounds that served the Aldershot/Fleet/Farnborough areas normally left Chessington with the centre aisle of the van stacked high with trays of Lyons' Fruit Pies many of which vanished at the first two or three calls.

One of the calls we made between 1958-1960 was in the village of Lasham a national gliding centre between Basingstoke and Alton. I entered the shop one morning and stood at the back in my white coat while the owner served his customers. Suddenly he looked up and almost shouted 'Lyons, get out, get out'. Startled and wondering what hideous crime we had committed, I went outside. People came and went and then the owner appeared and beckoned me inside. "I'm sorry about that, Joe" he said, "but things were a bit awkward. The whole of the land round here is owned by Lord X and most of us are his tenants. One of the clauses in the shop agreement is that, when his Lordship is in the shop, under no circumstances are 'travellers' allowed in and should any enter, I am to throw them out" ('throw' was his the actual word). You did not know he was in the shop when you came in.

Very often the 'far-west' rounds would end up in a wonderful Transport Cafe at Runfold, below the Hogs Back, before driving home in convoy up the A3. Superb food was grown on their surrounding small-holding, including fresh eggs and home-cured bacon from their livestock.

With an on-site bakery, you would have thought that bread would cause no problems. However, every Friday the Redhill/East Grinstead driver would ask round the office "any more orders before I go?" as we left about 7.10 am. Every Friday his last call was at a village shop and bakery at Bletchingley (between Redhill and Godstone) where he loaded up with the most delicious home-baked bread he had ordered earlier in the day and brought it back for our weekend supplies.

© John Edser 2002