Factory Index




The first thirty years of Lyons' growth had been nothing short of sensational. From a catering organisation they had become a major national food manufacturer. From an early period they had diversified into tea, coffee, cocoa, ice-cream, confectionery and other food products. With this diversification, and increasing sales growth in all, the limited capacity of the Cadby Hall estate threatened their future prospects. The solution was to relocate these subsidiary operations to another location where, if it became necessary, there would be sufficient capacity to expand. The movement of tea and coffee production away from Cadby Hall would also have the benefit of releasing factory space for the even faster growth of bakery goods.

During the First World War there had been a growth of industries along the short section of the Grand Union Canal north-westward from Brentford Dock to a village called Greenford Green, Middlesex. Situated west of London, Greenford combined a mixture of idyllic countryside and industrial works and Lyons decided to settle here in 1919. Although Greenford was considered somewhat remote, Lyons had chosen the site carefully. They must have been aware of the plans for the Western Avenue roadworks, giving access to West London and this work continued throughout the 1920s. Likewise the first stretch of the Great West Road, further south, immeasurably improved communications from Greenford to the west when the first section was completed in 1925. In addition, the Grand Union Canal ran though the property, connecting Greenford with the Thames, and thence to London Docks, where tea and other imported materials were off-loaded from freighters. More importantly perhaps the Great Western Railway was already in operation to the west country and ran alongside the property which enabled Lyons to build their own railway sidings. The London Underground system was being pushed westwards and had reached Ealing Broadway by 1879, Park Royal by 1903, and Acton by 1923.

By 1921 the first factory buildings and site transport infrastructure were in place; these included private railway sidings, facilitating the movement of products from the factory to the railway networks via the Great Western Railway. One of the largest junctions in the country, Willesden, was just to the north. A canal basin was built enabling several barges to be unloaded simultaneously. After unloading the bulk tea and other commodities were stored under excise control before being released into the various factories for use in tea blends, coffee and chocolate goods.

Utilising the latest technology in factory automation, the Greenford factory became a manufacturing showplace drawing many distinguished visitors from home and abroad; the directors even organised an inspection by King George V and his Queen. The management were eager to show visitors the new overhead mechanical equipment used for unloading the barges, the busy tea-loading rail and road dock and the impressive 'hall' for blending and packing tea. The official opening of the factory in July 1921 coincided with an improvement in the market for tea, and by the end of 1921 tea sales equalled pre-war peaks helped no doubt by the acquisition of Horniman's. In the late 1920s the Greenford factory handled over 446 tons of tea per week, distributing their packaged blends to over 200,000 outlets throughout the country by road and rail.

The main factory buildings were single story and known affectionately as 'saw-tooth' after the zigzag shape of their roof which allowed light to enter the production areas. Full electricity was laid on for evening and night shifts. The areas not used for buildings was landscaped and trees and roses were in abundance. A staff canteen was provided as were medical and other facilities. Railway tracks criss-crossed the property and Lyons had their own railway shunting engines to move rolling stock from factory loading bays to the Great Western track which ran alongside the property. Overhead gantries complemented the railway system.

Very rapidly the liquid and ground coffee lines were expanded as were the confectionery and grocery lines (tomato sauce, salad cream, jellies, custard powder and mixes). When the property became available on the north side of the Grand Union Canal in 1926 this too was purchased for future expansion. It remained unused for many years and at one time during the Second World War it was used to rear battery chickens, a method of breeding now considered deplorable. In 1954 the most northern part of this new property acquisition was used to build a new ice-cream factory which became known as Bridge Park. This became one of Lyons' largest ice-cream factories and was continuously expanded and updated to meet new ice-cream lines. In 1967/8 a new tea warehouse and distribution centre was built on the remaining parcel of land which was sandwiched between the north side of the canal and the southern boundary of the Bridge Park factory. Both the new tea warehouse and Bridge Park factory had their own entrances onto Oldfield Lane North; the former being known as Auriol Drive. Although the Bridge Park factory and tea warehouse properties abutted, their was no official access from one to the other except by Oldfield Lane North.

The Greenford tea factory too was continually modified especially after the Second World War when tea-bags and instant coffee began to grow in popularity. Many grocery lines were phased out during the war but new ones were introduced most notably Ready Brek. This was an instant cereal product that had been developed almost by accident during the war years and became very popular with the young when it was introduced in the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s packet tea became less popular and Greenford increasingly produced more tea-bags. By now the Tea Division had become a wholly owned subsidiary and were making 'nice' profits. With increasing numbers of clerical and administration staff, largely brought about by de-centralisation, it became necessary to build a new administration block which opened in 1971.

By 1995 the tea business was sold to a management team backed by venture capitalists and much of the Greenford site was vacated under the terms of the purchase. The Bridge Park ice-cream business was sold in 1992. In 1997 Allied Domecq plc (the parent company of J. Lyons & Co Ltd) entered into an agreement with Salmon Harvester Properties Ltd for the phased disposal of the Greenford estate. This started in 1998 and by 2002 was all but completed.

© Peter Bird 2002


The artist has included a GWR train speeding past and showing the branch line into the factory. At the bottom of the card is written:'Lyons' Factory At Greenford Middlesex where perfect food products are made by happy workpeople in healthy rural surroundings'. On the back of the card is the following message in blue which has been printed to look like handwriting to fool one that someone has written it: Greenford, Middlesex I have just been over Lyons' factories. They are wonderful! Best wishes.These cards were probably given away to visitors of which there were a great many in the early days.