Anecdote Index




(10) by Tom Martin

J. Lyons & Co Ltd - Overseas Activities

My name is Alfred Thomas Martin better known within Lyons as Tom Martin. I joined Lyons in 1947 as Assistant Export Manager, under Wally Cooper, and later became Manager. These notes are not intended to be a detailed history of the Lyons' overseas activities, but rather an anecdotal account of some of the operations with which I was associated and the people I met in the course of my travels and duties.

The Export Department

The Export Department was formed in 1922 to service the company's overseas operations during its rapid business expansion following the First World War. When I joined in 1947 this department had two distinct functions: The servicing of overseas subsidiary companies; and the sale and management of export goods from UK factories. At this time the export personnel included Bill Stumbke, Head Clerk, (assisted for a time by Ron Russell) who was responsible for export sales, via agents. Syd Cates, who worked in the same department, was responsible for transportation and shipping of factory goods to foreign countries, and for the ordering, collating and shipping the needs of Lujeri tea estates and the Cocoa Buying Office in the Gold Coast (supplying anything required for business or personal use that was not available locally). John Harvey assisted in this operation, helped later by Jim Rothery, who eventually managed the shipping section until 1964, when he transferred to Greenford. Geoffrey Jacobs joined the department and was responsible for the sale of pure coffee to the American serviceman's PX operation in Germany. He was also responsible for other export markets and he too stayed on until 1964. Henri Levi was also on the sales team for a time.

In 1960 the department was reorganised. The overseas subsidiaries came under the control of John Simmons' Comptrollers Department at Cadby Hall - he had led the team that designed and built the LEO computer - and exports were absorbed into the Tea Division under Christopher Salmon. I remained as Export Marketing Manager. The export function was expanded to handle more products to more overseas markets. Under Gilbert Boreham, who had overall responsibility for overseas product development, Geoffrey Jacobs, Dick Carden, Eric Watson, Steve Bingham and others were allocated areas to develop. Consequently they spent a great deal of their time travelling. These activities included, among others, the sale of tea and coffee to Germany via a business venture with Herman J. Schmidt, Hamburg. The Schmitt company eventually became a Lyons subsidiary.

The sale of Lyons tea in Kenya was conducted through Stansand (Tea Brokers), a jointly owned company of Lyons, and a local company in Kenya, Manji (Packers and Distributors), serviced the retail markets there. When the operation started, Geoffrey Jacobs and I visited Nairobi to present the first packets of tea, which had been packed locally, to the then acting Prime Minister, Joseph Murumbi. The combined operation with Manji was later enhanced to produce a range of Lyons bakery merchandise.

Lyons French Coffee was the leading brand in the Gulf States. It consisted of a mixture of real coffee and chicory which gave the drink a bitter taste. On the other hand, the Chico Brand (an instant coffee with blended chicory) became more popular in West Africa. The Government of Ghana entered into a joint venture with Lyons whereby locally grown coffee would be processed at Greenford and sold in Ghana as instant coffee under the brand name of One Time - One Time was an expression used in Ghana meaning 'instantly'. The local marketing was undertaken by agents Alan & Elliot.

A regular shipment of custard powder was made to Punta Arenas, South America, and I often wondered what they did with it!

Lyons Pure Coffee was sold in the Mediterranean markets with Malta, Egypt and the Lebanon being the most profitable countries. Coffee was also sold in Sweden and Norway.

The export department was also appointed to market Sutherland Pastes overseas until they were taken over by Quaker Oats.

J. Lyons & Co (Ireland) Ltd

The Irish drink more tea, per capita, than any other country in the World, including China. It is not surprising therefore that Lyons should become involved. Their company was originally based in Marlborough Street, Dublin, blending and packing Lyons Tea. Their Green Label tea was the preferred blend, as it had been in the UK, and it soon dominated the market. Patrick Mulligan and Gerry Cadden were involved in the early development of the business. Later, under the directorship of George Patterson, Jimmy O'Meara was responsible for sales. The business flourished until the factory in Marlborough Street was in danger of collapsing. A purpose built factory was commissioned at Goldenbridge, Inchicore, and the company moved out of Dublin City to the outer precincts. Tex Cooper was the Tea Blender having moved, like George Patterson, from Lyons' subsidiary in Canada.

J. Lyons & Co (Canada) Ltd

The company was based at Cadby Hall, Toronto. In the early days Syd Sampson left for Canada to set the operation up and remained there for many years as Managing Director. He was followed by other Managing Directors which included: Harold Brinjes, Jim Blakey, George Patterson and Peter Hill who was later appointed Managing Director of J. Lyons & Co Inc. Jack Gledhill was the Managing Director of the Canadian company when I last visited in 1964. Tex Cooper was Tea Blender until he moved to Dublin. Of the local staff I recall Al Martin, he served for many years, and Hamish Watters who joined as a Blender after Tex Cooper left.

The company blended and packed tea for sale throughout Canada. I always seemed to visit Canada in winter, which meant wearing galoshes in the snow. My footwear was always left in the company's cloakroom and over a five year period, when visiting the company, I could always depend on them being there when I wanted them.

J. Lyons & Co (Pty) Ltd

The South African company developed when John Long was despatched to Cape Town complete with a loaded Lyons tea van to start an export business. As the business grew a company was formed and a factory was built to blend, pack and distribute tea throughout South Africa. The factory was built at Pinetown, Natal, and a sales office was also opened in Johannesburg. Later the factory was moved to Saxonwold, Transvaal. The Managing Director was Louis Tamine who extended the business into Rhodesia where, in time, a company was established and a local factory built to satisfy this market.

J. Lyons (Rhodesia) Ltd

This company, formed in about 1949/50, blended and packed tea for sale in North and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It was based in Beatrice Road, Salisbury (now Harare), and Gordon Garden was the first Manager who worked under the direction of Louis Tamine. Among the Managing Directors which followed were: Woodhouse, who came from Horniman's, and Richard Charles. The company also had a sales office in Bulawayo. Some tea was shipped direct from the company's Lujeri Estate in Nyasaland (now Malawi). In addition to tea, an ice-cream unit was opened and this was sold throughout the country mainly by tricycle sales. Diversification into other grocery lines followed. Later an association was formed with Brooke Bond and the company name was changed to reflect this.

J. Lyons & Co Inc.

The products from the company's UK factories were sold into the USA via an import agent until the first American company was established in 1950. Based in New York, the company was registered as J. Lyons & Co. Inc. and it came under the control of Kenneth Gluckstein. Nigel Corke and I were despatched to set up the first office and Nigel remained as Office Manager. Located on the same floor as the agent, Mr Adelman, we first had to obtain furniture, equipment, stationery, set up banking and legal facilities and install telephones.

Our main business was associated with the sale of imported Lyons products. With rationing in the UK, a gift parcel scheme was introduced into leading US department stores. These orders were sent to London where the Export Department arranged the necessary packing and despatch of the parcels to UK addresses.

In February 1952 Lyons bought the American companies of E. C. Rich Inc. and US Spices Inc. The firm of E. C. Rich had, for 80 years, been the leading name in crystallised fruit, ginger and wine jellies in the United States. E. C. Rich was a New York based company and US Spices later moved to Lebanon, New Jersey. Peter Hill OBE moved down from Canada and took control.

The company outgrew its New York premises and moved to 812 Jersey Avenue, Jersey City, New York. A production line was installed here to manufacture Lyons Mint Chocs and a base established for the sale of imported products from Lyons.

A few comments about the people involved. Of the E. C. Rich staff, Johnny was a genius sugar boiler, Pauline Tipley was Peter Hills secretary, Kay Moorfoot ran the office. Mr Money from Lyons' Laboratories spent much time recording the recipes. Gerry Cadden helped on sales for a time. George Cooper was Production Manager at the Jersey City plant and Jack Gledhill helped with marketing problems from time to time.

An operation was started to earn dollars for J. Lyons & Co Inc. with Joe Wertheim, of O. H. Clapp & Co, responsible for the sale of bulk, unblended, teas in the US. These teas were shipped through a complicated arrangement via Rotterdam and involved Tea Buying (Greenford), myself in Export Department and Joe Wertheim in the US. Profits from this operation were shared between Messrs Clapp and Lyons Inc.

While in America I would like to say that I accompanied many of the Lyons Directors on numerous visits throughout the country studying various projects that Lyons had shown an interest in. One interesting project was the investigation of the Hamburger market and in December 1955 I spent three weeks researching fresh and frozen hamburgers. This involved visiting manufacturers, sales outlets and eating hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Needless to say I cannot stand the sight of them, even after all those years. I was privileged to join Julian and Brian Salmon, together with Denis Byron, when Lyons negotiated the purchase of the Wimpy Hamburger business from Eddie Gold in Chicago. Later I was involved in the establishment of Wimpy International Inc.

My involvement in the development of the American businesses ceased after 1960. However, I remained active in export sales to the US and particularly in co-operation with Calvert Vavasseur & Company in New York and Reece Finer Foods of Los Angeles, visiting them often.

Cocoa Buying. Accra, Gold Coast (Ghana)

This operation was administered by the Export Department and was managed in Accra by Mr Higginson who spent many years there until his retirement. When he retired the function was taken over by Richard Charles. Richard managed the business until the Ghana Government nationalised cocoa buying. The business in the Gold Coast was conducted in an uncomplicated way. Buyers would set off into the bush with their car boots loaded with cash. They would meet local farmers, pay for their crop - which had been previously pledged and delivered to Accra where it was bagged and held in large warehouses ready for shipment. There was no record of anyone ever have been robbed. An office in Tackoradi was managed by a senior cocoa buyer.

Lujeri Tea Estate, Nyasaland (Malawi)

The tea growing estate was administered by the Export Department subsidiary companies division. The manager of the estate was John Ramsden.

Overseas Trading Corporation (1939) Ltd

In 1826 John Horniman had founded a tea-packing business in the Isle of Wight primarily for home sales. John Horniman's sons moved the business to Wormwood Street (and Shepherdess Walk), London, at the end of the nineteenth century and in 1917 Lyons took a controlling interest in W. H. and F. J. Horniman & Co. Ltd. The first export tea-packing trade in Jersey had been established in April 1876 by Thomas Cook, an export merchant in Reading, with flourishing markets in South America and the Far East. He had arrived in Jersey with William Brett to set up a business packing and exporting tea, presumably to escape the extortionate excise duties at home. Cook rented premises in Commercial Buildings, Old Harbour, St Helier, from where his tea-packing business was launched, with William Brett in charge of the day-to-day management until November 1884, when he was succeeded by Joseph Walker, Cook's brother-in-law. After Thomas Cook was killed in a hunting accident in 1890, the business passed to Joseph Walker, who, with his five sons, continued to enlarge the business.

While Thomas Walker (one of Joseph Walker's sons) and William Bruce Douglas, a director of W. H. & F. J. Horniman & Co. Ltd (now in the hands of Lyons), were homeward bound on the same ship from South America, they discussed the possibility of a merger between the two firms. This culminated in the formation of the Overseas Trading Corporation Ltd, registered in Jersey on 31 January 1920, to acquire the tea export businesses of Horniman's, J. Lyons & Co. Ltd (subject to reservation in some of the English-speaking countries), Walkers Ltd and its Argentine subsidiary, Walker Hermanos Limitada.

In 1940 the German Army occupied Jersey and confiscated the tea stocks. Those staff, who had not escaped to the UK, stayed on in a gallant effort to continue to serve the island.

Unblended teas, shipped from Greenford, were packed in teabags, tins and elaborate packets with labels in many languages for export to over 100 countries. In 1964 I was transferred to Jersey and was appointed a director. My responsibilities varied over the years from marketing, buying, factory management & reorganisation, computerisation and directorships of subsidiary companies. When Tetley Tea was bought I was appointed director of the Tetley overseas companies. With Paul Newton, of the Secretary's Office, we spent much time negotiating with the subsidiary companies in Sweden, Jamaica and Portugal to change the shareholding structure enabling Lyons to have overall control.

I would like to mention a few names of people I worked with in Jersey. They were Ron Hart, Peter Minchiner, Gerald Harrison, Christopher Sheehan, Brian Davies and in particular my most efficient secretary, Pat Bosio.

Lyons also had Italian connections and I was involved in setting up, in 1972, an agreement between Buitoni Perugina, Peruga, Italy, and the Jersey Trading Corporation of Luciaana owned by Franco Camici, to distribute Lyons tea through the Buitoni sales network. The Jersey Trading Corporation had hitherto packed and sold Lyons tea in Italy.

In Paris, France, the Overseas Trading Corporation had a subsidiary under the title, Thé Lyons (Société Anonyme Francaise Pour Marque Thé Lyons). I was a director of that company for many years assisted in its development and particularly the enlargement of tea and infusions in France. The products were packed in Jersey and shipped to the warehouse in Avenue Parmentier, Paris. The French operation had a network of salesmen throughout  France. Monsieur Flon and Maurice Brechard were fellow directors.

Following negotiations in 1967-9, the Japanese Meiji Seika food and confectionery company came to an agreement with the Overseas Trading Corporation to sell Lyons tea through their network. The tea was supplied by Lyons' subsidiary company in Colombo, Heath & Company. It was blended and shipped direct to Tokyo, from Ceylon, and then packed for sale by Meiji Seika. Following this study I undertook, on behalf of Lyons, preliminary studies of a number of tea, coffee and infusion companies in France, Germany and the Low Countries, with a view to possible acquisition.

I retired in April 1976 which ended a career of 29 happy years with the company. Looking back on my travelling career I never want to see another airport lounge or have any desire to fly again. What I do cherish, however, are a number of 'crossing the line' certificates I was presented with by so many airlines. Although I might give the impression of being thoroughly fed up I did enjoy the job immensely.


A. T. Martin (Tom)


The President of Meiji Seika (a Japanese food and confectionery company) and his wife photographed outside Cadby Hall WX block. L-R Two Meiji Seika men, the President's wife, Julian Salmon, The President, Tom Martin.


At a ceremony at the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, the Acting Prime Minister, Mr Joseph Murumbi has one of the first Packets of locally made Lyons tea from the House of Manji (Agencies) Ltd., (left) A.J Lakhani of the House of Manji. (centre) Mr A.T. Martin of Lyons.

Signing of a trading agreement bringing Lyons Tea to shops in Italy. Mr. A.T. Martin (left) Operations Director of Overseas Trading Corporation (1939) Ltd., Jersey. (centre) Mr. Robert T.M. Radford, MD of Buitoni Foods. (right) Dr. A.F. Camici, President of Jersey Trading Corporation, of Luciana

In New York to open the office of J.Lyons & Co. Inc. Tom Martin (left) and Nigel Corke, office manager,

Photos courtesy of Tom Martin