Department Index

Hermes Hill. Photo 1951

Weaving new chair backs.

......Plant .Department........

Plant Department

The Plant Department was one of the earliest divisions which the company formed and predates the Cadby Hall food factories. It was formed in about 1888 to service the then main activity of the company, that of an exhibition caterer. This activity continued in parallel with food production and the Plant Department also became the repository for supplies to equip teashops and restaurants as they opened, or closed, as well as providing the equipment for the outdoor catering events (tents, chairs, tables, linen, cutlery, china, pot plants, flags etc.).

Originally occupying space in the Olympia building, and then Cadby Hall itself in 1894, by the 1950s it was spread over four depots, Hermes Hill, Pentonville (the main depot), Kings Cross, Clerkenwell and a small depot in Cadby Hall. The Cadby Hall store was a repository for containers for cooking and carrying. There were soup jars, earthenware dishes and tart tins, so that they were on hand to meet rush orders from the factories. Clerkenwell was used mainly for furniture and furnishings. It was an old building with a Victorian gaslight at the entrance and with a distinct Dickensian atmosphere. Hermes Hill was the main depot for china and earthenware. There were between three and four thousand articles of plant at Hermes Hill, all coded for easy reference. The store also held heavier articles such as potato mashing machines, scales, cork-drawing machines, copper pans and metal trolleys. At the other end of the size scale were egg-timers, tea-strainers, ashtrays, thermometers and milk measures. There were mops, brush heads, clocks all hanging from hooks like gigantic clusters of coconuts. Tucked away in one corner of this 'Aladdin's Cave' was the front of the original window from the company's first teashop in Piccadilly. Nobody knows what happened to this.

The Plant Department were responsible for equipping new teashops and restaurants and in the case of teashops it was all standard equipment and it depended on the teashop size how much equipment was needed. Orders were place for the appropriate amount of cutlery, china, glass, mops, pails, brushes, chairs, tables, everything that was moveable from a tin opener to a trolley. Even items such as staff notices and price tickets were provided by the Plant Department. Equipment was kept on hand to provide existing establishments (Corner Houses, canteens, teashops) with replacement or extra plant. To do this effectively there had to be the closest co-operation between the buyers attached to the various departments and Plant Department staff. Thousands of cups and saucers, for example, were ordered each week for the immediate delivery to catering outlets and to maintain stock levels.

The Lyons Annual Sports Day was one of the highlights of the year and many thousand pieces of china and glass, cutlery, trays, and papier mâché cups, plus hundreds of chairs and feet of tabling had to be assembled at Sudbury by the Plant Department staff during the week prior to Sports Day. It would then all have to be returned. Items broken would be noted and replacements or repairs made. For a one day event, with several thousand attendees, it was a colossal undertaking.

The Plant Department at Hermes Hill was also used as a lost property depot for items left in the company's teashops and restaurants. Every week more that 350 items were left in teashops alone and over a year this amounted to 18,000 items. Peak periods for lost property were Christmas and Spring. Christmas because of the shoppers who had much on their minds. It was said that during Spring young men and women had other things on their minds and mentally were 'miles away'. Pouring into the lost property offices each week were hats, gloves, umbrellas, walking sticks, compacts, ear-rings, pipes, spectacles, overcoats, mackintoshes, handbags, books, cameras, cigarette cases, rings, season tickets, money orders, tobacco pouches, false teeth!, and purses with money ranging from a few pence to many pounds. At the top of the curious list is the lady who left one shoe and running a close second was the customers who left a canary in a cage. Another lady customer left her child's pushchair.

The job of this lost property department, if items were not claimed, was to try and trace the owners. On one occasion the handbag which had been left contained a photograph with a car in the background. The police were able to trace the car by its registration number and the bag was reunited with the customer a few days latter. In other cases bill or tradesmen bills made the task much easier. However, much was not traced and in one case this was in connection with two bricks of 'cattle lick' were left and never claimed. Can you imagine some of the fast food restaurants in high streets today offering this sort of service.


© Peter Bird 2005