The Staffordshire University Computing Futures Museum LEO Page

Back to the Computing Futures Museum Collections Page

The history of Lyons and Cadby Hall can be traced to 1873 when the piano manufacturer Charles Cadby bought 8.5 acres of the land along High Road (later Hammersmith Road) in London. Charles Cadby was apprenticed to a cabinet maker at the age of 14 and probably learned his skills in working at first for a piano maker. He started his own business in about 1839 which was first listed as The Charles Cadby Patent Pianoforte Manufactory from an address at 21 Alfred Street, Bedford Square, London. In 1848 he moved to larger premises in Liquorpond Street, but by 1873 had to vacate his factory and warehouse for street improvements in Clerkenwell Road. So in 1874 Charles Cadby set about building another piano manufacturing business in Hammersmith. With a frontage of over 100 feet towards the Hammersmith Road, he allocated 1.5 acres for his new piano factory and showrooms, the remainder being set aside for smaller building plots. Four distinct blocks were built along with showrooms, which were approached by a carriage drive to the entrance porch. Built to the design of Lewis Henry Isaacs, Cadby Hall was faced in red Fareham bricks and Portland stone with terracotta panels over the first floor windows, the keystones of which contained nine carved portraits of celebrated composers. The royal arms decorated the tympanum of the porch with bas-reliefs on the sides of the entrance doorway depicting music and poetry. Above the three floors of showrooms were rooms occupied by the housekeeper. Administration and private offices for use by members of the firm were situated at the rear of the building. He called this Cadby & Company Pianoforte Manufactory. Set back forty feet from the rear of Cadby Hall itself was a five-level factory in which the finer portions of the pianos were crafted and assembled. Behind the factory block was a five-level mill where most of the sawing, planing and heavier tasks associated with piano making were carried out. Towards the rear of the property were additional timber stores, a packing-case shop, stables and a coach-house. The arrangement of buildings had been designed principally with the object of preventing the spread of fire by confining it to one building should such an accident occur.

Charles Cadby died on 22 October 1884, and the factory and its stock including 170 pianofortes were sold on his instructions. Between 1886 and 1890 the Cadby Hall estate was occupied by a variety of businesses, including the Kensington Co-operative Stores, who carried out further reconstruction and revived the name of Cadby Hall (which had been dropped during the intervening period). J. Lyons & Company had been founded in 1887 as a business enterprise to provide catering for exhibitions. First established in the last quarter of the nineteenth century by four entrepreneurs (Isidore and Montague Gluckstein, Barnett Salmon and Joseph Lyons), J. Lyons & Co. became one of the largest catering and food manufacturing companies in the world. From modest beginnings as supplier of catering to the Newcastle Exhibition in 1887, the new firm rapidly expanded into running restaurants and teashops, food manufacturing, and establishing a number of well-known food brands including Lyons Tea, Lyons Bread and Cakes. By the beginning of the Second World War they were a highly regarded and successful business, and Lyons' Corner Houses and Tea Shops became a household name (even a legend), with their 'Nippy' waitresses. This was the largest food empire in Europe at the time.


Cadby Hall as used by Lyons, and the Hammersmith Road frontage in 1983

Kensington Co-operative Stores subdivided the Cadby Hall property before subletting parts of it to the Schweppes Mineral Water Works until the end of 1893. In July 1894 Lyons bought the former piano showroom with its manufacturing buildings, and both the original showroom and former manufacturing buildings remained in use, greatly altered, until the 1980s when the whole site was demolished and redeveloped. During this period tens of thousands of people had worked there in the manufacture of all manner of foodstuffs and in the operations which supported the production. Because Schweppes controlled the frontage to Hammersmith Road, access to the old Cadby property was via a narrow roadway at the rear leading into Blythe Road. By 1899, however, Lyons were occupying No. 62 Hammersmith Road and, in agreement with the Kensington Co-operative Stores, built a new entrance onto Hammersmith Road which provided easier access to and from the factories behind. On taking over the premises, the Directors decided to retain the original name of Cadby Hall, pretentious though this may have sounded for a factory complex. Nevertheless the name became widely known, especially by people in west London. In time it became one of the largest food factories in the country, eventually covering more than 13 acres. The firm's head office address was officially 66 Hammersmith Road.


A typical Lyons Corner House Tea Shop, and the uniform of the famous "Nippy"

The first Lyons teashop opened in 1894 at 213 Piccadilly. It was the forerunner of some 250 white and gold fronted teashops which occupied prominent positions in many of London's high streets and suburban towns and cities; corner sites with two entrances were preferred. At one time seven teashops operated in London's Oxford Street alone. Food and beverage charges were identical in each teashop, irrespective of locality, and the highest standards of hygiene were demanded by management. A customer's complaint was a serious matter investigated at the highest level. Such attention to detail was one of the secrets of their success, for the name of Lyons had come to convey to the public a standard of good quality at a reasonable price. Their tea too was said to be the best available and the blend used was never sold or made available to the public.

Outside of catering other activities developed. Lyons undertook the Buckingham Palace Garden Parties, the catering events at Windsor Castle, London's Guildhall where the Lord Mayor's banquets were held, the Chelsea Flower Shows, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships and many more. Lyons built the famous Trocadero Restaurant near Piccadilly Circus and then built the Corner Houses, with huge restaurants on four or five floors where orchestras played continuously. At one time in the 1930s Lyons were engaging so many musicians that an Orchestral Department had to be formed to manage them.


An early Lyons van

Soon the company was operating hotels (which they built themselves), laundries, tea estates in Nyasaland (now Malawi), meat pie companies, ice-cream companies, tea and coffee companies, engineering works, jam and soft drink factories, confectionery manufacturing, and they were the first to introduce frozen food to the British public. During WW2 they even managed one of the largest bomb-making facilities in the UK, and their engineering works made a range of war material. They packed millions of rations for troops fighting in Asia and other parts of the world and made available one of their teashops to the American personnel stationed at Grosvenor Square. Another formed part of the famous Rainbow Corner in Shaftsbury Avenue, near Piccadilly Circus.

After the war the company embarked on a rebuilding programme, expanding their operations into Europe and America as well as undertaking large projects at home. They acquired the Baskin-Robbins Ice-Cream company and the Dunkin Donuts organisation. They developed the Wimpy hamburger chain which essentially was an American idea. Large new bakeries and meat pie factories were built with the aid of regional grants. Several smaller ice-cream companies were acquired to increase market share against the fierce competition from Walls. After the war many city centres were redeveloped and Lyons took advantage of building new hotels culminating in the magnificent Tower Hotel at London's St Katherine's Dock alongside the Tower of London.


Tea-shop and bakery vans at Cadby Hall

Lyons were known for their advanced ideas on management. This was exemplified by their search for high quality personnel to help run the business. In the early 1920s they had recruited a number of University graduates including a Cambridge mathematician, J.R Simmons, a senior wrangler, who rose to become the Senior Executive in charge of all offices and a main Board Director. By recruiting people with top academic qualifications and permitting them to take leadership roles, the Lyons management ensured that it was never short of ideas on how to improve. In 1932 Simmons created an office called the Systems Research Office with the brief to review and where possible improve and modernize business processes. The work of the systems research office led to continuous improvements in the functioning of the company’s office infrastructure. Their success in running a very varied business led them to take on a wide range of subsidiary activities. They designed and built their own bakery and kitchen facilities, operated their own laundries and even built the bodies of their large fleet of company vehicles. The attitude in Lyons was that there was little that they could not do themselves better than the competition.

Always innovative and with an acute awareness of popular taste, Lyons brought a unique blend of showmanship, style and spectacle to its aim of combining high quality with value for money. This was achieved by maintaining control of all its manufacturing and servicing departments. Its food laboratory was world-leading, attracting many graduates from Oxford and Cambridge. Margaret Thatcher (née Roberts) worked as a scientist in the laboratory before she became a member of the British Parliament and eventually Britain's first woman Prime Minister.

Soon after the end of WW2, in 1947, Simmons had sent two of his senior executives to the United States to evaluate new methods which might improve business processes; the two executives, T.R. Thompson, another senior wrangler from Cambridge, and Oliver Standingford, found few developments in conventional business processes to interest them. But they did come across early computers and visited ENIAC at Harvard University. They were immediately struck by the possibilities computers might open up as machines for business data processing. Having learned something about the way computers operated, they even sketched out how such a machine might be used for producing a payroll. On a visit to Princeton University on 12.05.47, they learned that Cambridge University was then working on the design of a computer based on the ideas formulated and published in the Von Neumann Report. On their return to Britain, Thompson and Standingford visited Cambridge on 24.05.47 and met Maurice Wilkes. They then prepared an internal report suggesting that computers specially designed for data processing were the next step to improving business processes for J. Lyons. The report was submitted on 20.10.47, and accepted by Simmons, and after some debate on the best way to proceed the Board agreed on a collaborative venture with Cambridge University, whereby in exchange for some financial help from J. Lyons for the completion of the EDSAC computer, Wilkes and his team at Cambridge would help J. Lyons with the design of their own Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) computer, based on the EDSAC, but incorporating the facilities which Thompson and Standingford had specified as necessary to turn a machine designed for technical calculations into one suitable for business data processing.

Despite the fact that EDSAC was not yet working, Lyons decided on 28.09.48 to engage an electronics engineer as designer of the LEO machines, and on 17.01.49 the young engineer John Pinkerton joined the company. He first of all studied clerical procedures, and then spent several weeks at Cambridge studying EDSAC; he later became a Director of LEO Computers Limited, and Chief Engineer. A small workshop was set up in Cadby Hall to prepare experimental circuits.

By the autumn of 1951 the LEO I computer was operational and ran the world's first regular routine office computer job, a time-critical business application, the evaluation of bakery production. At that time the single LEO machine was also being used as a service machine for a number of technical applications from outside the Lyons organization, by a variety of companies including the aerospace industry. As more Lyons’ applications came on stream Simmons realised that a second machine was necessary to provide backup, and to increase capacity for more applications. At the same time it was realised that technical improvements increasing the capacity and speed of the computer and allowing for faster input and output devices were highly desirable. More capacity was also needed as other companies, noting the success of LEO I, began to want to experiment with computers by running service applications on the LEO at Cadby Hall. Lyons foresaw that the demand for computing power would lead more and more companies wishing to install their own computers. At that time a number of companies were beginning to design computers for a growing market, including Ferranti, Elliott Automation, and English Electric. Their computers were primarily designed for a technical market. But Simmons believed there was a bigger market for machines to serve the commercial market. He persuaded the Lyons Board to set up LEO Computers Limited as a subsidiary company, and it was incorporated in November 1954. Simmons regarded the widely recognized competence Lyons had built up in "systems analysis" (business process re-engineering) as one of the main reasons for the company to build and market computers.


The Minerva Road factory

A new factory was set up at Minerva Road in London, and an improved computer was designed, LEO II, models of which were installed in many British companies, including the Ford Motor Company, British Oxygen Company and the "clerical factory" of the Ministry of Pensions at Newcastle.

Progressing further, the next computer, LEO III, had models installed at the Customs & Excise, Inland Revenue, The General Post Office, and also abroad in Australia, South Africa and Czechoslovakia.

LEO Computers Ltd merged with the computer interests of English Electric in 1963 to form English Electric-LEO, and later, English Electric Leo Marconi (EELM), and English Electric Computers. Subsequent mergers eventually found LEO incorporated into ICL in 1968, whilst the Bureau operation, based at Hartree House, combined with Barclays Bank to form Baric.

Lyons' decline came as fast as its growth. It had overstretched on its borrowings when the UK was hit by recession and an oil crisis. The high level of borrowing, mainly from American investors, to pay for the aggressive expansion programme severely impacted on the profit and loss account, because of the punitive level of world-wide interest rates which prevailed throughout 1974. In 1978 Allied Breweries Ltd made an offer for the company which was accepted and Lyons lost its independence. It survived for a few years under new management, but eventually its component parts were gradually sold off to pay for acquisitions associated with the drinks trade, notably Hiram Walker of Canada and Pedro Domecq of Spain. The Lyons company had survived for over 100 years. During this whole period it did not feel it wanted to change its name and from 1887 until 1998 it had proudly traded as J. Lyons & Company.

Appendix 1: LEO I


Two different views of the LEO I Control Panel

LEO I was constructed between 1949 and 1950 at Cadby Hall. It was derived from EDSAC. LEO I's clock speed was 500 KHz, with most instructions taking about 1.5 ms to execute.


LEO I schematic and parallel input/output data streams

To be useful for business applications the computer had to be able to handle a number of input and output data streams in parallel, and the machine therefore had multiple input/output buffers (for punched card reader, paper tape reader, card punch and printer; sometimes several of each). In the first instance these were linked to fast paper tape readers and punches, fast punched card readers and punches, and a 100 line a minute tabulator. Later other devices including magnetic tape were added. Its ultrasonic delay line memory was based on columns of mercury holding 2K (2048) 35-bit words (i.e., 8.75 Kbytes), was four times as large as that of EDSAC.

Lyons used LEO I initially for evaluation jobs, but its role was extended to include payroll, inventory and so on. One of its early tasks was the processing of daily orders, which were phoned in every afternoon by the tea shops and used to calculate the overnight production requirements, assembly instructions, delivery schedules, invoices, costings and management reports. This was probably the first instance of an integrated management information system and a computerised call centre. The LEO project was also a pioneer in outsourcing: in 1956 Lyons started doing the payroll calculations for Ford UK and others on the LEO I machine. LEO I was finally switched off in January 1965, at which time it was said to be the oldest operating electronic computer, having given more than 13 years of continuous service.

Appendix 2: LEO II


LEO II

In November 1954 Lyons formed LEO Computers Ltd to build and sell a new computer called LEO II. This had 1024 39-bit words of mercury delay line store, backed up by several magnetic drums and magnetic tapes. LEO II was first delivered in 1957.

Appendix 3: LEO III


Two different views of LEO III


LEO III 40-column card reader and Engineers' Control Panel

The first LEO III was completed in 1961. This was a solid-state machine with a ferrite core memory. It was micro-programmed and was controlled by a multi-tasking operating system. In 1963 the merger with English Electric led to the breaking up of the team that had inspired LEO computers. English Electric continued to build the LEO III, and went on to build the faster LEO 360 and even faster LEO 326 models, which had been designed by the LEO team before the takeover. All LEO IIIs allowed concurrent running of as many as 12 application programs using the Master Program Operating System. Some were still in commercial use with GPO Telephones, forerunner of British Telecom, until 1981, remaining usable through replacement parts cannibalised from redundant LEOs purchased by the GPO.

Users of LEO computers programmed in two coding languages: Intercode, a low-level assembler type language, and Clear Language for Expressing Orders (CLEO), similar to COBOL. Many users fondly remember the LEO III and enthuse about some of its quirkier features, such as having a loudspeaker connected to the central processor which enabled operators to tell if a program was looping by the distinctive sound it made.

Back to Top


Send all comments, updates and queries for The Staffordshire University Computing Futures Museum LEO Page to Dr John Wilcock

Version: 02 23 July 2010 updated by Dr John Wilcock