Lyons Tea Shop Lithographs: Bringing Colour to Post-War Britain


Lyon’s Cafe in Reading, Berkshire, 1945

Most families seem to share an affection for Lyons Tea Shops and mine is no exception. My parents honeymooned in London in 1964 and supplemented their meagre hotel continental breakfast by going to a Lyons Tea Shop as they knew they could get a good English breakfast there! There are many more such reminiscences sitting alongside the art works at Mottisfont’s new exhibition ‘Lyons Tea Shop Lithographs’.

Mottisfont has been steadily putting on an impressive programme of exhibitions since it opened its gallery, occupying the top floor rooms of the house, in 2011. There are usually four exhibitions a year, ranging from contemporary art and craft to children’s book illustration. An archive of past exhibitions is here.

The lithographs on display in this exhibition were commissioned by Jack Beddington from leading post-war artists of the time, many of whom studied at the Royal College of Art. Several of the artists had also been war artists and many more were to go on to be involved in the Festival of Britain in 1951. The technical side of the project was followed through by Barnett Freedman, who also put in a piece ‘People’, and the printing was expertly done by Chromoworks Ltd. The print run was 1,500 and 1,000 of these were made available for sale to the public.

Barnett-Freedman-People-1947-300x224[1]The artists were asked to provide ‘colourful British scenes’ to liven up a weary post-war population. They were given free-reign to interpret this how they wanted and the scenes depicted range from piers and seaside scenes to parks and cricket matches via more industrial subjects such as railway stations and some superb still-lifes. Stand-out images for me were Anthony Gross’ ‘Herne Bay Pier’ which displayed a fantastic amount of detail whilst also capturing the feeling of movement on a windy day at the British coast. In contrast is Edwin la Dell’s ‘Les Lacques Bay’ which brings the warmth of the South of France to a British audience. It was also great to come across a Lowry, ‘Industrial Scene’.

There are books in the Library on the vast majority of these artists at 709.2. In addition there is material on lithography at 763. Features on the initiative appeared in the Studio Magazine in 1948. This was an illustrated magazine for the fine and decorative arts that was published in London from 1893-1964. We have a full run of this magazine in our historic journals collection. Please ask in the Library if you would like to look at it.  G. S. Whittet captures the mood in the Studio Magazine article when he concludes

In a phrase, these Lyons lithographs are those sixteen artists’ cup of tea

The exhibition is on until 5 July 2015 and in the spirit of the subject you can get a great cup of tea in the tearooms after! Catherine Polley May 2015