This chapter examines the retailing revolution and advent of the mass market in Victorian England, situating the food caterers in the City of London within these broad historical changes. Little is known about the mass food caterers because the company records have been virtually destroyed. Lyons’ archivist wrote a popular company history, but the firm’s records thereafter joined the bonfire of catering archives. Study of the food caterer’s milieu is possible, however, through disparate sources: recently digitised newspapers; bound volumes of the Coffee Public-House News, Temperance Caterer and Refreshment News; numerous newspaper interviews with Pearce; and his testimony before a royal commission.
Key to the book is defining what characterised the mass caterer. Four traits were vital: numbers of multiple branches; volume of daily meal sales; class of the clientele; and whether the company served hot meals (which entailed several courses), not just light refreshment. Only John Pearce achieved the stature as the pioneering mass caterer.
My thesis is that John Pearce created an amalgam, a dynamic business culture which appreciated experience as much as education, but which still remained receptive to new ideas with a penchant for experimentation. What emerges is the portrait of a significant figure in London and a leader of the “the temperance catering movement,” who had “done more than can be readily recognised to render London a sober city.” The quintessential penny capitalist, a progenitor of the mass food market and an innovative, imaginative businessman, Pearce grasped how working- and middle-class catering was evolving from the late Victorian era well into the 1920s.