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Lyons ice cream van.

​Lyons ice cream van

Amy Gee

I spent a week rummaging through boxes of material from the Lyon’s collection at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Result: Now ice-cream is all I can think about…

The purpose of the Development Team at LMA is to pull new audiences into the archive by drawing attention to parts of the collections which relate to current trends, annual events and the national curriculum. During National Science Week, in March 2013, I was tasked with finding ‘the science’ within our collections, with the aim of using some of our documents to form the basis for new workshops, films and conferences that would appeal to a new audience - perhaps those that are interested in the development of science, scientists themselves, or teachers looking to take science out of the classroom.

A key area of development for the team is working with schools and colleges to provide interesting and relevant workshops to children which support their classroom learning. In 2013 we are offering new science focussed sessions, Towers and Bridges, Sweet London and Document Doctors, all of which have supporting resources taken from within the archive collections. My particular favourite (and the cause of my current fixation on ice cream) is Sweet London. The focus is to highlight science within the everyday, getting children to look for it within their homes and routines. By using the Lyons Maid Company archive at LMA, Sweet London is a workshop that helps us to pull both cultural history and scientific advancements together to create an exciting lesson focussed on the development of refrigeration, and how this led to the mass manufacturing of ice cream, ice lollies and choc ices.

The children are introduced to documents, photographs, publicity and recipes from the papers within the Lyons Maid Company collection as well as notes and information from the company’s science laboratories and test centres. Using these documents, they are encouraged to investigate the properties of sugar and ice cream, looking for the scientific processes taking place in the making of food, and drawing attention to the practical use of science in the context of an ice cream factory. Diagrams of machinery are shown, as well as the notes of the scientists examining the properties of ice cream and its ingredients. The documents and photographs are especially good at demonstrating a correlation between the advances in technology and the availability of frozen foods to a wider range of people across the country. Photographs of ice cream vendors are displayed, from early images of men with wooden carts to the much later, easily recognisable, branded vans of the Lyons Industry.

The workshop culminates in an ‘experiment’ in which the children are able to make their own ice cream using a bag of ice, and some milk and flavouring. (You put a sealed bag of flavoured milk inside another bag of ice and shake) So, not only is the workshop great fun for the staff and children alike, it is also a really exciting way to use the archival material and bring it to life. The children leave with a better understanding of the processes taking place inside the bag of ice and milk, whilst gaining knowledge of the way that our understanding of science has changed and developed over time, and the ways in which we have been able to put this learning to good use.

We also demonstrated this ice cream making technique during an evening launch of our Frozen London exhibition earlier this year which illustrated the history of the frost fairs on the river Thames. There have been murmurings amongst the LMA staff for some time now, asking for a workshop for ‘the grown ups’, and so we used the appropriately titled exhibition as an excuse to make as much ice-cream as we could eat collectively in an evening!

Amy spent a year in the Development team at LMA 2012-13 under the Opening Up Archives programme. This is a collaborative project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Archives and several archive services from across England, including LMA, and is aimed at diversifying the archives profession by providing an entry into the sector for those who have not followed a traditional qualification route.

Further information

You can discover more about the diverse array of archives held at LMA on our collections pages.

02 July 2013
Last Modified:
27 September 2019