Those of you with a ‘sweet tooth’ may enjoy this particular London Shoes topic – a topic which is stirring and sometimes a bit lumpy.
This week’s London Shoes publication is about a particular factory that has been churning out its product for over 140 years, and is still very much doing so to this very day – and also has been, and still is, one of the biggest employers in the east London area.
The topic in question is the “Tate & Lyle” Sugar Refinery down by the River Thames in ‘Silvertown’–London E16 – and a fascinating little story it is too.
The story of how this global brand originated, starts way back in 1859 when a “Henry Tate” (b.1819) went into partnership with a sugar refiner who happened to have a refinery factory up in Liverpool.
Around the me time, a ship owner by the name of “Abram Lyle” (b.1820), who was making a living out of transporting raw sugar cane to the UK, bought his own sugar refinery up in Greenock-Scotland.
In 1878 Henry Tate expanded his sugar business by opening up a new refinery in East London-down by the River Thames in ‘Silvertown’-E16.
Meanwhile in 1883, Abram Lyle started a sugar smelting process at a new refinery he had opened down at Plaistow Wharf on the River Thames – just 1.5miles away from Tate’s factory.
Abram Lyle’s refinery process focussed on producing a treacle like syrup preserve called ‘Goldie’, that was sold in a distinctive green tin, with a lion on it – and was used for baking cakes or simply as a ‘spread’ on bread etc.
The businesses of both Henry Tate and Abram Lyle were extremely successful bringing both owners great wealth and more importantly providing much wanted employment to the Silvertown area of east London and beyond.
Even though their respective factories were almost next door to each other, Henry Tate and Abram Lyle actually despised each other and never met in person throughout their lifetimes.
In 1887 Henry Tate set up the ‘Tate Institute’ opposite the main entrance to the Silvertown factory. The ‘Institute’ was a sort of community type social club facility, for the recreational benefit of the Tate & Lyle workers. The Institute closed in 1933 and the building was used as a local library until 1961.
The ‘Institute’ building is still there today, but sadly is abandoned and all boarded up.
Abram Lyle died in 1891, leaving his successful refining business to his sons.
Henry Tate died in 1899 and also passed his business on to his sons.
Henry Tate bequeathed a large portion of his wealth to many good causes in the East London area – and he left his large and valuable collection of fine art and paintings, to the nation – and this became the ‘Tate Gallery’ down in Pimlico, which is now known as ‘Tate Modern’.
Fast forward 20 years to the early 1920’s – the 2 rival sugar refineries eventually merged, and ‘Henry Tate & Sons’ and ‘Abram Lyle & Sons’ became the now globally recognised “Tate & Lyle” brand.
The factories in Silvertown became one of London’s biggest employers who, at its peak, employed over 5,000 people.
During WW2 and in particular the ‘blitz’, when East London and the London dock areas took a heavy pounding from German bombing – the ‘Tate & Lyle’ factory never ever closed down, and continued its production whatever the circumstances taking place around it. While its male workforce were away fighting in Europe, the Tate & Lyle factory was operated by women, who were nicknamed ‘The Sugar Girls’, and there has been a best seller book published of the same title, written all about their exploits during those times.
In 1949 ‘Tate & Lyle’ launched its iconic ‘Mr. Cube’ brand – that introduced boxes of sugar cubes into everyday life.
‘Tate & Lyle’ have always been one of the biggest ‘users’ of the River Thames with anything up to 45,000 tonnes per year of raw sugar cane arriving at Silvertown by boats, from countries such as Belize, Mozambique, Guyana & Fiji.
In the early 1970’s the future of Tate & Lyle was very much put in doubt, and there was a threat of closure as a result of ‘quota-restrictions’ imposed by the EU (eg the Common Market as it was then).
In 1981 Tate & Lyle’s refinery factory in Liverpool had to close down. 1997 saw the closure of its factory in Greenock-Scotland.
These EU restrictions have continued to have an impact of Tate & Lyle’s production output and workforce numbers, and the business has had to diversify its range of products to be able to compete profitably – a challenge that it has successfully managed so far – and with UK now leaving the EU, and restrictions lifted, it could herald a really positive new phase for the future of Tate & Lyle.
London City Airport which opened in 1987 is situated close to the Tate & Lyle refinery.
Both these businesses are the biggest employers in the London Borough Newham, and both have the most visible presence of anything else in the area – where ever you are in Silvertown, you will always see the factory and have a plane will be flying above your nut.
In 2018 ‘Tate & Lyle’ celebrated 140 years of refining sugar at Silvertown – and hopefully, long may it continue.
So – having spent a few hours wandering around a grey, foggy wet & cold Silvertown, it was time to have a quick ‘cheeky’ snifter before heading back off home.
From what I could see whilst ambling through its streets, there appear to be only 2 pubs in the actual Silvertown area – the ‘Henley Arms’ and the strangely named ‘Fox@Connaught’.
The Henley Arms was built in the early 1960’s and is a typical post-war council estate pub. It was shut when I located it, so I didn’t have the chance to have a ‘cheeky’ one in there.
However, the ‘Fox@Connaught’ was open, and so I popped in there to take the weight off me plates and have a quick ‘cheeky’ one.
The ‘Fox@Connaught’ has obviously been designed to cater for the airport ‘traffic’ of travellers, passengers & staff alike.
The ‘Fox’ was built in 1881 – and has had various uses throughout the decades. It stood completely abandoned for 17 years and only re-opened again in 2003 – and is the ideal location to have a beer whilst watching the aircraft activity in the skies above or the activity taking place in the tranquil waters of the ‘Royal Dock’ – where (on a clear day) you can see Canary Wharf in the distance, and the cable cars running to and from the O2 and the ExCel arena.
So – that’s all about the history of ‘Tate & Lyle’ in Silvertown for you– hope you found it interesting – and I guess all that’s left to say is ‘one lump or two-madam’?
Published below are the full range of photographs from this ‘Tate & Lyle’ Sugar Refinery blog:-