The Sugar Girls

Having worked and socialised for so many years within the London Borough of Newham, many will understand how it is possible to develop something of of ‘soft spot’ for an area, albeit quite some years since I moved from London.

In my day Newham was a mixture of swathes of terraced and social housing, shipping in the docks and heavy industry. Due to its prime position on the River Thames, two nearby sugar refiners merged to form the Tate & Lyle company in 1921.

Tate & Lyles became a large local employer paying generous wages with good social facilities. Many local women, often still girls who left school at the age of fourteen were attracted to work for the company for the good wages, social life and often romance. In the East End of London, just the mention of the name Tates conjured up visions of a way of community life with no other explanation necessary.

With the advent of World War II, Tate & Lyle were in the middle of the heavy bombing during the London Blitz but continued regardless to provide by now the heavily rationed sugar products. Sugar was so scarce, it was still on the infamous ration books until 1953. I was born at the beginning of peacetime but did not taste my first sweet until I was aged seven. Hitler certainly had a lot to answer for.

A book entitled “The Sugar Girls” has now been written by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi. The book embraces the tales of adversity, resilience, youthful high spirits and romance of the ladies who worked for Tate & Lyle, drawn from the personal experiences of the people that worked there. A truly worthwhile read.

To celebrate the launch of the book, the Hub Community and Arts Centre will be hosting a coffee morning on 28th March 11am-1pm. Free tea, coffee and cake will be on offer including 1940’s-50’s photographs of factory life. You will also be able to hear of the experiences of the ladies who worked at Tate and Lyle’s factories.

The Hub Community & Arts Centre is located at 123 Star Lane, Canning Town, E16 4PZ.

February 2012

St Michael’s, Somerton

We paid a visit to Somerton today, sadly it was to pay our last respects a dear friend who passed away on the same evening as his daughters funeral less than two weeks ago. The service was held at  the 13th century church of St Michael’s and All Angels. Apart from its age, the church is built with both local  Lias and Ham stone . It also contains one of the finest ornately carved vaulted roofs in the country. It is a pity the circumstances of our visit did not allow for a greater exploration of this obvious historical treasure of a building.

Somerton itself is a pleasant small rural town built on top of a hilltop. It was once the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex first mentioned in documentary records in the year 733. The name of the town was extended to the people in the area it controlled and this area eventually became known as Somersetshire or Somerset as it is known today.

Butter Cross, Somerton

Apart from the church, other prominent surviving historical features in the town are the Market Hall and adjacent Butter Cross. This is a small covered market that has stood in the market square since at least 1390, well before the New World was discovered.

As the march of time has brought mighty nations into being in the New World, somehow time has kindly passed Somerton by to leave it to its relatively undisturbed peace. I do hope that the future passage of time allows this to continue.

03 Feb 2012

Following a so far relatively mild winter, February has arrived greeting us with our real first cold snap of the season with overnight temperatures falling to -10° F. This cold spell also brings to the landscape something of a quiet, almost haunting stillness with little stirring as far as the eye can see. Sometimes I find myself visualising when looking across this frozen vista of the more lush green appearance that will emerge in the spring, as if I was laying a painted transparency across an existing picture.

All Saints, Martock

Sadly it has also been the time to say goodbye to an old friend who recently passed away, made even sadder by another close friend in the same family passing away two weeks later. I attended a funeral service at All Saints Church, Martock, somewhere I had not entered before. All Saints is a large church in a small rural community dating back at least until the year 1227 and for such a large vaulted roof, the building was surprisingly warm and filled to capacity, as indeed I know the forthcoming funeral service of my other friend in this family will be. Such is the warmth and esteem this family is held in locally.

Following the service, I was looking at the interior architecture of the church which included a number of niches containing statues of saints in the upper walls. I noticed several of the niches were empty except for painted pictures depicting relevant saints which natural curiosity caused me to research later if there was a reason for this. It appears the church was used as a billet for the troops of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War. Following the Battle of Bridgewater in 1645, parts of the church were damaged by troops and some of the statues of saints removed. I find it truly amazing that even minor aspects of history are still abundant around us for any that care to look and see.

Market House, Martock

Martock itself is a large ancient village mentioned in the Domesday Book its name being derived from ‘mart’ the old English word for market and ‘ac’ meaning oak from a oak tree that grew where the present day Market House stands. The Market House is itself an impressive structure dating from 1753 and is built of local Ham stone on the same lines as many such ancient market buildings with arched walls providing a covered market area below elevated rooms above.

Most of Somerset is richly steeped in history including much myth which I find deeply embellishes the knowledge of our past in such fascinating ways. Visitors to this part of the country are always warmly welcome and there is always the renowned local Somerset cider to quench the thirst of weary travellers.


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