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.

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