Old black & while photo of a flooded street with a train and car

Another organisation originally from Greenock who set up around this time was Abram Lyle & Sons. They opened a refinery at Plaistow Wharf in 1881, known for producing ‘Golden Syrup’. Despite the two namesakes purportedly never actually meeting, Tate and Lyle became bitter business rivals.

The two companies continued in competition until 1921, when a merger gave us the now internationally famous brand.  

At the time of the merger the two companies were refining around 50% of all sugar in the UK, and by 1939 had become the largest refiner in the world, producing around 14,000 tons a week.  

Despite suffering from German bombing during the Second World War the company continued to flourish in the post-war world and was one of the few British industries to avoid nationalisation under Clement Atlee’s Labour government.  

This was in no small part thanks to the creation and work of ‘Mr. Cube’ in 1949, a mascot whose promotional use helped keep the company in private hands.

Storm flood at Tate & Lyle, Silvertown, 1957
Black and white photo of street with men walking on it
Silvertown Way, entrance under viaduct, c1972 | Photo: Newham Archives Local Studies Library

The impact of the organisation, and its predecessors, on the local area was huge. ‘Everyone knew someone who worked at Tate’s’ said one former resident in 2018. 

As well as employing upwards of 5,000 residents at the company’s peak, Tate and Lyle also left their mark in other ways. Henry Tate opened the Tate Institute in 1887 – a community centre where dances and social nights continued for workers up until the 1990s.

Meanwhile Lyle Park opened in 1924 on land gifted to the local authority by Abram Lyle. Workers and their families were also able to enjoy a wide range of recreational facilities courtesy of the company, including a wealth of sports teams, while the Tate & Lyle Christmas parties are the stuff of local legend.  

Today the organisation continues to employ over 4,000 people and remains an iconic fixture on the Silvertown skyline.  

Silvertown Way, entrance under viaduct, c1972 | Photo: Newham Archives Local Studies Library

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Photo: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library