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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Sugar Girls

On Saturday I was invited by the Newham NPD (a community arts organisation) to come to the North Woolwich library to see the travelling exhibition “Sugar Girls: Working Women of Newham”.

The exhibition was inspired by the hugely successful “The Sugar Girls” book written by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi earlier this year. The NPD’s aim is to collect the stories and pictures of the girls who worked down Newham's 'Sugar Mile' in its heyday and to create a lasting legacy for generations to come.

North Woolwich is a bit of a trek and the weather was awful, but I am very glad I decided to go. I got to meet original “sugar girls” Ethel and Gladys and the authors of the book Nuala and Duncan. The “girls” (now in their early 80’s) shared wonderful stories about what life was like working for the sugar giant Tate and Lyle in the second world war and post war era. It was then that Tate and Lyle like many manufacturing industries saw their workforces become female dominated for the first time in their history.

Tate and Lyle was more than just an employer or a workplace, it was a huge part of the community, and along with the docks provided pretty much all of the employment in the area. They had sports teams, social club etc and the people that worked there were like an extended family in many ways. Generation after generation of families worked for Tate and Lyle.


Later Bernie took me for a drive around the area – down what is still referred to as “Sugar mile”, past the Tate & Lyle factory of today and down to the docks where the sugar cane arrived and the refined sugar and golden syrup was shipped out.
The irony of all of this is that the industry is under threat as EU legislation is driving a move away from sugar cane as the base material to sugar beets, grown within the EU.



8 comments:

Stefan Jansson said...

Interesting post. I am reading about Ethel on the web site right now.

Sharon said...

How very interesting! I am going to do some more research on Tate and Lyle myself.

Jack said...

I like your photograph of the two older women. The woman on the right looks like my grandmother did.

Angie said...

Thank, Mo. Just ordered from local library.

Riet said...

This is so intresting. Makes me think about my youth. I was born in Eindhoven where the Philips factorym the big giant now, started . They began wit a little lamp factory that was next to our home. It started to grow and grow and make other, then still household things I believe. It grew so fast that they started to build houses and there came big parts of the city with built houses for just the Philips people. When I was a young girl there were more than 30000 people working for Philips just in Eindhoven and more than 100000 all over the world. Of course I did work there too, in the traveloffice that was only for the working people who had to travel all over the world for Philips.I also met my husband there and this month we will be married for 52 years.
Lots of mmories there like your ladies on yje photo have with Lyle. Wonderful. Thanks for the memories and
Merry Christmas

llandudnopictures said...

I always find it fascinating to hear inside stories from people about how places used to be in days gone by!

LONDONLULU said...

What a wonderful experience to have met these sugar girls. Happy you got to hear and share their story here, what a chapter in history.

Angie said...

I've just finished reading the book. Loved it! Also very much enjoying thesugargirls blog - Gladys is still a scream!!

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