Love Lane Lives

The history of sugar in Liverpool and the effects of the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Love Lane

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39th anniversary of issuing of 90 day redundancy notices for the girls and boys of LOVE LANE LIVES

Written by Ron Noon at 17:50 on Wednesday, January 22nd 2020

History is not just about the past! The past plugged into the present has the potential to remind us all HOW we arrived where we are NOW. In that sense good HISTORY is always present minded and it’s DYNAMIC is that constant dialogue between past and present. “Hindsight Station” is a concept/place I used/abused frequently with my students to remind them albeit in figurative language of not only how we got to where we are now but also to inform where we might go TOMORROW. History is not just about dates and “developing the memory at the expense of the intelligence” but analysing and interpreting options for a better future. THAT DEMANDS INTELLIGENCE.

Steady on Ron. This is a late night blog and it needs a little more direction in terms of what was ADVERTISED.

OK. Sorry about that trip the light fantastic intro, but I wanted to pace this blog very GENTLY given the incalculable PAIN and SUFFERING that the 90 day redundancy letters inflicted in that historic sugar land just north of Liverpool city centre. It’s always easier to forget than to remember recurring themes of avoidable community blight. Tate & Lyle put a big HOLE in that sugar land community and a key fact I discovered very early on in my research was that they were the biggest recipients of regional aid between 1975 and 1981, which they used a little bit to ‘pay’ for that hole in LIVERPOOL’S SUGARLAND. That said I can’t deny what so many people who’d worked down the Lane threw back at me as the BAMBER GASCOIGNE look a like university lecturer, about it being a “good firm to work for”. Tates’s had for a long time successfully projected themselves as a FAMILY FIRM. (There was neither a Tate nor a Lyle on the company board when the matricidal decision was taken.) Good analytical history is about testing and evaluating the REPRESENTATION/REALITY theme. Tate’s loved the PATERNALISM representation but was there really any evidence of that in the company decision to issue 90 DAY REDUNDANCY LETTERS to over 1500 Love Lane refinery workers on this day 39 years AGO?

FAST FORWARD in this DIALOGUE between past and present to JANUARY 20TH 2006 when I issued TATES with a 90 day Redundancy PARTY letter. I knew a lot more about SUGAR then and a great deal more about this soulless global corporation.

Dear Mr Ferguson,

I am a history teacher from Liverpool and next Sunday, January 22nd, will be the 25th anniversary of the issuing of 90 day redundancy notices to 1500 refinery workers at Henry Tate’s mother plant, Liverpool Love Lane. It is not exactly the kind of historical fact that is studied on the National Curriculum but it has a real resonance here on Merseyside, where the surviving “boys and girls from the whitestuff” look back nostalgically to the days when they helped sweeten the nations breakfast tables.

For me the only thing that mattered about sugar when I started to research Liverpool’s refinery workers, was that it was sweet, but that is the last thing that can be said about the history of the “white stuff”. Far be it for me to give you as the Chief Executive of a Sugar Giant known here as “Tates”, a history lesson, especially when you are married to a lady with impeccable historical credentials, but my brief goes beyond historical themes. It is to make a request on behalf of the Tates Liverpool pensioners, the late Peter Leacy, Tony McGann of the Eldonians, Alan Bleasdale, Jimmy McGovern, Brian Reade, Jack Jones, and Tony Benn, that Tate & Lyle plc finance a reunion of the former Love Lane employees, either on or after April 22nd, the fateful day a quarter of a century ago when after 109 years of operation on the romantically named site, sugar cane time came to an abrupt end in Liverpool.

Our famous port city’s history is inextricably linked up with the politics and power of sugar and of a once prominent landmark, just north of the city centre, where the world’s biggest sugar dynasty was established in 1872. Facts like that were relayed to me by so many of your former Liverpool employees in friendly interviews where many talked about “family spirit” and the company being a “smashin’ firm to work for, most of the time”. Sadder tales were recounted however, and Mr Leacy, a proud former Tates pensioner visitor, told me of his bitter disappointment over the scrapping of the “biennial Christmas party” at the Britannia Adelphi Hotel, in December 1999 and of the disappointing responses to a letter he sent your predecessor, Larry Pillard, in January 2001.

Mr Leacy’s letter was written three weeks before the 20th anniversary of the issuing of the 90 days redundancy notices, and requested a final party bash! “The month of April… calls to mind the end of sugar refining at Love Lane factory in Liverpool, and your board of directors may wish to mark or commemorate the event to acknowledge the contribution that the many thousands of sugar workers made in over one hundred years to the well being, the prosperity, and the success of Tate and Lyle…May I therefore prevail on your good self, and your fellow directors to stage a final, one-off, never-to-be-forgotten farewell to Love Lane party at the very place of so many happy T&L get-togethers…the Adelphi Hotel in the City of Liverpool, on or near the date in April 2001. May I?”

He was then informed by Mr John Walker acting on the CEOs behalf, that because the company was having difficult times, reflected in a low share price, “I don’t think we could justify the kind of expenditure that such a party would require”. We hope sincerely that is no longer the case, especially given the lead your company took in the Footsie 100 just before Christmas last year.
Mr Leacy also described to me a cameo scene from the “last supper” on Lime St in December 1999 which I hope informs your response to this letter. “Mr Richard Springford, the ‘human resources’ supremo from T&L London, for whom I had worked during my southern sojourn, was appointed to deliver the final address of welcome and farewell at the Adelphi. I was annoyed when no senior staff person or ex Love Lane personnel bothered to reply either in gratitude for past Christmas dinners or to express regret at the ending of them. So I introduced Mr Springford to my old T&GWU shop steward, Bob Bannister who asked a very valid question…... ‘Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if these Christmas get- togethers were to continue every two years, after all in ten or fifteen years most of us will have left for greener pastures?’.”

Precisely! Sadly Mr Leacy passed away last June. So having discussed a number of options and after talking to his twin nieces, Sheila Sullivan and Councillor Sharon Sullivan, the course of action that has the backing and support of the names I quoted earlier, is to formally issue you with this 90 DAY REDUNDANCY PARTY NOTICE!

Yours sincerely

Ron Noon

That letter prompted more than a response from Tate & Lyle and a reunion bash of the surviving girls and boys from the white-stuff was financed from their head office, with “our committee” firmly in charge of it’s organisation and publicity. Research and writing does matter.

OK guys, here’s the POSTSCRIPT.

I HOPE this conveys why HISTORY IS FAR TOO IMPORTANT TO BE LEFT TO PROFESSIONAL HISTORIANS.

We all have the gift to make our own history and what follows below is a great example of PRECISELY that.

There’s a lovely lady who I introduced myself to last Sunday, 20th January, to present with a birthday card from Gail and I. She was 106 years young and looked and sounded brilliant. It was a privilege to be with her and later on that day I met up with some of her lovely family. Today as a belated birthday treat she was taken out from Kingswood Manor, Woolton Road, South Liverpool, in a classic car. It made me put on my historians head gear to introspect not just in terms of my beloved Love Lane Lives project and the fact that today is exactly 39 years since over 1500 workers at Henry Tate’s mother plant were handed their 90 day redundancy notices, but also of the lovely lady’s birth year, 1914. I searched some of my files and re-discovered my notes for a talk I’d once given. It went like this:

On 3rd August 1914 Sir Edward Grey the British Foreign Secretary proclaimed: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime’. His famous quote is a literary and figurative way of dramatising the crisis that would very soon plunge Europe into Total War and four bloody years of death and darkness. 

Light provided by gas lamp in 1914 is bestowed by far more sophisticated means in our 21st Century but not knowing what tomorrow will bring, not knowing whether it will be brighter or darker, is our perennial human condition. 

So in thinking back to August 1914 and his efforts to evoke the poetry of history I’m going to quote the famous historian G.M. Trevelyan. He was born in 1876 two  years before EVERTON FOOTBALL CLUB (EFC) was born, a birth some,  admittedly partisan blue noses, “myself decidedly so), would suggest was akin to a blazing star lighting up over the River Mersey.

He died in 1962, the year that the Beatles released LOVE ME DO but below is his inspirational insight into that constant dialogue between the past and the present. If you’ve never heard it before cherish it’s message as I certainly did when serendipitously I came across it as a young student:

“The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow.”

Like ghosts at cockcrow! Oh how I love that word and it’s unmistakably universal sound. It is the Dawn, it is daybreak, break of day, crack of dawn, sunrise, first light, first thing in the morning, early morning. It’s as irreversible as day following night. That’s COCKCROW and as a poem it’s feathered and beaked with HOPE.

My sugar mentors