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Love Lane Lives - the boys & girls from the whitestuff

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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Bob Bannister

Written by Ron Noon at 21:05 on Thursday, November 12th 2009

I was delighted to read Brian Bannister’s comments which were sent in from London a few days back. This is what he wrote: 

“I’ve just watched and really enjoyed the film. It brought back memories of my dad (Bob Bannister) and all of the Tate and Lyle crowd. I remember going in to Love Lane as a child and being overwhelmed by the size of the place but always being taken aback by the friendliness of the people. I never left without a pocket full of sweets and money! Looking back and remembering, there was a real sense of community in Love Lane and years later if I was ever out with my dad we’d more than likely bump in to former Tate’s people and I’d be treated, (and it was), to some of the old stories.  My favourite was my dad finding great overnight digs in Leominster at Mrs Chambers (who by then was well in to her 70s!) and wanting to wind up the other drivers, (Frank Callaghan, Tucker Price and Oweny Moran), keeping her name and address a secret from them. So they used to try and follow him to track it down. I’ve still got visions of Tate’s lorries on a Smokey and the bandit run through the Welsh hills!!

Thanks for keeping the memory of Love Lane and all those great old scousers alive.”

Brian’s dad was one of the guy’s I heard so much about when I was conducting my early inquiries into the closure of Love Lane. Bob Bannister, was a senior shop steward and a driver for Tate & Lyle, but above all he was a very popular man of great presence and distinction. I did eventually have the privilege of meeting him, but sadly only once, and that was on that barmy “summer night” back in April 2006 when we had the wonderful 25TH ANNIVERSARY reunion bash, for the surviving boys and girls from the Whitestuff.

We had successfully petitioned the company to finance this event but I had the continuing headache as an “outsider” organiser, of trying to ensure as fair an allocation of tickets as possible, especially when demand was clearly far greater than supply.

Many would have been disappointed at not getting tickets but some of the oldest bouncers I have ever seen were given strict instructions that night not to admit anyone without that invite into the Eldonian Village Hall! It was a very special night and to hand a special picture to Bob meant asking my main sugar mentor Albert E Sloane to point him out. The picture I gave him is published here and I hope it gives Brian the pleasure it gave his dad on that halcyon night in the mid noughties. It’s an inspiring thought that very soon we are hoping when people visit our site, there will be a photo gallery. This photograph will be there in much bigger relief stirring the imagination and evoking visions of Tates lorries rumbling through the Welsh hills, alongside many other bitter sweet memories of Love Lane Lives. 


Bob is on the far right of the picture holding the banner, wearing glasses and a striped tie!

The final commentary on this blog is also one that I hope Brian and his family will appreciate because it relates to what his dad was trying to do with so many others to prevent the closure of this historic mother plant. It is from the records that we have which still need pulling together and cross referencing. But here’s a PRIMARY SOURCE which I’m sure the other guys from the Transport will appreciate the significance of.

It’s a hand written document signed by Roger and written in block capitals. It was dated March 1981 when Roger and other drivers were able to “scout” what was actually going on at that time in terms of other sources of sugar supplies entering into the North West. The traditional customers for the white stuff had been more than satisfactorily served by Love Lane refinery but the old friendly paternalism which had made it such a good firm to work for “once upon a time” had rapidly disappeared by 1981.

The refinery workers had secured a pledge of support from the National Union of Railwaymen and key transport drivers unions as well as an all party CONGRESS OF MERSEYSIDE that the Echo reported on. Everyone here was asking for a suspension of the 90 day notice to investigate an alternative to closure. The man who knew driving through the Welsh hills better than most certainly knew his way about Manchester where he was looking out for evidence that the firm was marginalising Liverpool and diverting supplies from other sources to long established customers supplied by the Lane.

Bob’s document is headed WARDS – TRAFFORD PARK

“Ward’s warehouse in Trafford Park is set up to handle Tamplin tanks. These tanks can be conveyed by road and rail. The equipment in the warehouse to handle the tanks is a substantial set up, costing a lot of money. From information received this cost has been met by ‘Mann’s’ - with Bugets involved somehow. Buget being the one drivers have to contact to receive delivery instructions. At the present moment of time the sugar into this warehouse is coming out of the Liverpool refinery, passing customers traditionally serviced direct by own vehicles. It is being lifted off by crane taken to far end of warehouse and tilted by equipment to gravity feed into another road tank to be taken to customers we in some cases have passed, even into Merseyside.”

It goes on: Commodity Foods Trafford Park Berrisford’s “This is only a half mile away from Wards and is handling sugar again from Tamplin tanks from Liverpool by road and London via rail. As well as having storage tanks for gran dry bulk, they are also installing liquid tanks, again delivering to customers once serviced direct ex Refinery. This establishment is also milling gran sugar into iceing: pulverised: caster: bagging it into 50 kilos for distribution. It is interesting to note that both these places are within a mile radius of the freightliner terminal.”

Yes there were many who thought that Tates HAD been a great PATERNALISTIC firm to work for. The emphasis is on HAD BEEN! Tates were able to hide behind the complexities of sugar diplomacy in the 1970s, while it stealthily moved away from commitments to the original mother plant. This was decision making with no room for sentiment or history and of course it was symbolic that the actual decision to close Liverpool was taken by a board with neither a Tate nor a Lyle on it. That’s perhaps why Bob a loyal and hard working transport driver and shop steward, was “scouting” around Manchester. So many who had given their lives to this company like my friend Albert E Sloane never worked again.

EVERYONE who had enjoyed the annual and then biennial Christmas parties at the Britannia Adelphi hotel were bitterly disappointed at the end of last Millennium when Tates announced that “because of the need to continually review and reduce costs we regret to announce that this will be the last ever” Christmas reunion. In the BITTER SWEET PENSIONER STORIES for June there is a tremendous but now even more poignant cameo of Bob Bannister asking “at the last supper on Lime Street whether it would ‘spoil some vast eternal plan if these Christmas get-togethers were to continue … after all, in ten or fifteen years most of us will have left for greener pastures’.