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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Happy 90th birthday Albert! There’s only one Albert Tod Sloane…

Written by Ron Noon at 17:59 on Monday, November 05th 2012

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Albert is 90 today! Happy birthday to the Sweet Fighter, seen here on the left of the photograph with his famous leather coat and fag in right hand! John Maclane is on the far right (not his politics) looking up at the banner headline for Tate & Lyle Employees Action Committee.

When I first met Albert I was faced with a formidable guy who was not sure where the four eyed, “Bamber Gascoigne”, university teacher, was coming from. Reassured by my roots and devotion to Everton FC, I quickly gained his confidence and more important than anything else, his lasting friendship. Nobody can fail to be impressed by this sweet fightin’ man. Some of his Anglo-Saxon embroidery of the English language may have to be tailored to particular audiences, but “Tod” Sloane, as he is known,  epitomises the free born scouser, the man who is as good as anybody else, and who nobody is better than.  Mixed into this remarkable 90 year olds personality are the full range of emotions, the highs and lows and peaks and troughs, the humour, bitterness, anger, defiance and determination of a life long socialist to secure justice for the underdog, but also the sentimental man with a generosity of spirit and feel for those who are less equipped or prepared to stick up for themselves. His scouse humour and irreverence is infectious and easily explains why the machine minder from B shift who registered his first vote for Clem Atlee’s Labour in 1945, became the main focus of leadership and determined opposition to Tate & Lyle’s closure plans.

Albert in  1945

When interviewed for our film five years ago he summed up the main reason why he would not choose to leave Love Lane. “You became a family. It was n’t like people you did n’t know. I mean I went home many a time and I’d have a lump in me throat and the wife would ask me what was up and I’d say ‘Oh Berno’s havin’ terrible trouble’, nothin’ to do with Tates but we were all like that so we all became a family. That’s what kept me there.” He was a socialist and union man, never a company or firms man but he was respected and admired by local and national management.  In the 1970s “sugar wars” between the beet and the cane Albert was involved in all the campaigning and organizing to prevent the closure of Henry Tate’s mother plant, and became Chairman of Tate & Lyle North West Trade Union Committee and a prominent member of the National Port Refineries Committee. Albert met and “engaged” with MPs and all the top decision makers in Government as well as the Company.

The “old” Tate & Lyle with its paternalistic family spirit once insisted on the scions of their families going through the sugar mill and the most prominent Tate family member that Albert mentored was a forebear of Henry Tate. I remember 6 years ago when I made contact with Sir Saxon Tate, the 5th Baronet, how he wrote very affectionately about Albert and some fun times in the Lane.  Politically Albert and Saxon were poles apart but that did not inhibit mutual respect and affection from developing. Albert will have taught him a good deal about the actual refinery process but would have had to give up on educating the Baronet into socialist ideals and principles.  Albert is quoted as saying to Saxon’s uncle, the company chairman Colin Lyle when the rumours of closure started to circulate in 1971 that “Brutus has got nothing on you lot. You wanna give me a cup of tea and stab me in the back. And why you’ve done that I’ll never know. You should have left us where we were yenno.”

Albert on front page

One of many cameo scenes that I’ve documented involving Albert was in the Liverpool Town Hall in February 1981. A meeting of workers representatives, Merseyside MPs, city and county councillors, and local Church leaders, had been called to the “blackamoored and elephanted” Town Hall to help organise resistance to the closure. Hailed subsequently as the “Congress of Merseyside” David Sheppard the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool described the mood of everyone involved in the struggle to keep Love Lane open. “There were moments when Archbishop Warlock and I were invited to go to meetings at the Town Hall and there seemed the greatest solidarity of all Liverpool interests in fighting to stave off this closure. There was a very good common feeling at this time.”

      Albert as Chairman of the Action Committee was waiting on that cold February morning in the foyer of the Town Hall to welcome the invited dignitaries “as its dirty big fire blazed away”. One of the lads asked him how he was going to address such people of consequence when they arrived, and Albert’s retort, was “mind yer own business”! He recalls with affection and devilish humour what happened after most of the dignitaries had arrived, except Archbishop Warlock and the Anglican leader Bishop Sheppard.

“Ye see they’re all inside and the ones we’re waitin for is Sheppard and Warlock. I did n’t know what to call them like. But ye see me Ron, I speak from here, (me ‘art!), and ye have to take what ye get as the truth. Anyway he came into the building with a big procession, the monsooer like, yenno the fellah with the big mace, and I shouted, (bellows out laughing), ‘Hello Arch where’s the Bish’?”

The startled “Arch”, looked behind to the revolving doors, and apologetically explained, “oh sorry Albert, The Bish is following on soon”.  Witty and irreverent, respectful but never deferential, these were some of the qualities that made Albert a natural rank and file leader. Merseyside despite Bleasdale’s efforts was still in the early 80s as factory after factory was closing down, the place, where “if you don’t laugh, you only cry” was a vernacular cliché. Albert was as fed up with that caricature as Bleasdale, and determined that everyone should see the tracks of the unemployed workers tears.

      Albert’s an extraordinary “ordinary” man that will defiantly deny that he was more important in the organised resistance than all the others threatened by the sack and a longer dole queue. In one sense he is right. His story like that of so many other exceptional “ordinary” boys and girls from the whitestuff, that gave Tate & Lyle such loyalty and dedicated service has to be rescued from the “enormous condescension” of those who write British history with the majority of the Brits, and scousers, left out!

HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY ALBERT. We all love you so dearly.

punch & judy with Berno

Don Milner, Albert, Bamber, Christy Byrne

sugar acolyte & 2 stars

Albert and John and a devoted sugar acolyte in the middle.

Albert @ Eldonians

Albert and Tony McGann @ the Eldonians

Albert on the front page of the Echo!

Albert_on_front_page_of_Echo_22_jan_81.pdf