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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RIP Tony Benn

Written by Ron Noon at 09:05 on Monday, March 17th 2014

1999

“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?”

That was the plea articulated by former shop steward Bob Bannister at “the last tango on Lime Street” in December 1999 when because of Tate & Lyle’s stated need to “continually review and reduce costs” the history of the company’s “paternalism” and “biennial Christmas parties” for the boys and girls from Love Lane Liverpool came to an end. As a university teacher and honorary boy from the whitestuff I was determined to launch a petition to “bring back Christmas for the boys and girls from the whitestuff” only to have it categorically ignored/refused in 2001 a seminal year the world over. I had some big names on that petition as well as the signatures of many of the “extraordinary/ordinary lives” of former sugar refinery workers but the then CEO Larry Pillard refused to respond to my hand delivered letter to company headquarters at Sugar Quay London.

By that stage of my public history research the stubborness and determination of Albert E Sloane and other intrepid sweet fighters from the Lane had rubbed off onto me and with strategic pride we embarked on another skirmish with the Sugar Giant in 2006 on the 25th anniversary of the closure of Liverpool Love Lane refinery, the mother plant in Henry Tate’s global sugar dynasty. With the support and inspiration of Albert and other regulars at the Punch and Judy pub at the back of Lime St. where we held regular monthly meetings, a campaign was planned and this time unlike in 2001 it had the support and imprimatur of Tony Benn. Below is some of the surviving documentation that can do the talking:

1. The remarkable Peter Leacey:  “When the ‘decline and fall’ of Liverpool is eventually written, let it be said of the Tate & Lyle Action Committee that there was no disgrace in failure. Disgrace comes in not having tried. And by God they tried.”
That comment by Peter Leacy, one of the company’s transport drivers, summed up a struggle that had actually lasted over 3000 days and culminated in “glorious defeat.His name would be included in my letter to the new CEO of Tate & Lyle in January 2006.

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 the Chief Executive of a Sugar Giant that continues in the name of “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 this 90 DAY REDUNDANCY PARTY NOTICE!

Yours sincerely

Ron Noon

2. Another “redundancy part letter” to MPs

Dear MP ,
      I am writing this letter to ask for your support in what Tony McGann and a number of other prominent Liverpudlians think is a very worth while cause. Saturday April 22nd will be the 25th anniversary of the closure of Tate & Lyle’s Love Lane sugar refinery, and the surviving boys and girls from the Whitestuff, the very workers who gave such loyalty and dedicated service, unquestionably deserve a memorable reunion bash, hopefully financed by the Sugar Giant that started its corporate life in Liverpool.
In January I sent a letter to Iain Ferguson, the CEO of Tate & Lyle, that requested “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”.
I received a reply from the Director of Corporate Communications and Deputy Company Secretary, dated February 2nd , which informed me that Mr Ferguson is “currently abroad on business” but “we are currently considering the proposal set out in your letter and will revert to you with an answer as soon as possible”. Unhappily that is too late for Peter Leacy, a proud former Tates pensioner visitor who initiated a similar request five years ago. He 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 to Ferguson’s predecessor, Larry Pillard, in January 2001.

Peter’s letter was written before the 20th anniversary of the issuing of the 90 days redundancy notices on January 22nd, 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”. In 2006 we know that is no longer the case, especially given that the company is back in the Footsie 100 with sales of its no calorie Splenda doing splendidly.

Mr Leacy also described a cameo scene from the “last supper” on Lime St in December 1999: “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?’.”

That is precisely what this is all about and that piece was included in my letter to Tates CEO in January, along with this conclusion: “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 this 90 DAY REDUNDANCY PARTY NOTICE!”

So hopefully now with the names of those who backed the original “90 DAY RPN letter” and the imprimatur of Liverpool MPs, and a petition, we will ensure that the Liverpool Tates pensioners, the men and women who over many years sweetened the nation’s breakfast tables, get their own memorable anniversary bash in 2006. 

Yours sincerely

Ron Noon


3. We won! On August 28th 2006 we held a 25th anniversary party knees up in the Eldonian Village Hall scenes of which are contained on our website film. What is not recorded on that film and in the local press coverage of that event are my stumbling efforts to address the 250 partying pensioners and secure their attention. This was a night of partying and shared memories and the last thing anyone wanted was a “lecture” from a local historian, albeit the most sugarcentric on Merseyside. I shouted out a name and the audience hushed to hear what I had to say. This was my transcript, an even more precious one today: 

28th April

“A telephone message from Tony Benn came through to my house at 4.15pm today. He said have a great night on the 25th anniversary reunion but lets all remember this:

(He asked me if I had a pencil and I had to tell a white lie because it was a red biro that I used!)

Today’s pensioners created the wealth we now enjoy. They are entitled to share in the wealth we create.” Barbara Castle said that and she gave us the link between pensions and earnings. This link was broken by Mrs Thatcher, never restored by New Labour, and we must get it back.

Good luck Liverpool

(I’m sure he was n’t being sectarian and as an astute politician he obviously meant the city of LIVERPOOL and not LFC.) 

Thank you Tony Ben from the readers of LOVE LANE LIVES.

4. Here are two useful links about our reunion bash:


http://www.catalystmedia.org.uk/issues/nerve9/sweet_fa.php

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/bittersweet-memories-3520065

POSTSCRIPT

Tony Benn loved Liverpool and he also loved and admired our own Jack Jones who was another of the names on our 90 DAY REDUNDANCY PARTY LETTER!

THIS MESSAGE IS FROM JACK JONES

Dear Ron

  I have read your e mail message to Mary and we both send our thanks for your efforts and good wishes.
As you know I am well into my nineties now and do not do much travelling – regretfully.
I am not able to be with you on the 28th but please convey my greetings and very best wishes.

Sincerely yours

Jack Jones

Contact: Mary Noor-Aly