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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Today is the 40th anniversary of the issuing of the 90 day redundancy notices. REMEMBER BOB PARRY?

Written by Ron Noon at 14:24 on Friday, January 22nd 2021

20/01/81 Echo headlineEarlier on this week I decided to compose and send a letter to the ECHO about this FRIDAY being the 40th anniversary of the issuing of the 90 day redundancy notices to the Tate & Lyle Refinery workers. There was nothing in it today and of course we don’t have an EVENING Echo published, and certainly not in Liverpool anymore, but this is what I wrote:

Dear sir,
        in the Scouse lexicon of love, ‘sugar pie” may not be as poetic as “honey bunch” but “Love Lane” a former eighteenth century Ladies and Maidens walkway was historically the most romantic name for any sugar refinery, certainly before that fateful day, January 22nd 1981, when refinery workers in Henry Tate’s mother plant were issued with 90 day redundancy notices.

The evening Echo headline: “TATE’S AXE REFINERY - 1,570 CITY JOBS GO”, fell three months short of the actual closure on April 22nd, and workers put up a determined fight against this decision made by a Board of Directors on which there was neither a Tate nor a Lyle, nor any room for sentiment about a “Tate & Lyle spirit of yore”. Forty years ago the dramatic January announcement highlighted a Merseyside economy in Crisis, suffering disproportionately from factory closure after factory closure and aptly labelled the Bermuda Triangle of British Capitalism!

Adding to these mass redundancies by junking Love Lane which had not experienced an industrial relations hiccup since the 1926 General Strike, would mean more than the loss of of another historic business enterprise. It threatened to obliterate the Vauxhall community just north of the City Centre, prompting even the Daily Express to suggest that “whoever dreamed up that name” ought to be on the popular TV show “The Comedians”!

The opening comment made on our Love Lane Lives film, part of an ongoing public history project, was from a woman who declared after the junking of the refinery “it’s dead now”! She meant Liverpool was dead, not Tate & Lyle which continues to thrive but not in the sugar business!

Just as in 1981 when there was no room for sentiment on the Board of Tate & Lyle, history repeated itself in 2010 when their sugar business and portfolio of historic brands was sold off to an American company, ASR. Looking back down the tracks from Hindsight Station can be deceptive but community and sentiment are words with much more resilience and relevance than ever in a world turned upside down by the Covid pandemic. Given the enormous challenges that lie ahead an inspirational historical lesson is that a genuinely based community housing phoenix, the now world famous “Eldonians” has risen from the ashes of a former refinery site no longer comically misnamed as Love Lane.

Yours sincerely

Ron Noon
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I do intend to revive and revamp the site because my darling wife Gail would want that and another ‘EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY person Albert E Sloane who was on the front page of the Echo 40 years ago showing his determination to FIGHT, would along with his great pal John Maclean, want that too. So little steps are being made this week because there is so much “unfinished business” to ensure that LOVE LANE LIVES do indeed live on and my wonderful wife Gail and family expect that from me.

The UNPUBLISHED LETTER was my first effort to break out, then COMMENTS I put on this afternoon on THE WEBSITE and now this third effort promoted by an email I’ve just opened from a lovely guy that I met last January around this time who was given HIS REDUNDANCY NOTICE on 22/01/1981

I’M SURE MIKE WILL not object to me reproducing what he wrote so here it is: “Hi Ron,  hope you are well, 40 years ago today was my birthday. I was 19 and at Carlett Park College on the Wirral. I was there with other Tate & Lyle apprentices when I received my redundancy letter which I still have. 59 today. Where has that 40 years gone? Best wishes in these strange times. Mike Gorst.”

Happy Birthday Mike and Thanks for emailing me.
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So how many Remember Bob Parry?

Well 40 years ago TODAY, he stood up in the House of Commons “to ask leave to move the adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No 9”. That was designed to provoke a discussion of ‘the proposed closure of the Liverpool Tate and Lyle cane refinery”.

The speaker later ruled this out as not falling within the provisions of the Standing Order No 9, but that did not prevent Bob Parry from powerfully evoking the magnitude and seriousness of the decision that had been made by Tate & Lyle for Merseyside and for his Scotland Exchange constituency in particular.
“The loss of approximately 1,800 jobs is serious enough, but my constituency, in which the refinery is situated, has already one of the highest levels, if not the highest level of unemployment in the United Kingdom, certainly well above 50%”…The Tate & Lyle company, which made the announcement this morning about sacking these people and throwing them on the scrap heap, also announced that its profits had increased…This is the naked and vicious face of capitalism. It shows that the company has no consideration for human suffering or the degradation of people in the inner areas of Liverpool.”

That same day the London Stock Exchange reacted to the closure news and the mass job losses on Merseyside by increasing the value of the company shares by 12p!

Bob Parry targeted Peter Walker the Minister of Agriculture, noting his absence and unavailability and saying that he had a lot to answer for, having tried to ride two horses in the one race and always supporting the sugar beet lobby. (Remember the Sugar Wars were summed up pithily in the slogan, BEAT THE BEET, KEEP THE CANE! Remember also that the first rumours of closure were in 1971. That’s what Albert E Sloane told me and I have a recording of the interview with Albert which I’ll do a transcript on as we get this site and this project back to speed.) Back to Bob.

“It would be interesting if, some day, the right hon. Gentleman would tell us how much sugar beet he grows”.
Just after that comment he was reminded by the speaker that he ought not make the speech that he would make if his application were granted! (For Standing Order No.9 or Love Lane potion No. 9?)

Undeterred Bob pointed out the “right hon. Gentleman, according to the feelings of the workers in Liverpool, is a twister and has spoke in this House with a forked tongue”. Unsurprisingly Bob had to withdraw the twister tag but still maintained that “the Minister of Agriculture has sold these jobs in Liverpool down the river”.