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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“We cannot reasonably expect any further special treatment.”

Written by Ron Noon at 09:54 on Friday, February 12th 2021

Must help ourselves


Context is key and the issuing of the 90 day redundancy notices on January 22nd 1981 galvanised not just the threatened refinery workers in Love Lane into fighting Tate & Lyle’s decision to junk Henry Tate’s mother plant. The Liverpool Echo described the mobilisation of a broader based “CONGRESS OF MERSEYSIDE” initiative to resist this massive rise in unemployment.

Behind the rhetorical phrase (Congress of Vienna in my old A level History notes was a conference of European ambassadors at the end of the French and Revolutionary war years in 1815) was substance. That was expressed in two letters from the City Chief Executive Officer:

30.1.81. Alfred Stocks CEO of the City of Liverpool wrote to the Prime Minister expressing the alarm felt by the City Council.

In a second letter dated the 2nd of February he reported on a special meeting which had been convened in Liverpool:

‘Congress of Merseyside’ - representatives from all Merseyside District Councils, the Leader of the Merseyside County Council, MPs and MEPs, the Bishop of Liverpool and the Archbishop of Liverpool, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and the Trade Unions concerned.

The purpose of   the second letter was to ask Margaret Thatcher to meet a broadly based delegation of commercial and religious leaders together with Trade Union officials and MPs in order to discuss the implications of closure and the possibility of avoiding it.

In its comment column of February 3rd the Echo named this the “Congress of Merseyside” adding that

“this could well become an important milestone in the history of our community. Here we see diverse interests coming together with a strong common purpose - to halt the wounding loss of jobs. The initial aim is to save the threatened jobs at T&L. The fight will be difficult and prolonged but a start has been made. Whitehall will get the message that Merseyside has taken enough blows. Tates could well prove the first of many battles. It is not difficult to identify other areas under threat. At the first whiff of danger our Watchdogs should be active.”

Woof! She was n’t having it: The request from Stocks got short shrift from Thatcher who refused to meet the delegation and referred it to Peter Walker the Minister of Agriculture and of course the company management. (Tories and Tates went together like bangers and mash and Peter Walker would end up on the board of Tate & Lyle.)

So forty years on from that rejection a brief reflection on my recent ECHO letter. (IRONY IN THE LANE 24/01/21)  I was pleased it was published especially as I thought tha it was not going to be when on Friday and then Saturday it was nowhere to be found. BUT it was published on a SUNDAY and 40 years ago there was no SUNDAY ECHO and the Echo was published in Liverpool not Oldham!)  Anyway that said The editors cuts were stark.

I had made explicit references to MERSEYSIDE IN CRISIS and the phrase doing the print rounds at that time, THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF BRITISH CAPITALISM. I’d also highlighted that this closure would mean more than the loss of another historic business enterprise on Merseyside and the obliteration of the Vauxhall community but that even the Daily Express response was to suggest that “whoever dreamed up that name” LOVE LANE “ought to be on the popular TV show ‘the Comedians’”.  WHY LIVERPOOL?

Tod Sloane

That’s a great picture of my feisty sugar mentor Albert E Sloane. “Tod Sloane” as he was known to the boys and girls from the whitestuff urged me to locate THE THATCHER LETTER to Bob Parry. Eventually I had a serendipitous success and here below is what Thatcher wrote to the MP for Scotland Exchange.  “The Lady” wants nothing to do with the CONGRESS OF MERSEYSIDE.

Thatcher to Parry

WRATH ON MERSEYSIDE - Both the Post and Echo gave the refusal wide coverage. David Alton MP for Edge Hill called it an insult to people of Merseyside and Sir Trevor Jones leader of the City Council said it was diabolical and blinkered.
Echo comment on 11th of February says it all:

“Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to see the Liverpool delegation over T&L is no doubt defensible in terms of Westminster protocol. But it will be interpreted as a cold insensitivity to the feelings of the whole community. The composition of the delegation including Church leaders reflected the deep concern over unemployment not just at T&L but throughout Merseyside. Mrs Thatcher’s policies have played a large part in creating the situation and she cannot brush aside the responsibility by referring protests to the management concerned. I don’t myself see delegations she told the Commons. The Premier should step down from this lofty position and if mere delegations are below her dignity then the City of Liverpool would offer her a warm welcome to see at first hand what is actually happening outside Whitehall.”

Food for thought. So back to who WE are. This was not self inflicted. There were structural, systemic reasons why the Merseyside economy was particularly vulnerable to branch plant closures and external decision making but the sloppy and self fulfilling tendency was to blame the crisis on MERSEYSIDE MILITANCY. It was a reversal of cause and effect and subsequently when the official Cabinet papers were released at the end of 2011 we found out about plans for Liverpool’s MANAGED DECLINE.

THE SCOTTY press did not have to wait that long. It knew then what HARD TIMES were and who were CULPABLE.

Hard Times


VIOLENCE will ensue