Life and Times
Tate & Lyle were a major international sugar company.
They were the original makers of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, and were owners of what was Redpath Sugar in Canada.
In 2010, they sold their sugars business, which included all their consumer brands of sweeteners and syrups, to the American Sugar Refining company. The deal allowed the American company to use the Tate & Lyle brand name. Tate & Lyle sold the consumer product line because they decided to focus on making ingredients for other companies to use in making processed foods such as soups and sauces.
The name Tate & Lyle comes from a 1921 merger of Abram Lyle & Sons with Henry Tate & Sons. Company headquarters are at Sugar Quay, Lower Thames Street, London. The history of the company is that of the two family firms that merged.
Abram Lyle (1820 to 1891)
- 1820 — Abram was born 14 December 1820 in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland. His father Abram Lyle (1783–1849) and his mother was Mary Campbell. His father was a barrelmaker and owned some ships. The couple had seven children. They were prosperous enough to send young Abram to the desirable school called “Murray’s School.” When Abram was twelve years old, he was apprenticed to a lawyer named James W. Turner. At the age of fourteen, he joined his father’s business.
- 1846 — Abram married a Mary Park (c.1824 to 24 June 1881.) Together, they would have nine children.
- 1849 — Abram’s father died. His father had taken to drink, running the business down and incurring debts. Abram took over the business, and from 1849 to 1870 built up its shipping tonnage from 161 to 22,000 tons.
- 1865 — In the 1860s, Greenock became a centre for refining sugar. Abram along with Charles Hunter, James and Walter Grieve and Kerr bought a sugar refinery there.
- 1873 — Abram set up a shipping line called the “Cape Line.”
- 1881 — Abram had wanted to expand his operations at Greenock further, but was denied a spot in Greenock harbour. Consequently, he started to build a site in England instead, east of London on the Thames, in Plaistow (now West Silvertown), a mile-and-a-half from the existing Tate refinery in Silvertown. (Abram’s Plaistow complex would later become a favourite target of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.) In the same year, on 24 June, his first wife, Mary, died.
- 1882– Abram established Abram Lyle & Sons in London. He brought four of his sons into the business to help manage it: Charles, Abram, William, and John. He also persuaded 400 households to move down from Greenock to be his workforce. In the same year, he married his second wife, Elizabeth Gordon Cumming on 29 November.
- 1883 — The new Plaistow refinery started operations in January. A short while later that year, business collapsed when a flood of sugar from European beets hit the market. Abram had a shipment of cane sugar from Java at sea partway to London at the time: he lost £100,000 on that shipment alone upon sale. Abram didn’t go bankrupt though: he sold his father’s barrel business back in Scotland, and talked the Bank of Scotland into extending his credit.
- 1885 — Abram also had an ace up his sleeve: a sticky one, but one that did the trick none the less — Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Though other companies made syrups, his was considered the highest quality. It’s presumed his company had made it already back in Greenock, but now Lyle’s focussed on their strengths and pumped the syrup out like they never had before. In 1885, they launched new tins for the syrup, green and gold ones with a picture of a lion on it, surrounded by bees. The images depict an Old Testament scene (in Judges, Chapter 14) where Samson kills a lion, and later spots bees making honeycomb in the lion’s body.
- Abram himself never moved to London. Instead, during all these years, he had become very active in the local affairs of Greenock, becoming a town councillor in 1858, holding the position of a magistrate from 1860 to 1885, paying for a fountain, being an elder of St Michael’s Presbyterian Church, and donating to libraries throughout the area.
- 1891 — Abram died at his house called “Oakley”, in Gourock, Scotland, from pneumonia on 30 April 1891. He was buried in Greenock.
Henry Tate (1819 to 1899)
- 1819 — Henry was born on 11 March 1819, the son of William Tate, a Unitarian Minister of the Dissenters’ Chapel in Chorley, Lancashire.
- 1832 — At the age of 13, Henry was sent to Liverpool to become an apprentice to his other brother Caleb, a grocer.
- 1839 — When he was 20, Henry bought his own grocery store, in Old Haymarket, Liverpool.
- 1855 — Henry turns 35 in this year. He has expanded his grocery store into a chain of six stores.
- 1859 — Henry becomes a partner in a sugar refinery, John Wright & Co., in Manesty Lane, Liverpool (east of Paradise Street.)
- 1861 — Henry sold off his grocery stores to focus on the sugar business.
- 1862 — Henry built his own sugar refinery at 1 Earle Street (east of Old Hall Street.)
- 1864 — Henry built his own molasses refinery at 1-3 Edmund Street.
- 1869 — Henry acquired control of John Wright & Co. upon the death of John Wright, and merged it with his business. He brought his two sons, Alfred and Edwin, into the business, and renamed it Henry Tate & Sons.
- 1872 — Henry built a new sugar refinery in Liverpool on Love Lane. He wanted to process sugar cane with the latest, most efficient technology, in order to be able to compete with beet sugar from the continent.
- 1875 — Henry bought the rights to a new sugar invention from its German inventor, Eugen Langen. The invention was sugar cubes.
- 1878 — He opened a refinery in Silverton, East London, on the north bank of the Thames. The refinery specialized in producing sugar cubes.
- 1881 — Henry moved to Park Hill, Streatham, London.
- 1887– He built a social club for his workers in Silvertown.
- 1893 — The Tate Library at Harris-Manchester College, Oxford, opens, partly funded by Henry. He also helped fund public libraries in Battersea, Brixton and Streatham.
- 1897 — Henry funded the start-up of the Tate Gallery in London, by giving 65 paintings and £80,000 towards the construction of the building. The gallery opened on 21 July 1897.
- 1898 — Henry was made a baronet.
- 1899 — Henry died 5 December 1899 at Streatham. He was buried in West Norwood Cemetery, London.
- 1903 — Henry Tate & Sons became an incorporated company.
Tate & Lyle
- 1921 — The two companies merged to form Tate & Lyle. The merger was achieved in such a way that the two families and directors held 45% of the shares, and no single outsider held greater than 1% of the remaining shares. In charge of Abram Lyle & Sons at the time was Abram’s grandson, Leonard Lyle (1882 to 1954.)
- 1949 — Tate & Lyle learned that the Labour (socialist) government, under Clement Attlee, appeared to be planning to nationalize Tate & Lyle. On the 10th of February that year, they started plans to campaign against any such undertaking. The spearhead of their campaign was a cartoon character they called “Mr Cube.” Mr Cube helped them retain their independence, winning over the popular mind.
- 1976 — Invented no-calorie sweetener sucralose
- 1981 — Tate & Lyle’s sugar refinery in Liverpool was closed on 22 January 1981 (some sources feel it was broadsided by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.)
- 1997 — Tate & Lyle’s sugar refinery in Greenock, Scotland, closed in August .
- Sugars business, including syrups, sold to American Sugar Refining for £211m in cash. The deal allows the American company to continue to use the Tate & Lyle brand name on the sugar products.
It is believed that Henry Tate and Abram Lyle probably never met.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ‘Lyle, Abram (1820–1891)’. Oxford University Press, May 2005.
Tate & Lyle sells sugar arm to American Sugar Refining. London: Daily Telegraph. 1 July 2010.