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Women workers in the sugar industry

In 1871, Henry Tate founded the Thames Refinery in Silvertown. Ten years later, Abraham Lyle started set up his own sugar refinery. Their businesses merged in 1921 to form Tate & Lyle. They were important employers in the area, and many women worked at the refineries.

Map of Silvertown

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Map of Silvertown
Henry Tate and Abraham Lyle founded their sugar refineries in 1871 and 1881 respectively. Since the 1850s, Silvertown had developed as an industrialised belt processing raw materials delivered via the Thames and the docks. Local industries included chemicals, electrical engineering and food processing.

Plaistow Wharf

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Plaistow Wharf
Plaistow Wharf served Abraham Lyle's sugar refinery, founded on the Thames in 1881. It was enlarged after the merger of the Tate and Lyle businesses. Until the 1960s, most raw sugar was brought in by small lighters like those in the photograph.
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The bagging department

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The bagging department
The bagging department at Tate & Lyle in 1946. Large numbers of women worked here, stitching together the jute sacks in which sugar was sold.

Packaging for sugar

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Packaging for sugar
A range of packaging materials at the Tate sugar refinery in Silvertown. Sugar was usually sold in jute sacks, while cube sugar was boxed. Syrop was sold in tins.
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Women workers having a tea break

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Women workers having a tea break
Inside one of the canteens at Tate & Lyle around 1950, where the women workers are having a tea break. Factory work was tedious and poorly paid, so workers always tried to make the best of it.

The first women in the fitters shop

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The first women in the fitters shop
In 1917, three years into the First World War, the Tate refinery employed the first women in the fitters' shop. With so many men serving in the Armed Forces, women often moved into jobs traditionally reserved for men.
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