Lilian’s suitcase of memories

At the weekend we paid a visit to Lilian, one of the four main women featured in The Sugar Girls, to take a look at her photo collection. Previously, Lilian had told us that she didn’t have many pictures of her childhood or her time at Tate & Lyle, as she didn’t consider herself a ‘hoarder’.

When we got to her house, however, she retrieved a battered old suitcase from an upstairs room. It was locked and she no longer had the key to it, so she suggested that we try to prise the lock open. We wrestled with it using our house keys (snapping one of them in the process) and finally got the case unlocked – and discovered a treasure trove of pictures inside that Lilian hadn’t looked at for years.

Lilian showing us her pictures

All the people, places and experiences that she had told us about for the book came to life before our eyes. Here is Lilian (far left) as a child in the back yard at 19 Conway Street, with her siblings Harry, Sylvie (on the swing) and Edie. You can see how poor the family were from the holes in Lilian’s shoes.

Lilian as a child with siblings Harry, Sylvie (on swing) & Edie.

Lilian as a child with siblings Harry, Sylvie & Edie.

Lilian’s mother was thrilled when her family were rehoused in new flats near West Ham Station and finally had an indoor bathroom and separate bedrooms.

During the Second World War, the family were evacuated to the countryside, where Lilian’s sister Edie met a young soldier who got her pregnant. Edie eventually married him and moved to the countryside in Suffolk, where her East End family would come and visit her. Here are Mr & Mrs Tull paying a visit.

Lilian's parents, Harry and Edith Tull

Lilian's parents, Harry and Edith Tull

And here is Lilian (far right) and her two sisters, looking a bit more grown up.

Lilian and her sisters

Lilian and her sisters

Lilian started work at Tate & Lyle just after the war, at the age of 23, and the new job brought with it a whole new world of friendship and fun which is so perfectly captured in the many photos she has of beanos and days out with her friends. Here she is on the Royal Daffodil, heading off to Margate with her fellow can-making girls. Lilian is third from the left, her friend Little Lil is second from the left, and their mate Old Fat Nell can be seen on the far right.

Lilian and friends on the Royal Daffodil

Lilian and friends on the Royal Daffodil

Tate & Lyle were good to Lilian, sending her to a convalescent home in Weston-super-Mare when she came out in boils from the stress of caring for her sick mother. She had a great time and made new friends there.

Lilian in Weston Super-Mare

Lilian (front row, left) in Weston Super-Mare

It was on a Tate & Lyle beano that Lilian met her future husband, Alec – who became her rock throughout all the tragedies she faced over the course of her life. Here they are on their wedding day, looking blissfully happy together.

Lilian and Alec on their wedding day

Lilian and Alec on their wedding day

These days, Lilian is widowed, but her constant companion is her friend Flo – also a former sugar girl – and the two of them are now inseparable.

Lilian and Flo

Lilian and Flo

We are always keen to add new stories and pictures to our blog, so if you worked at Tate & Lyle and have pictures that you can send us, click here to get in touch.


  1. was so nice to see old photos of my nan grandad brother and sister who i have never seen before but herd about my dad lilians cousin was also pleased and started to tell me of many storys of his memories of the andersons / tull familys so glad you got into that book of photos it would be nice to know if theres more to follow thanks again

  2. hello to all the sugar girls,
    my two aunts and one uncle worked at tate and lyle in silvertown and have been told storys by them,my uncle was eric clark and his sister was lill brownsall they have now both passed away lill aprox 7 years ago and eric aprox 29 years ago but there cousin pamela arid married name wyatt is now 82 years and lives in peterboroght,cambridgeshire you would not think she is 82 years of age.
    lill brownsall was the training manager who trained the new girls in the packing dept around 1951/3, she was training the new girls when the machine jomed up so she turned off machine opened the safty gaurds and told the new girls do noe touch the buttons on machine after she unjamed the machine one of the girls touch the buttons by mistake and the machine started up and cut off her thumb.eric was a shift manager of loading bank loading the lorries.but pam remembers a girl called ethel after reading the book.

  3. I am reading the Sugar Girls (I cannot put it down). I have met both Lillian and her late husband Alec, as I am very friendly with Lillian’s niece. Lillian is a lovely lady a true ‘Eastender’. I hope that the book goes on to become a TV series!

    • The Sugar Girls

      Thanks Sue, I’m glad you are enjoying the book. We are crossing our fingers for a TV series too…

  4. what an enthralling biography… what a wonderful era when , through all the fear and devastation, people pulled through TOGETHER, friendships formed that lasted a lifetime, even when decades passed with no contact… a must read.

  5. Hello Sugar Girls and Silvertown residents. My sons wife is Thai and I was looking for Thai supermarkets and found Loon Fung in Factory Road. When I took her there it stirred memories of when I used to take my mother to her cousins in a road near Tate and Lyles in mid 1960s. Since last week I have found out it wa 294 Albert Road and his name is George Green and wife Joan and their children Stephen, Karen and Tracy Green. Did any of them work at Tate and Lyle and can anyone remember them. Would love to hear anything about them now or in the past. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Alma (Essex)