The Sugar Girls blog tour

Over the past few weeks, as well as keeping up the official Sugar Girls blog here, we have been writing guest posts for a number of other blogs. Here are some little tasters of the four that have gone online so far, along with links to the blogs they appear on, where you can learn about many different aspects of The Sugar Girls.

Over at the excellent Writing Women’s History blog, you can read an overview of what it was like to be a Sugar Girl, and why every young school leaver in the area hoped to get a job at Tate & Lyle.

“It’s officially the oldest brand in Britain, but few people know the full history of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, and of the young East End girls whose hard work went into every tin. In the mid-20th century, thousands of girls left school each year aged 14 or 15 and headed straight to the company’s factories in Silvertown. There were several departments staffed almost exclusively by women – the can-making and syrup filling, where the iconic tins were crafted and filled, the Blue Room, where the sugar bags were printed, and the Hesser Floor, where the bags were filled with sugar and packed up onto pallets…”

At History Workshop Online, we wrote about the kinds of stories the women we spoke to told us about working at the factories, and what it was like basing our book on their interviews.

“They told us of the hard work at the factory, where they made their own paper thimbles to prevent their fingers from bleeding. One woman described being sent down to the on-site surgery to have her wrists bound up, so painful were they after a day stacking huge piles of sugar bags. A doctor and nurse were on hand at all times to deal with all manor of complaints – from period pains (peppermint tea and an hour off work was the usual prescription), to the inevitable cuts and grazes from the machinery. In the event of more serious accidents, a Tate & Lyle ambulance would rush workers to hospital – and we heard many stories of hands being caught in the machines, of fingers being lopped off, and even the odd workplace fatality: one man was said to have drowned in a sugar silo, and another to have burnt to death in the charhouse…”

Throughout March, the Women’s History Network are publishing an article every day in celebration of Women’s History Month. Today they are featuring our blog about Edna Henry, a black sugar-packer who took on her male managers, and won!

“Edna was one of the first black women to work at the factory, and from her earliest days at Tate & Lyle she learned that she would need to fight in order to be treated fairly. When a promotion went to the sister-in-law of a supervisor, even though Edna had longer service and better time-keeping than the other girl, she bravely knocked on the door of the forelady’s office and demanded that the managers reconsider their decision. After checking her service record, they were forced to acknowledge that the job should have been hers, and reluctantly gave her the promotion…”

Amazing Women in History is a wonderful blog dedicated to ‘all the kick-ass women the history books left out’, so we were delighted when they agreed to publish a blog about the formidable Labour Manageress at Tate & Lyle, Miss Florence Smith.

“As the top woman at Tate & Lyle’s Plaistow Wharf refinery in Silvertown, Miss Smith was in charge of hiring and firing the 1,500-strong female workforce, among whom she had acquired a legendary reputation. Young girls looked up to her with a combination of terror and awe, and whenever she was spotted approaching on her daily rounds, a whisper of ‘The Dragon’s coming!’ would quickly spread across the factory floor…”

We hope to be doing more guest blogging in the coming weeks, so check back for information on other great blogs where you can find out about The Sugar Girls.