The Sugar Girls book signing at Tate & Lyle

Earlier this week, we attended a very special book-signing in the canteen of Tate & Lyle’s Thames Refinery in Silvertown. Community Affairs Manager Ken Wilson had organised a display board of pictures of the sugar girls, and had invited Colin Lyle – son and nephew, respectively, of former factory directors Philip and Oliver Lyle – to come along. Sugar girls Gladys and Eva were there too – and they told us that the food in the modern Tate & Lyle canteen compared very favourably to what they remembered from the 1940s and 1950s!

It was fantastic to meet current Tate & Lyle employees who had already begun reading the book, and who told us how much they enjoyed learning more about the company’s past. Ken was particularly pleased that several contractors, who had only been working for the firm for a few months, seemed as keen to learn about the history of Tate & Lyle and the sugar girls as those who had been working there for decades.

Many of the current Tate & Lyle workforce told us what a pleasure it was to meet Colin Lyle, a member of one of the original founding families. One man spoke to him about how four generations of his family had worked for the company, his great-grandfather having travelled down to London with Abram Lyle himself in the 1880s. Meanwhile, current ‘sugar girls’ at the factory were very keen to speak to Gladys and Eva about what it was like at Tate & Lyle half a century ago.

By the end of the lunch hour, we had signed so many copies that Gladys was complaining of cramp in her hand – and Vivian Archer from the Newham Bookshop, who was selling the books, nearly ran out of stock entirely.

If you would like to meet some of the sugar girls in person – and have your book signed by them – come along to Wanstead Library next Friday (20 April), where there will be a book talk featuring Duncan, Nuala, Gladys and Eva, as part of the Redbridge Book Festival. There’s more information here – tickets cost £5 and early booking is advised.