The Trebor Sugar Girls

Guest post by Matthew Crampton, author of The Trebor Story

While the Sugar Girls were busy in Silvertown, up the road in Forest Gate many other young women were working with sugar. Their story is told in The Trebor Story – a new book about the East End sweet firm which grew to become Britain’s biggest sugar confectioner. Here are some of the characters and stories from that book.

Soon after the firm started in 1907, under the name Robertson & Woodcock, six women workers posed proudly for a picture. They probably didn’t wear these smart clothes for the filthy job of boiling sugar.

Sisters Gertie and Nellie Gooch line up in 1919 with their friend Belinda Tyrie. Back then only twelve women worked in the factory, kneading blobs of hot sugar on the slabs and making lettered rock. They worked fifty-hour weeks at 6 ½ d per hour.

During the war Trebor won a contract to make sweets for American GIs, but the deal required these to be made in a place safe from bombing. Forest Gate was hardly suitable (indeed it received a direct hit in 1944) so the firm set up a new factory in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. To run this plant, it sent Hilda Clark, a remarkable Eastender who had joined Trebor in her teens and later become a director of the company.

Glamour was as important to the Trebor workers as it was to the Sugar Girls. Each year staff competed to enter Candy Queen competitions around the country. In 1957 the London contest in Park Lane was won by Mrs Joan Smith (centre) from the samples room at Forest Gate.

Here’s a great photo of the women’s football team at the Chesterfield factory in 1955. Named the Poulsbrook Tigers, they played to raise money for local retirement homes.

They knew how to party back in the 1970s. Here are some Forest Gate employees enjoying a social in May 1972 at the Little Bardfield Country Club in Essex. Yes, they are doing what you think they’re doing.

People worked hard for Trebor. This 1983 picture shows six of the longest serving staff from Forest Gate. Between them, they clocked up 196 years’ service. Vi Lee (front row left) joined the firm in 1934, was bombed out twice during the war and spent 21 years on the box-wrapping machine. Dolly Lamb next to her had 35 years’ service, starting on a salary of £4 a week with a daily bonus of between two and five shillings. Her neighbour Mavis Lewis worked 33 years, starting straight from school at fifteen.

Vi Lawrence (back row left) followed her mum Mabel into the factory in 1952 as a sugar feeder on the evening shift. Ivy Brewster next to her started work ‘on the belt’, producing toffee bars called Tramps, while Nell Antoine joined Trebor soon after arriving from Jamaica in 1956.

It all ended in 1983 when the firm decided it could no longer upgrade this loyal old factory to the level required by modern production. Here you can see an anguished look on the face of Helen Stephens as she fills the Forest Gate’s last ever jar of sweets.

There are many other pictures and stories in The Trebor Story. Find out more at the book’s official website.

1 Comment

  1. The Trebor sugar girls, my mum is in the picture, she is Eleanor Cannon, not Helen McCannon