Abram Lyle (1820–1891) was responsible for producing and selling an awful lot of golden syrup.
Abram was born in Greenock, a Scottish port near Glasgow, which was heavily dependent on the sugar trade. He attended a good local school until he was apprenticed to a lawyer at the age of 12. Later Abram joined his father’s cooperage firm. In addition to barrel making Abram developed a shipping business with his friend, John Kerr, which grew to be one of the largest in Greenock and made both men rich. Abram and John expanded into sugar refining in the mid 1860s. It was probably at the Glebe Sugar Refinery that a syrup by-product of the refining process, originally known as “Goldie” was first made and sold to staff and locals.
In 1881, Abram bought land in Plaistow, East London and began building a sugar refinery. His sons managed this refinery on the banks of the Thames while Abram remained in Scotland. In 1883, as the Plaistow refinery was getting established, Lyle’s and Sons suffered large losses due to a dramatic fall in the price of raw sugar. The value of the sugar they were importing collapsed while en-route to Britain. The Lyles’ businesses looked shaky. Abram sold the cooperage business, his only steam ship and persuaded the bank to extend their credit.
Golden syrup was their salvation. Abram insisted that the refinery pushed ahead with production and Golden Syrup was profitable. Part of the Plaistow refinery was devoted to making this partially inverted sugar syrup. The Plaistow refinery became part of Tate & Lyle in 1921 and continued to produce Golden Syrup. In 2010 it was sold to American Sugar Refining.
For more about the worker’s lives at Plaistow in the 20th century see the recently published book The Sugar Girls.