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The Sugar Girls [Paperback]

Duncan Barrett , Nuala Calvi
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (182 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Mar 2012

Tales of Hardship, Love and Happiness in Tate & Lyle’s East End Factories

‘On an autumn day in 1944, Ethel Alleyne walked the short distance from her house to Tate & Lyle’s refinery on the shining curve of the Thames. Looking up at the giant gates, Ethel felt like she had been preparing for this moment all her life. She smoothed down her frizzy hair, scraped a bit of dirt off the corner of her shoe and strode through.

She was quite unprepared for the sight that met her eyes …’

In the years leading up to and after the Second World War thousands of women left school at fourteen to work in the bustling factories of London’s East End. Despite long hours, hard and often hazardous work, factory life afforded exciting opportunities for independence, friendship and romance. Of all the factories that lined the docks, it was at Tate and Lyle’s where you could earn the most generous wages and enjoy the best social life, and it was here where The Sugar Girls worked.

Through the Blitz and on through the years of rationing The Sugar Girls kept Britain sweet. The work was back-breakingly hard, but Tate & Lyle was more than just a factory, it was a community, a calling, a place of love and support and an uproarious, tribal part of the East End. From young Ethel to love-worn Lillian, irrepressible Gladys to Miss Smith who tries to keep a workforce of flirtatious young men and women on the straight and narrow, this is an evocative, moving story of hunger, hardship and happiness.

Tales of adversity, resilience and youthful high spirits are woven together to provide a moving insight into a lost way of life, as well as a timeless testament to the experience of being young and female.

Frequently Bought Together

The Sugar Girls + Four Meals For Fourpence: A Heartwarming Tale of Family Life in London's old East End + Bread, Jam and a Borrowed Pram: A Nurse's Story From the Streets
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (29 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007448473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007448470
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 12.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (182 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 34,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Authors

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Product Description


‘An authoritative and highly readable work of social history which brings vividly to life a fascinating part of East End life before it is lost forever.’ Melanie McGrath

‘This vivid and richly readable account of women’s lives in and around the Tate & Lyle East London works in the Forties and Fifties is written as popular social history, played for entertainment. If it doesn’t become a TV series to rival Call The Midwife, I’ll take my tea with ten sugars.’ Bel Mooney, Daily Mail

About the Author

Duncan Barrett studied English at Cambridge and now works as writer and editor, specialising in biography and memoir. He most recently edited The Reluctant Tommy (Macmillan, 2010) a First World War memoir. Nuala Calvi also studied English and has been a journalist for eight years with a strong interest in community history pieces. She took part in the Streatham Stories project to document the lives and memories of people in South London. They live in South London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the sugar girls 18 April 2012
By micky
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I really loved this book as I worked for Tate and Lyle for 45 years and grew up in the area set around this story. Its a must for any one who grew up in the east end in the 50's and 60's and it took me back to my early years in both Lyle's and Tate's refineries.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 30 Mar 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Sugar Girls: Tales of Hardship, Love and Happiness in Tate & Lyle's East EndK

A great read which I really enjoyed .It was a wonderful insight into life in the fifties and held my attention until I finished it .
The lives of these women proved to be complex and intriguing .This is a wonderful social history of life in London before, during and after the war.Many thanks to both the authors.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
There are few accolades I can add about this book that has not already been noted. It was for me a well written and absorbing account of social history in that part of the East End of London towards the final months of the Second World War and the early years beyond.

All the girls worked at Tate & Lyle who for many years was not only the biggest but the most generous employer in the area which is why jobs there were so sort after. Having been employed there for over 30 years I was able to happily identify with many of the work related themes and some of the characters mentioned.

My only real small criticism is that the girls' stories follow a time line with the opening chapter devoted to Ethel's early memories then Lilian followed by Gladys. By the time you reach chapter 4 the story reverts back to Ethel and so on. Joan's arrival in chapter 14 adds to the complicated mix so unless you have an outstanding memory you find yourself referring to previous chapters to refresh yourself on what happened to whom, where and when. Therefore I would suggest that this book be consumed in one or two sittings which will help to maintain the thread of the individual stories and personalities. The Kindle edition allows you to download their stories individually and it might suit some to read the book in the same manner. However, that is just a personal opinion.

The authors notes at the end admit to using their own research and imagination to fill in gaps where old memories are incomplete and that is apparent in some of the writing and the style of language used but it does not detract from a very fine, honest book that tugs at every emotion in equal measure and generates a warm admiration for some very special ladies!! Just read it!!
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Insightful Read 7 April 2012
I loved this book. It was a brilliant glimpse into this period of history. Reading almost as a novel or piece of fiction, the women's stories are compelling and, by the end of it, you just want to meet them and ask them more about their experiences. What I found especially interesting was the sense of community and support that working at the factory seemed to inspire. These women are still friends today, 60 years on. There is, as the subtitle suggests though, a harsher, darker side with illness, loss and poverty suffered by most of the women at some point. It is to the book's great credit however that these aspects are not dealt with in an all-consuming way. Indeed, the feeling you come away with is a positive one and a sense that, in spite of their hardships, these women enjoyed their time working at Tate & Lyle. They had fun and I think it's wonderful to see a memoir such as this that touches upon the positive as well as the negative aspects of life in 1950s East End London. Recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By JudyG
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderfully well written book about the lives and times of people who worked for a major employer in the east end before, during and after the second world war. In particular it focuses on the lives of four girls and gives a superb overview of the social history of those times. The girls' lives were hard and sometimes difficult, but the sunny nature of the east enders shines through. This isn't a novel but a true story and will take the reader back to a time that some will recall with nostalgia and for others a look at how life used to be. It's funny and poignant at the same time.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Shazjera TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The preface gives the reader a brief background of the two refineries. The employment conditions of the times and also the changes in modern Silvertown are also briefly touched on.

The reader is then introduced to Ethel, Lilian and Gladys whose families all have similar social backgrounds ... and later on we get to meet Joan whose family have a different perspective of finances.

Their stories are narrated in chapters of their own and the language is such that you can imagine the women themselves sharing their experiences as opposed to an author re-telling their memories. I felt their personalities really came through which gave me the human element I needed to identify with them and helped me imagine how they felt. This makes something that could have been `dry and factual' into a very enjoyable read.

Although there are plenty of facts about the Tate & Lyle refineries, they are woven in amongst the women's lives. The reader follows them from their first days in the factory but also we're with them on a day-to-day basis experiencing the life they lived outside of the factory. Alongside the women we get to meet their families and their co-workers and eventually their boyfriends and husbands. The reader learns about social history as well and `natural' disasters ie The Great Smog in 1952 and the storm tide in 1953. As well as the `good times' - WW2, war romances, evacuation, infant mortality, poverty, pregnancies outside marriage, adoption, domestic violence and politics are all a part of The Sugar Girls lives.

Tate & Lyle were such impressive employers with the way they looked after their employees (convalescent home, factory surgery, pensions etc) and rewarded them with bonuses and promotions. I must admit to having a giggle at the bidets ...
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