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Lyle's Golden Syrup (aka 'Goldie')

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Lyle's Golden Syrup has been through it all; an expedition to one of the coldest places known to man, the trenches, and the Blitz - to name but a few periods in history that it has popped up in. It has also been transported around the world, being consumed not only in Britain, but also Australia and China.

Waste Not, Want Not

If you were able to take a peek inside a cupboard belonging to that of a person from the Victorian era, and then one owned by a 21st Century individual, you'd soon see a lot that was different. However, take a look again and you'd see that both these people have a sweet tooth - for they are both likely to own a tin of Lyle's Golden Syrup.

Born in 1820, Abram Lyle grew up acquainted with the port of Greenock in Scotland. He started his working life as a cooper, making barrels for a living, and bought into a sugar refinery - where he learnt how to make sugar (and the syrup we are acquainted with today). He became financially well off, and later adopted the lifestyle of being a provost1 and a benefactor of many Greenock institutions.

Lyle realised that money could be made in vast amounts in London and in 1881, he sent two of his sons to Plaistow with one mission - to create and run a sugar refinery. Abram Lyle & Sons started working in 1883, but was soon threatened by closure as the firm came across problems with their cargoes. Lyle was determined that his sons should continue, and knew that during the sugar refining process a thick, gooey, treacly, substance could be made by taking half of the sugar, separating it into its constituent parts (leaving fructose and glucose), then reuniting these with the other half, resulting in golden-coloured syrup (bar a few 'secret' processes). This substance usually went to waste, but it could equally be used as a preservative and sweetener in cooking.

'Goldie', as it affectionately came to be called, was first sold to employees and local customers, and transported in wooden casks. Once those closest to the business heard about and then tasted the fine substance, it was hard for them not to spread the news of how delicious it was, and soon shops were clamouring for dispensers to be installed so they could sell the sweet, sticky syrup.

When the First World War broke out, the gold liquid substance was sold in thick cardboard packaging - but the oozing syrup returned to being sold in tins soon afterwards. The tins themselves, first created in 1885 to replace the shop dispensers, are manufactured using flat sheets of steel that are fused together to make a cylinder shape, before the bottom and top are securely put on. Then the syrup is added, the production process speeding along at a rate of 240 tins per minute.

Competition Among Companies

Not far from the site on which the Lyle family had established their sugar refinery was another, which had began work in 1859. This refinery belonged to Sir Henry Tate's family, from Liverpool. Although it is said that the masterminds behind the companies did not meet, they did hold a general understanding that the Lyle factory would never specialise in sugar cubes like the Tate's did, and equally the Tate family would not step foot on the premises of the Lyle factory.

The Lyle family obtained a Royal Warrant from King George V in 1911 (to be renewed by every later monarch), and the syrup also met with the approval of Captain Robert Scott in October of that year, after taking 'Goldie' on his expedition to the South Pole. He wrote a letter of thanks to Lyle saying,

Your Golden Syrup has been in daily use in this hut throughout the winter, and has been much appreciated by all members of the expedition.

In 1921 competition between Lyle and Tate came to an end, as the Lyle company joined forces with the Tate refinery. In combining, Tate & Lyle Plc was created, which became known as the only UK sugar refinery, and the biggest operator in Europe at the time.

Reaction to Religion

Unlike many products that change with time, Lyle's Golden Syrup (and the tins that contain the velvety elixir which often lasts longer than a good bottle of wine), have not altered during the years the syrup has been in production. This is a fact that was duly recognised by Guinness World Records in 2006.

Research also concluded that over 85% of people instantly recognise the product, but few would perhaps know that the trademark of a dead lion surrounded by bees arose from Lyle's reading of the Old Testament, with the slogan 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness' derived from the biblical character Samson's saying,

Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness
- Book of Judges, 14: 14

'Goldie' was created during the Victorian era, and Dr Kate Thomas2 suggests 'its image of the lion, and the bees, and the biblical quotation testify to a peculiarly Victorian mix of moralism, industrial drive, and budding concern for social welfare'.

In 2008 Tate & Lyle celebrated the syrup's 125th birthday by selling it in special gold-coloured tins. However, the company had to reassure concerned 'Goldie' fans after there was worry that they'd not only give up the traditional tins, but also lose their unaltered packaging record, stating,

Don't worry. We are still continuing with the old green tins, too, or else we would lose our record.
And that would never do.


This Entry would not be complete without a few suggestions of foods and recipes that use Golden Syrup in some way:

1Not unlike a Mayor.2An expert of Victoriana at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, USA.

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