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Abram Lyle

Abram Lyle

Abram Lyle (1820–1891) is noted for founding the sugar refiners Abram Lyle & Sons which merged with the company of his rival Henry Tate to become Tate & Lyle in 1921.

He was born in the seaport of Greenock in Scotland, and at twelve years old became an apprentice in a lawyer's office. He then joined his father's cooperage businesses and in partnership with a friend, John Kerr, developed a shipping business, making the Lyle fleet one of the largest in Greenock. The area was heavily involved in the sugar trade with the West Indies, and his business included transporting sugar.

Together with four partners he purchased the Glebe Sugar Refinery in 1865, and so added sugar refining to his other business interests. When John Kerr, the principal partner, died in 1872, Lyle sold his shares and began the search for a site for a new refinery.

He was Provost of Greenock from 1876 to 1879.[1]

Tate & Lyle syrup refinery at Plaistow Wharf, 2009 Together with his three sons he bought two wharves at Plaistow in East London in 1881 to construct a refinery for producing Golden Syrup. The site happened to be around 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the sugar refinery of his rival, Henry Tate. In the first year Lyle's refinery showed a loss of 30,000, with economies being made by asking staff to wait for their wages on occasion, but eventually the business came to dominate the United Kingdom market for Golden Syrup.

The tins are believed to be Britain's oldest brand, with its green and gold packaging and image of a lion with a biblical quotation having remained almost unchanged since 1885.[2] In Book of Judges, Chapter 14, Samson was travelling to the land of the Philistines in search of a wife. During the journey he killed a lion, and on his return past the same spot he noticed that a swarm of bees had formed a comb of honey in the carcass. Samson later turned this into a riddle at a wedding: "Out of the eater came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness". While no one is sure why this quotation was chosen, Abram Lyle was a deeply religious man and it has been suggested that it refers either to the strength of the Lyle company which delivers the sweet syrup or possibly even to the trademark tins in which Golden Syrup is sold.

Abram Lyle himself chose the biblical quotation for the syrup tins. He was a pious man and a strict teetotaller, who once declared that he would 'rather see a son of his carried home dead than drunk'.[3]

Sugar refineries belonging to Tate & Lyle continued as a major industry in Greenock until the 1980s, then declining sugar consumption and a shift away from cane sugar led to closure of the last refinery in 1997. There is still a sugar warehouse in the town's Ocean Terminal.


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