"The St. George's Sugar Refiners" - P M Martineau 1901
  "Reminiscences of St. George's-in-the-East" - Alexander Gander




- P M Martineau
- Originally Printed in the Eastern Post, 7 September 1901


Alderman P M Martineau, JP, has written the following interesting account of the sugar refiners of St George's East :-
" Sugar refining was the leading industry in St George's-in-the-East 50 years ago. Many of the refineries have been pulled down, others are now warehouses. The waning began about 25 years ago. Year by year these refineries were closed; not one is now left, the last was closed about 15 years ago (i.e., 1885). But old inhabitants will remember the names Hall and Boyd, J and C Bowman, John Davis, Dames, Wackerbath, Goodhart, Kuck, Schroder, Wainwright and Gadesden, and David Martineau and Sons. A splendid Board School has just been built in Christian Street where the largest refinery stood, and which boasted of the tallest chimney in London. Sugar refining was for years the thriving business in St George's. Very many hundreds of tons of sugar were manufactured weekly by the local refiners. These sugars were made from cane, and they were known to the trade as 'Titler's' (i.e., loaf), 'crushed', 'pieces', and 'bastard treacle'. Many allied trades flourished side by side with the refineries : coopers, carmen, charcoal burners, engineers, string and paper merchants, and 'spice men'. St George's streets were full of life in those days from very early morning till dark and after. Wagons delivering hogsheads and bags of raw sugar; strings of carmen and carriers fetching away the refined; and from 9 to noon buyers from Mincing Lane walking briskly about the parish with samples in purple paper under their arms calling at the many counting houses to bargain. It was a queer sight after dark to peep through the areas of the refineries and see the half-naked sugarbakers (as the hands were called) scuttling about the basement and pouring the boiling sugar from pans which they carried into sugar moulds. The sugarbakers lived in the refineries; it was thought right to have them on the spot in case of fire. A fire meant havoc indeed! Twice in 30 years Martineau's in Christian Street was burnt down, each time with a loss of more than 50,000. The sugarbakers in those days were all Germans, chiefly Hanoverians. It was said that Germans stood the heat better than the English. The temperature in a refinery was high throughout; in the stoves which men had to work in daily it was 140 Fahr. More probably the reason for German labour was that the industry was originally German, managed by a German (Boiler was his technical name), who liked to have its own little colony about him. Beyond question the sugarbakers were good fellows, hard-working, cheery, loyal and steady. They came to England as lads and saved their money. In due time they went into the 'Public' line in our Parish, or returned to Hanover to marry a sweetheart and to farm. The work in a refinery was long hard and hot. The wages were good, and there was unlimited beer. The beer was a local 'sixpenny' and the average consumption was two gallons a day per head. If one walked about our streets then, one often saw at the open door or window half-naked well-fed Germans joking and laughing in the pauses of their work. They mostly ate beefsteak. These were the good-old days of the trade. Presently beet sugar crept in, and conditions of the manufacture were no longer the same. The East End refiners struggled manfully with the change, but when 'bounty-fed' loaf sugar from France and Belgium flooded the home market, one after another they succumbed. They could not make a living when Paris loaf sugar was being sold in Paris - apart from all question of duty - a good deal dearer than the same Paris sugar was being sold in London. It is often asked how, in the teeth of all this, did Henry Tate, the London refiner, become a millionaire? Among other reasons, three are suggested : (1) his refinery was not in St George's, but on the riverside, (2) he secured a very valuable patent, that of making loaf sugar into cubes, and (3) he was an exceptionally able businessman, and had been previously very successful in Liverpool. The German names to be seen over some of our taverns and shops and that excellent charity, The Society of United Friends, still survive. There is little else left now of St George's balmy sugar refining days. "




Extract from 
'The Old Sugar Refineries of St.George's-in-the-East'
- Alexander Gander (1911-1993)
- Originally Printed in the 'Port of London Magazine'


My father lived in ...(Hope) Court in Denmark Sreet, and his family was the only English one there, the others being German. He used to tell me that the Germans had their meals every day on bare white scrubbed sycamore tables, and at weekends the German bands would come round and play their music.

Some of these Germans used to return to their native land, but many more were absorbed into the local community. Some opened shops such as butchers, barbers, bakers, and publicans, and I remember most of them along Cable Street and St. George's Street, names such as Hagermann who had a toy shop, Schloss the publican, Schmidt the barber, and Schmieden the baker who supplied us with many a stale cake or roll when we came out of Betts Street Baths after a swim or a hot bath.

There was also Mr. Kreamer the blind pianotuner who kept a music shop close to Watney Street. I remember him well when he visited the Children's Hospital and he gave me great encouragement as both my eyes were covered after an operation there. Two doors from my house in Cable Street was the butcher Mr. Pffeffer who gave tick to many a poor person. In the Great War his shopwindow was broken by a local women who had received news that her eighteen year old son had been killed. Next door on the corner of Hardiness Street was a pub owned by another German a Mr. Sieman, and there were many others in the district.

On the honours board at the 'Paddy's Goose' and Broad Street boys' clubs were several German names, and there was a German gymnasium where Jim Wright and Bill Downing of the above clubs considered it an honour to compete there.

In the London Dock, I worked with several men whose grandparents came from Germany to work in the refineries, and the Demmel brothers told me that their grandfather kept the 'German Flag' pub by Princess Square, the name of which was changed to the 'Harp of Erin' during the anti-German trouble. Old Mr. Gemmel was the first to introduce German lager to England. Other men I worked with had such names as Kreuder, Oschmann, Schroeder, Ruppert, Giele and Mueller.

A cooper friend of mine who worked in the Crescent Vault, was Fred Bose, who served his apprenticeship at Martineaus where his grandfather was chief boiler. Close by the dock was a large pub in Ship Alley called the 'Prussian Flag' kept by old Jack Mueller the antique dealer. He told me that during the 1914 War he put a ladder up to the sign and chipped out the 'P' to make it the 'Russian Flag'.

The German colony had their own church which is still in Gt. Aile Street and also the German English school next door which is now a clothing factory. Many of the pianists and violinists who played in the 'Cable' and other picture-houses were of German descent, and today they are the only reminders of the balmy days of the Sugar Refiners of St. George's-in-the-East.

.........Alexander Gander.

(By kind permission of Des Gander....