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Tate Britain’s ‘offensive’ Rex Whistler restaurant mural could be removed

Henry Tate, a grocer from Liverpool, had made a fortune from refining sugar and selling it in cubes. He went on to become the founder of the Tate Modern Gallery

1872: Henry Tate, a grocer from Liverpool, had made a fortune from refining sugar and selling it in cubes.

Until then, sugar had been sold in hacked-off chunks of what was known as ‘sugar loaf’.

Henry bought up the rights to the newly invented sugar cube and in 1878 opened his Thames refinery in Silvertown, east London.

1883: Abram Lyle opened his own refinery in nearby Plaistow in 1883 and began selling Golden Syrup – made from by-products in the sugar refining process – in the famous green and gold tins in 1885 after it proved an instant success with customers.

The two sugar barons never met but became fierce rivals. There was, however, a tacit understanding that the Tate factory would never venture into the ‘Goldie’ business and that the Lyles would never do sugar cubes. 

1921: But in 1921, the two firms merged to form Tate & Lyle, refining around 50 per cent of the country’s sugar between them.

1939: By 1939 the Thames Refinery was the largest cane sugar refinery in the world, producing around 14,000 tonnes a week.

By the outbreak of World War II, 2,000 people worked there but, situated in the East End, it was a natural target for the Luftwaffe.

But the owners spent a great deal of time and money on air raid preparations. As workers’ homes were bombed to smithereens, the management built reinforced dormitories. The result was nothing short of miraculous.

Throughout the war the factory operated round-the-clock shifts.

The company even installed a full-time hairdresser for light relief. At one point, the factory endured air raids for 69 consecutive days and 79 consecutive nights.

The ‘Goldie’ operation was hit by six high-explosive bombs, 61 incendiary bombs and one parachute mine. One member of staff was killed on duty (another 13 would be killed in their homes).

1944: The highest output in the history of Lyle’s Golden Syrup was in 1944, when more than 1,000 tons per week were leaving Plaistow.

The making of the Tate Modern gallery 

With the help of an £80,000 donation from Tate himself, the gallery at Millbank, now known as Tate Britain, was built and opened in 1897. Tate’s original bequest of works, together with works from the National Gallery, formed the founding collection

With the help of an £80,000 donation from Tate himself, the gallery at Millbank, now known as Tate Britain, was built and opened in 1897. Tate’s original bequest of works, together with works from the National Gallery, formed the founding collection

In 1889 Henry Tate offered his collection of British nineteenth-century art to the nation and provided funding for the first Tate Gallery.

Tate was a great patron of Pre-Raphaelite artists but his bequest of 65 paintings to the National Gallery was turned down by the trustees because there was not enough space in the gallery.

A campaign was begun to create a new gallery dedicated to British art. 

With the help of an £80,000 donation from Tate himself, the gallery at Millbank, now known as Tate Britain, was built and opened in 1897. 

Tate’s original bequest of works, together with works from the National Gallery, formed the founding collection.

Henry Tate and slavery 

The Tate Modern invited researchers at the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London ‘to share their analysis’ amid debate surrounding Henry Tate’s association with slavery. 

It found that: ‘Neither Henry Tate nor Abram Lyle was born when the British slave-trade was abolished in 1807. Henry Tate was 14 years old when the Act for the abolition of slavery was passed in 1833; Abram Lyle was 12. 

‘By definition, neither was a slave-owner; nor have we found any evidence of their families or partners owning enslaved people.’

But the report did find that the firms founded by the two men, which later combined as Tate & Lyle, ‘do connect to slavery in less direct but fundamental ways.’

It adds: ‘First, the sugar industry on which both the Tate and the Lyle firms (the two merged in 1921) were built in the 19th century was itself absolutely constructed on the foundation of slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries, both in supply and in demand.’

It also found that; ‘Tate’s collections include items given by or associated with individuals who were slave-owners or whose wealth came from slavery.’

These include J.M.W. Turner’s Sussex sketchbooks and two pieces by Sir Joshua Reynolds. 

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