A spoonful of sugar
THIS week, I was introduced to a remarkable project to construct a 1:1500 scale model of London in 1840. Its tiny wooden buildings are being laid onto a baseboard computeretched with the city’s street plan and the winding outline of the River Thames. As Andrew Byrne, the impresario of the project, explained, the model —which is still in the early stages of construction— will offer fresh insights into the character of London in the early Victorian Age.
What drove the point home was an account of London’s sugar industry as revealed in part by research for the model. Refining was dominated by German families and concentrated in the East End, where the raw materials could be directly unloaded from the docks. In the 18th century, the purpose-built refineries might stand six storeys high, rivalling the steeples of neighbouring churches, and, a century later, they had grown taller still.
None of these 80 colossal buildings survives, but one company does. Tate & Lyle fought off the competition that destroyed its rivals by diversifying into syrup and the production of sugar lumps. For no good reason, knowledge of this odd fact will lend relish to my sweetened breakfast porridge for the rest of the winter. JG