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The air was full of cries of recognition as old friends and co-workers were reunited under the history of the Tate & Lyle sugar refineries at the launch of a new book and exhibition in Canning Town.

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Launching The Sugar Girls, compiled from over 50 interviews with women who worked in the factories in Plaistow and Silvertown in the 40s and 50s, the Hub was also transformed into an exhibition to give visitors a true blast from the past.

Women pointed at themselves and their friends in display photographs, along with Tate & Lyle products from yesteryear.

Jessica Wanamaker, chief executive of Newham NDP, hopes the exhibition will grow and travel around the borough to reach as many people as possible, encouraging visitors to write their favourite memories on the Hub’s Memory Wall, or in the Memory Book, to get in contact with long lost friends.

The event began with speeches from authors Duncan Barrett, who read an excerpt from the book which demonstrated the generosity of the women.

Author Nuala Calvi drew nods and gasps as memories came flooding back during her speech which was decorated with references to the Lotus Ballroom, the Ilford Palais and the Imperial Cinema.

Nuala finished: “We hope that the book we’ve written reflects that view of life at Tate and Lyle - the view that you shared with us, not the typical East End memoir which presents the area as impoverished and miserable.

“This is a book that we hope celebrates what it was to be young and female in the Forties and Fifties in Newham, and we hope you see yourselves in what we’ve written.”

The Sugar Girls themselves were out in force - in particular, the four women whose stories form the main part of the book’s narrative, Ethel Colquhoun, Lilian Clark, Gladys Hudrell, and Joan Cook.

Eva Rodwell, 73, who had worked in the Blue Room in the 1980s, said she spotted a woman who was caring for her husband at the same time as herself at Newham General Hospital years ago, but had not realised the two shared Tate and Lyle until the day’s event.

A third generation worker, she spoke of how bosses sent a chauffeur-driven limousine to collect her poorly father to drive him to Harley Street every week.

Along with many of the other women present, Eva described her days working at Tate and Lyle as “the happiest days of our lives.”

Also speaking at the event were special guests Ken Wilson, community affairs at Tate and Lyle, who spoke of his family history with the company, and Colin Lyle, Oliver Lyle’s nephew, whose family used to run the Plaistow Wharf factory during the Blitz.

A round of applause followed his introduction as he proceeded to read a letter his father wrote in 1941, narrating the factory’s struggle during the war, finishing with “I hope you will agree that the Sugar Girls and the Sugar Men were all rather special indeed.”

The Newham Recorder was praised at the special celebration for its help with the book. The Sugar Girls is priced £6.99 available from all good retailers and the Newham Bookshop and the exhibition is open every day for free at The Hub, 123 Star Lane, Canning Town.

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