Monday 20 January 2014

Lyle's Golden Syrup - the Greenock Connection

Lyle's Golden Syrup - used by bakers everywhere and one of the most iconic tins in Britain.  Here's the Greenock connection - did you know that Abram Lyle (1820-1891) was born in Greenock?  In fact, he was a former provost (mayor) of Greenock in the 1870s.  His family were coopers in the town and Abram went into the shipping business, especially the importing of sugar from the East and West Indies.  He later founded the firm of Abram Lyle & Sons, sugar refiners.

Have you ever really looked at the picture on the tin?  It depicts a dead lion with a swarm of bees around it.  It seems a strange image to adorn a tin of food, but it would appear that the story behind it comes from the Bible (Judges 14:5-18) and it's a pretty horrible tale!  In the story, Samson kills a lion, the next time he passes the carcass, a swarm of bees have made a honeycomb in it.  He makes up a riddle about this "out of the strong, something sweet" - and that's why it is on the tin!  This trade mark was registered in 1904, although syrup was first put into tins in 1885.

Lyle opened a refinery in London, not far from that of his business rival, Henry Tate (of Tate Gallery fame).  The two companies were joined in 1921 after both men were dead.  Thus we have the company of Tate & Lyle, which had a refinery in Greenock until the 1980s.

So, the next time you open a tin of syrup or treacle, just remember the story of the logo and the Greenock connection! 

The Greenockian


  1. Until I looked at your close up photo of the tin, I hadn't ever paid attention to the lion (though, to be honest, I haven't ever bought the stuff, so haven't had the chance to look closely...). What a dreadful image and tale.
    I also didn't know that the Tate was of the gallery family, nor that Lyle and Tate were rivals. I wonder if they are still hurling insults at each other beyond the grave after what happened to their respective companies?!

  2. That's a very neat post. The lion picture used to fascinate me when I was a kid. The refinery in Greenock was massive, wasn't it? I think T&L still have a refinery at Silvertown in London.

  3. I've never seen the tins, but it is a kind of creepy image. Good post!

  4. Just looking at the can before I started reading your post, I still didn't notice the lion with the bees. Very interesting read and history.
    I wonder if I can find this here in the states?

  5. Nice decorative boxes!:) I have seen the green one in the UK I guess.

  6. Hello, thanks for following Dancing Beastie. My family is from Renfrewshire, and I remember the smell of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery in Greenock! As a child I was fascinated by the story of the lion and the bees, which I first read in my children's Bible (it had a striking picture of Samson killing the lion with his bare hands). By coincidence, a direct descendent of the Lyle sugar family is now a neighbour and friend in our part of Scotland.


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