Mar 112014


Today is the birthday (1819) of Sir Henry Tate, 1st Baronet, an English sugar merchant and philanthropist. Tate was born in White Coppice near Chorley Lancashire, the son of a Unitarian clergyman, the Reverend William Tate, and Agnes Booth. He married Jane Wignall in 1885. He lived at Park Hill by Streatham Common, south London. Tate had 8 children, 5 boys and 3 girls. Originally I wrote,  “Almost nothing is known about his children and it is likely that all but Alfred (1845-1881) died young. So it seems that the “& sons” part of the Tate company name was more nominal than actual.” Thanks to a diligent reader (see below) that statement must be corrected. George also survived to adulthood, so the “& sons” part is legitimate.


When Tate was 13, he became a grocer’s apprentice in Liverpool. After a seven-year apprenticeship, he was able to set up his own shop. His business was successful, and grew to a chain of six stores by the time he was 35. In 1859 Tate became a partner in John Wright & Co. sugar refinery, selling his grocery business in 1861. By 1869, he had gained complete control of the company, and renamed it as Henry Tate & Sons. In 1872, he purchased the patent from German Eugen Langen for making sugar cubes, and in the same year built a new refinery in Liverpool. In 1877 he opened a refinery at Silvertown, London, which remains in production. At the time, much of Silvertown was still marshland.

tate4  tate7

Tate was a modest rather retiring man, well known for his concern with workers’ conditions. He built the Tate Institute opposite his Thames Refinery, a bar and dance hall for their recreation. Tate rapidly became a millionaire, and donated generously to charity. In 1889 he donated his collection of 65 contemporary paintings to the government, on the condition that they be displayed in a suitable gallery, toward the construction of which he also donated £80,000. The National Gallery of British Art, nowadays known as Tate Britain, was opened on 21 July 1897, on the site of the old Millbank Prison.

tate3  tate6

Tate also commissioned works of art.  The most well known is probably The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes.

The Doctor exhibited 1891 by Sir Luke Fildes 1843-1927

Tate made many donations, often anonymously, and always discreetly. He supported “alternate” and non-establishment causes in particular. He gave £10,000 for the library of Manchester College, founded in Manchester in 1786 as a Dissenting academy to provide religious nonconformists with higher education. He also gave the College (which had retained its name during moves to York, London and finally Oxford), £5,000 to promote the ‘theory and art of preaching.’ In addition he gave £20,000 to the (homoeopathic) Hahnemann Hospital in Liverpool in 1885. He particularly supported health and education with his money. He gave £42,500 for Liverpool University, £3,500 for Bedford College for Women, and £5,000 for building a free library in Streatham; additional provisions were made for libraries in Balham, South Lambeth, and Brixton. He also gave £8,000 to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, and £5,000 to the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute, which became the Queen’s Institute for District Nurses.

Tate was made a baronet in 1898, the year before his death. He had refused this knighthood more than once until – after he had spent £150,000 to build the Millbank Gallery, endowed it with his personal collection, and presented it to the nation – he was told the Royal Family would be offended if he refused again.

When Tate first started refining sugar there were 74 refineries in England, mostly family run businesses. It was the manufacture of sugar cubes that gave him the edge.  Around the same time Abraham Lyle opened his own refinery with a specialty in producing golden syrup.  The two men were bitter rivals all their lives.  But in 1921, when both men were long gone, the companies merged to become Tate and Lyle, one of the largest processors of sugar in the world.

In 2001, a blue plaque commemorating Sir Henry was unveiled on the site of his first shop at 42 Hamilton Street, Birkenhead. In 2006 a Wetherspoons pub in his home town of Chorley was named after the sugar magnate.

tate11 tate12

Tate died in 1899 and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery near Park Hill, the gates of which are located opposite a public library that he endowed. Park Hill became a convent after his death until refurbishment as housing around 2004.


To honor Sir Henry I wanted to give you a recipe that is primarily sugar and not just one that has sugar in it (which would amount to millions). For me the best choice is nut brittle.  Peanut brittle is readily available packaged, but if you make your own you can get really creative.  You can use just about any nut imaginable – pecans, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, macadamias . . . Some, like Brazil nuts and walnuts, need to be chopped, of course. Furthermore you do not need to stick to one at a time; you can make mixtures of any you choose.  Time to be creative.


Nut Brittle

2 cups sugar
½ cup water
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tbsp light corn syrup
½ teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces roasted nuts
Fleur de sel or crushed Maldon sea salt


In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, butter and corn syrup and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is light brown and registers 300°F/150°C on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda. The mixture will bubble. Stir in the nuts, then immediately scrape the brittle on to a large rimmed, nonstick baking sheet. Using the back of a large spoon (oil it lightly if it sticks), spread the brittle into a thin, even layer. Sprinkle with salt. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Break the brittle into large shards.

The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.