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Sugar refining was never plain sailing and most refineries had their problems, but this one in Newcastle-under-Lyme appears to have had a running battle with the local Council throughout its years of operation and I think it fair to say that its closure had little to do with the finances of refining but much to do with public health and local politics.
In 1864, an old hat factory, with dwelling house, in London Road was bought by James Robey and it became the Victoria Sugar Refinery operating as Robey & Co.
The following year, the 'environmental' problems began ... firstly the smell from the re-burning of charcoal, though this was said to have been solved at much cost. In 1867, complaints regarding the smell were rife again and added to this was the Council's decision to remove all smoke nuisance from the town - offenders would be prosecuted (they were in Liverpool, often). One councillor remarked that "the united smoke from all the chimneys in Newcastle was nothing compared to that from the refinery". Later the same year, the sewer in that area of the town burst and the refinery was blamed and again notices were served, though Robey did nothing. In both 1868 and 1869 the stench from the refinery was declared worse than the smoke nuisance. Also in 1869 there was a water shortage in the town and Robey's solution for the refinery was to sink its own well but the expensive project failed.
In 1870, Robey had had enough and sold the lease for the site including the dwelling house to Leonard Abington who continued to trade as Robey & Co Ltd, and for the next four years the refinery was trouble-free.

The 1871 census shows Abington as employing 35 men and women, some of whom are listed ...


BROMLEY James of Bridgemere age 47 - boiler 17 May St
CLINE John of Prussia age 30 - labourer 47 Penkhull St
COOPER William of Newcastle age 28 - labourer 45 Goose St
GERKEN Lutge of Hanover age 47 - boiler 2 Roebuck Lane
GERKEN Lutge of Mdx age 19 - boiler's assistant 2 Roebuck Lane
HALL Charles of Newcastle age 54 - stoker 24 Wilson St
HARRIS George of Newcastle age 15 - labourer 9 Bagnall St
HICKMAN Richard of Newcastle age 14 - boiler 1 Foden St
ILLIDGE Robert of Newcastle age 46 - labourer 2 John St
LEECH George of Newcastle age 29 - labourer 26 Bow St
MELCHER Lutge of Hanover age 44 - labourer 2 Roebuck Lane
MYATT Thomas of Whitmore age 19 - labourer 13 Union St
POTT Joseph of Cheshire age 52 - night watchman Black Horse, Ironmarket
TERRY Frederick of Kent age 21 - boiler 1 London Rd
THOMPSON George of Newcastle age 49 - packer 53 Upper Green

In 1872 William Bostock, a Liverpool refiner, became a partner in the refinery and it began trading as Bostock & Abington and probably produced brewer's sugar.
However, the problems with the Council began again. Smoke in 1874, foul and offensive water onto the local meadow in 1875 ... and then later in 1875 the site was inspected by the Local Board of Health, which produced a damning report mentioning heaps of refuse, cisterns of foul water, sewage oozing into the yard, and that same ink black stinking water running into the canal. The Inspector remarked that "a nastier place could hardly be found". The allegations were refuted and eventually the site was brought back into some sort of order, though in 1876 sewage and foul water was again reported flowing into nearby ditches and into the canal. The following year the complaints had stopped.
In 1880, Abington moved to 5 London Road and a manager, James T Armstrong, moved into the refinery dwelling house. Armstrong was a Liverpool chemist and he began to expand the refinery.

The 1881 census lists some of the 70+ employees ...


ABINGTON Leonard J of Staffs age 56 - refiner/owner 25 Lower Tean Rd, Checkley
BANKS George of Staffs age 46 - labourer 22 Shaw St
BARNES Thomas of Staffs age 47 - boiler 46 Hassells St
BLOOR Henry of Staffs age 27 - labourer 20 Harrison St
FUGE Edward of Wilts age 47 - commercial traveller 18 Bagnall St
GERKEN Tietje (reads Firege) of London age 28 - boiler 11 Goose St
GERKEN Lutge of London age 29 - boiler 5 London Rd, George Inn
GUMBLEY Thomas of Staffs age 59 - labourer 30 London Rd
ILLIDGE Robert E of Staffs age 56 - refiner 11 John St
KENNERLEY George of Cheshire age 35 - packer 7 Harrison St
LAWTON Thomas of Staffs age 33 - time keeper 11 Legge St
MARTIN George W of Southampton age 25 - commercial traveller 21 West Brampton
PATRICK Charles of Staffs age 17 - labourer 24 Bow St
ROBERTS John Wm of London age 29 - labourer 30 Castle St
ROWLANDS Augustus of Staffs age 47 - labourer 20 Harrison St

In 1882, the firm provided the workforce with a supper at the Borough Arms Hotel. The firm was expanding, was prosperous and in a "present satisfactory and cheering condition", and, providing the Council was reasonable in its demands, would grow and be helpful to the town. However an inspection a few days earlier had found problems yet again ... refuse in a field, stench from the charcoal plant and a still smoking chimney. Even with these things rectified the complaints continued during that year ... "a most extraordinary amount of noisome steam and vapour had been emitted from the refinery .... filling the whole of London Road in the early morning with a most sickly and offensive stench" and later "the road .... between 6 and 7 o'clock was filled with dense steam coming from the works - the stench from which was insufferable". Money was spent but things did not appear to get any better and when in 1883 the refinery was issued with a summons regarding the polluting of a nearby brook, Abington had had enough and moved to Bristol.
In early 1885, much to the pleasure of certain councillors, Bostock closed the refinery having failed to get assurances from the Council regarding the construction of a much needed railway link to the site. He moved the whole concern to Garston in Liverpool. Just how many men moved to Liverpool with Bostock is not known, but we do know that Lutge Gerken junior did continue and that by the time of the fatal explosion at Garston in 1894 he was an under manager and had served the two refineries for 28 years. Lutge Gerken senior had become a publican in Newcastle in 1881 but appears to have left the town for Garston where he died in 1887. William Bostock died in 1895 and the company wound up in 1901.


* 'History of Commerce in Stoke on Trent' website.
* GRO.
* "The Victoria Sugar Refinery, Newcastle under Lyme (1864-1885)" by D. W. Adams, Newcastle under Lyme Library.
* "A German Immigrant to Liverpool" by Pam Baker, AGFHS Mitteilungsblatt 86, 2008.

[My thanks to Barbara Forbes & Pam Baker for their help with this page.]