Extract from 
"Essay on Sugar, ..." - Robert Niccol - 1864.
Written by Ian Rathjen.


Ian Rathjen writes .....
The Watt Library(1) in Greenock houses in its intriguing Victorian Gothic building a veritable goldmine of local archive material. The section on the sugar industry contains no volume more fascinating than Robert Niccol's Essay on Sugar published in 1864(2). Writing at a time when "modern" methods and machinery were fast ousting the old traditional and often secret methods of refining Mr. Niccol sets out to instruct on every aspect of the industry. His technical descriptions and diagrams fill most of the book but, in a commendably thorough way, he prefaces all the technical explanations with a full and extensively researched description of the state of the industry on Clydeside. After a history of the refineries, he then launches into an astonishing attack on the influence of the German refiners. The following continuous extract is taken from pages 23 to 25 of the book.


"Some 50 refineries, as already remarked, existed in England in 1688. At the present time (1863) there are probably not fewer than 70 of such establishments at work in England, and 20 in Scotland, making a total of 90 sugarhouses in Britain at the present day. Now, these 90 refineries, exclusively of their working stock of sugar, and reckoning each at £20,000 of an invested capital, represent the enormous sum of £1,800,000. It may be supposed that these 90 refining works combined, will (according to the present mode of working), use in the course of a year of 48 working weeks(3) somewhere about 560,000 to 565,000 tons of raw sugar, which, having undergone the refining process, will be found to produce from 475,000 to 480,000 tons refined and crushed sugars, exclusively of golden syrup and treacle, making every allowance for waste, &c., in working. The refining of sugar, then, it is evident, constitutes rather a distinguished and important branch of British manufacture. The art of the refiner seems to have been long practised in this country. According to Stowe, as previously shown, we had sugar refining among us about the year 1544. Other writers, however, assert that the art of refining sugar was not introduced into England until 1659, while others again make it appear to have been introduced into this country but a few years earlier than the date last mentioned, viz., in 1653, 1655, and 1656, which are the respective dates given for its introduction into England. England having, as we learn, obtained raw sugar from her own colonies about the middle of the 17th century, expressed an anxious desire to engage in the refining trade, but could not, at that period, find any in her dominions competent to carry out her scheme. The refining business being, however, at that time, extensively prosecuted in the Hanseatic towns and in Holland, by the Germans and the Dutch respectively, the former resolved to come to this country to carry out the designs and intentions of the English. They are said to have commenced operations in London in 1659, the entire management of English refineries being entrusted into the hands of these foreigners, under whom, in every sense of the term, the British refiner was an absolute slave.(4)

The Germans were only to be treated with on certain conditions which, as is reasonable to suppose, were only favourable to themselves, but rather the reverse on the part of their employers, who, having no alternative, were thus obliged to submit to their terms of engagement. The terms entered into between the boiler or practical manager and his employer were, in those days and indeed until a comparatively recent date, in most cases as follows: - Exclusively of a stated salary of some £200 to £300 a-year (more or less, according to the size of the work and other circumstances), and a per-centage of the profits of the refiner's business, a free house (the tax burdens on which were paid by the refiner), with other perquisites : a period of engagement from one to three years (more or less as the case might be), as also the exclusive right of employing and dismissing workmen at pleasure. In the event of a change in the management of the refiner's business, a three month's notice of warning was demanded and obtained by the manager from the refiner : or, in the case of an immediate dismissal, the latter party had the alternative of paying the former a sum corresponding to three months' salary, three months' house rent, &c., &c. In some cases also the refiner was obliged to take stock of his business and pay over to the manager his per-centage of the profits. Such an engagement was evidently a favourable one on the part of the manager, who was cautious, or rather was cunning and crafty enough to have his own ends served at his employer's expense. The manager had, of course, nothing to lose by the bargain, all being, on his part, clear and positive gain : but the engagement was certainly not so very favourable on the part of the refiner, verifying the old Scotch proverbs, "It is hard to take the breeches off a Highlandman, who only wears kilts", and, "He required to pay the piper, while others were allowed to dance for their own amusement." But such engagements are indeed, very seldom, if ever, entered into now-a-days, the refiner of the present day being too much alive to the impositions practised by the Germans in former times, who are now, however, employed in only a few of our refineries.

The writer would just remark, in passing, that the Germans who have come to this country from time to time in the capacity of sugar bakers, as they style themselves, have never been known to be accompanied from the Hanseatic towns by their wives and families; but invariably married those of the fair sex belonging to this country, many of whom, in the event of their husbands being obliged to return to their own country, were, with their families, left in a state of abject poverty and wretchedness to become a burden upon our parochial and charitable institutions. This is, in some degree, confirmed by Mr Edwards (author of a history of the West Indies, published in 1793), who observes :- "There are few operations more simple, or which require a less expensive apparatus, than that of refining sugar." He speaks also of "a class of foreigners" (evidently Germans) "employed in English refineries, who live in the most frugal and sparing manner in England, and then return with their savings to their own country." It has likewise been frequently remarked by our countrymen that those foreigners come here in the state of half-clad and half-starved peasants, and after remaining but a short time in this country and working in the refineries here, they soon become more like princes.(5) Some of them have, through their fascinations, even been received into partnership with their employers and not a few of them are now proprietors or part owners of English refineries.

To the Germans, no doubt, Britain is indebted for the art of refining sugar : but chiefly to her own citizens is she indebted for any improvements that have been introduced in connection with the refining process. The Germans, to speak of them generally, possess many good and amiable qualities : they are for the most part ingenious, industrious and intelligent. But this opinion must be somewhat modified in speaking of that class of them connected with the process of sugar refining in this country, who, with but few exceptions, have proved themselves to be rather illiterate, selfish, and indeed treacherous towards our countrymen, as we shall probably have occasion to show. They, too, in many cases, it must be admitted, assumed a position in our refineries which, in fact, they were quite unjustified in occupying. They pretended (from prejudice no doubt) that it was an absolute impossibility for those of this country to become practical sugar refiners, or even to attain to anything like a comprehensive or practical view of the refining process. They likewise held, on the other hand, that their countrymen or those in any way connected by blood-relationship to Germans (who, it may be, had never previously seen a sugarhouse) were quite competent to conduct the whole sugar refining process in the various departments. Their success in imposing upon the refiners of this country may be inferred from the exorbitant salaries and perquisites they received under the guise of such pretensions, and, perhaps, more so, from the honour and respect, or rather the homage and reverence, claimed by and paid to those foreigners alike on the part of master and workmen.

We may here remark for the reader's information that, from the period of the first introduction of sugar refining into Britain, up till within the last 25 years or so, it was of necessity the custom for the sugar refiner of this country to entrust the sole and entire management of his refinery to Germans, to the utter exclusion of all others; and that too for this very obvious and simple reason, viz., that those of this country at that time knew little or nothing of the refining process. The Germans of this class and of those days, for the protection of their profession - for sugar refining can scarcely be called a trade - were members of a GERMAN SUGAR BAKER'S SOCIETY, whose head-quarters were in London, but which is now almost, if not altogether, broken up : and those unconnected with this society were, of course, refused work in a sugarhouse. The Germans were thus enabled to keep the business in their own hands, and under their own control, more especially the leading branches of the process : and if at any time those of this country were fortunate enough to gain access to work as common labourers in a sugarhouse, it was only on condition that they would comply with the rules of, and pay the fees imposed by the above society, being also solemnly sworn by oath that they would reveal the secrets of the trade to none; otherwise they were rejected. Germans, of course, always filled the first situations in the refineries in those days, and were very jealous of their honour, requiring that they should be called, "Master": but they were but blind guides all the while, straining at gnats and swallowing camels. They also imposed burdens upon the shoulders of our countrymen (who in a few instances were fortunate enough to get working with them as common labourers) which they themselves were, indeed, unable to bear. The Germans, so to speak, kept the proofstick a sealed book; and to all others than Germans or their descendants it remained so. They, in short, locked up the door to the knowledge of the sugar refining trade in this country, taking with them the key : they entered not in themselves (in so far as improvements in the refining process were concerned), and those of our countrymen that were entering in, they hindered. To give an illustration of this; were a common workman belonging to this country to show the least indication of being an intelligent man and of an uptaking disposition in regard to matters connected with the sugarhouse, he was at once dismissed from the work by the manager, and in his stead was employed one who, to all appearance, was of the most unlearned and illiterate character, who also, in due course, were he to manifest signs like those of his predecessor, shared of course the same fate. Now, in those days, the proprietor of the refinery was himself hardly permitted to enter his own work, and if he were he was on no account allowed access to the boiling and filtering apartments, which were all enclosed or boxed in, and kept constantly shut under lock and key : so that the proprietor of the establishment may indeed be said to have been the willing slave of those foreigners, as he knew nothing of his property from the time it entered the sugarhouse till its exit therefrom. Failures in the refining trade were in those days, as may reasonably be imagined, of very frequent occurrence. These were chiefly owing to mismanagement, arising partly from inattention to duty, but, in not a few instances, were brought about by pure intention on the part of the Germans, whose interest it then was to keep all others in total ignorance with regard to the working department of the business : consequently no proper check could be kept over them as regards their misconduct or mismanagement. It follows therefore as a consequence, that even the proprietor of the refinery in which his capital was invested, was himself kept in gross darkness as to his business, being entirely controlled by, and at the mercy of these foreigners as to its success, and who could at any time prove his ruin.

The author thinks it but justice to expose the impositions practised by the Germans in former times, which have at length, however, been discovered, and which many of our countrymen have contributed in no small degree to bring to light. Recent circumstances and events have also established the fact that German impositions will not do now-a-days in this country. Such proceedings were, it is evident, practised from jealousy, and were, indeed, worthy of the highest censure, the Germans supposing, no doubt, that our countrymen were prying rather inquisitively into the secrets of their profession, with the view probably of securing to themselves at a future period, the entire monopoly of the refining trade in this country : and in forming this notion they were, it is true, tolerably correct. To the general reader such impositions and pretensions will, doubtless, appear absurd in the highest degree; but such has actually been the case - the Germans pretending at least, if not believing, it impossible that the art of refining sugar could be prosecuted by others than Germans or their descendants. They concluded, as we have said, that we in this country were a class of unlearned and illiterate characters, unable even in the least degree to comprehend the principles of the art of refining sugar : but in arriving at such a conclusion the Germans were obviously grossly mistaken, as we purpose shortly to show. Their designs, which, no doubt, flourished for a time, have, however, at length been detected, and the German profession of SUGAR BAKERS in this country outwitted, through the energetic exertions of our countrymen and those of other continental nations, who, having received, as it were, an inkling of the old process of refining, speedily set about the adoption of improvements, in which they have, in most instances, been crowned with every possible success : and which, ever since have gradually extended to the no small astonishment, as certainly it proved the complete and final overthrow, of the Germans engaged in this line of business in this country.

Under the above circumstances it will at once appear obvious to the reader that very little, if indeed any, improvement could have been made in the process of sugar refining, or in the manner of conducting it, either as regards the machinery and utensils employed in the process, or as regards their mode of application in working. Improvements in this respect must, therefore, be considered to have been at that period next to an impossibility, in consequence of the prejudice which then existed (and to some extent still exists) amongst the Germans of this class, who were then, as we have remarked, entrusted with the sole and entire management of sugar refineries in this country, and who from selfish interest condemned as being altogether unworthy of notice, all inventions of whatever class relating to the process of sugar refining, whether such inventions were in themselves meritorious or otherwise, unless they were (according to their ignorant and selfish notion) introduced by their own countrymen and class, and had been previously adopted in German refineries; all inventions, if introduced by those of this country being, with their inventors, most contemptuously ignored by the German sugar bakers of those days. It is now 50 years since Mr Howard took out his first patent in connection with the process of sugar refining : but, like many other improvements in this line of business, it made its way but slowly into favour among refiners. We can scarcely be surprised at this : for in the present instance, the "German Sugar Bakers," who, as we have said, had the sole management of English refineries at that time, were the principal objectors to the introduction of improvements or novelties by our countrymen, as may very reasonably be inferred from what we have already stated. They accordingly (from self interest) advised their employers to have nothing whatever to do with inventions connected with sugar refining, unless these were introduced by Germans, as if the refiner had lost his reason, or had no common judgment to guide him in matters connected with his own business. The refiner, at the period of which we speak, was entirely guided, and, alas! in too many instances, often misled with regard to his business, by his taking incautiously the ruinous advice of those ignorant foreigners - for in most cases the term "ignorant" truly represents their character - who could, as we have said, at any time, if an opportunity presented itself, prove his ruin, which, in not a few instances, they did from pure intention when matters went against them, as experience can doubtless testify - verifying the old Scotch proverb, "Cocks and hens make free with horses' corn." Alas! that British refiners should have been so long deceived by such nonsense. But the fact is, a great many have already been deceived by it to their cost. These tricks were practised with such art and imposing earnestness, as also with such unblushing impudence, that many refiners have been deceived, and in fact, ruined by those foreigners. Their very plausible representations seldom if ever failed of success to secure their object, their treacherous designs having, alas! been too successfully practised on the British refiner. And what shall the writer say more on this point! For time would fail him to speak of one half of their impositions by which, on all hands, the British refiner was in by-gone-days assailed with every possible success. The Germans, acting by such sophistry, no doubt secured their object at the refiner's expense, and evidently displayed great tact of jealousy and selfishness : they, as it were, placed their candle, not certainly on a candlestick to allow the light to shine forth that their deeds might be made manifest, but under a bushel, so to speak with the view of keeping those of our country who were with them in the (sugar) house in total darkness.

To this day indeed, many German sugar bakers (as they style themselves) work in the refineries of London and other English towns where sugar refining is prosecuted : they are, however, very much on the decline in England, and in the refining towns of Scotland are now scarcely tolerated, except in a few refineries where the boiler or manager happens to be one of their countrymen : but such cases are rare now-a-days, their places having become occupied by our countrymen who are now, it would seem, considered the first (practical) refiners of the day. How different, indeed, compared with the above state of things, is sugar refining now-a-days, when every refiner is, or may become, master of his business, in the highest acceptation of the term, and the German government (as we shall here term it) entirely overthrown. Alas! for the poor Germans, who have thus been robbed of their kingly power; their impositions which, alas! had been too long and successfully practised by them to the refiner's loss in by-gone days, and kept by them undiscovered and buried in secrecy, being now fully brought to light.

In the days of German rule - but, thanks to our countrymen and others, those days are now at an end - granting full permission had been given to a party to learn the working department of the refining business in all its branches, and granting full instruction and insight had been given him by the Germans, it would, it is said, have taken him several years to finish his apprenticeship, so to speak, or before he could have acquired anything like a knowledge of the business even in a very limited degree, the party being, at the same time, put to considerable inconvenience and expense, besides becoming, for the greater part of the time, the slavish drudge of those selfish foreigners, heavy fees also being imposed on such persons by the GERMAN SUGAR BAKERS' SOCIETY. But how different is the case at present, when anyone wishing to learn the business may readily do so on receiving the refiner's sanction and paying the boiler or manager of the sugarhouse a comparatively small fee. We say, then, that the Germans in this line of business in this country have, within the last 30 years or so, been subjected to very trying circumstances and considerable change of government : and improvements of very great importance in the various branches of the refining process have been the consequent result, and are still, it may be said, of daily occurrence; for which, however, we are no doubt mainly (though not solely) indebted to our own countrymen. Sugar refining, considered according to its presently existing principles and modes of operation, has, in consequence, become a mere bagatelle compared with what it was some 30 years ago; and the sugar refiner of the present day may now (on payment of a comparatively trifling fee to his manager and workmen) be instructed in all the branches of the refiner's art, and become, in every sense of the term, master of his business; and that too in about the same number of months (or perhaps weeks) as it would, in former times, have taken him years, but very imperfectly, and to a very limited extent, to accomplish. Now-a-days, those of but a few month's practical experience in the different branches of the refinery seem quite competent to conduct the refiner's business, which, in olden times (if we may be allowed the expression), necessarily required the lengthened experience of so many years. Such is the simplicity of the refining process, which, in by-gone days, and under the German rule, was held so great a mystery.

Sugar refining became general in England, as we have said, in 1659 : but what a contrast presents itself between the old set of rude German apparatus and its appliances and the convenient machinery and utensils, now in use in our refineries of modern construction! What an interval presents itself from the old German system of refining sugar with bullocks' blood, indigo, white-of-eggs, &c., &c., as also of boiling the syrups at a temperature of some 300 degrees F., in a shallow open vessel placed over a naked fire, and which might be termed a sugar frying pan, to the present mode of refining by filtration of the liquors through bone-black or animal charcoal, and their subsequent evaporation at a temperature of about 140 degrees F. in the convenient and elegantly constructed vacuum pan of Howard,(6) which, from recent improvements in the mode of its construction, is now (according to the size of the apparatus, and other circumstances) capable of boiling, in the short space of some 3 ½ to 4 hours, from 12 to 18 tons of sugar at each charge!(7) This interval, no doubt, corresponds to the difference in time between the middle of the 17th and the latter half of the 19th centuries - a difference indeed mainly due to the skill and genius of our countrymen. Since the introduction of bone-black or animal charcoal as the refining material or decolouring agent, as also the application of steam heat to the purposes of sugar refining, the field of its operation has been widely extended, and the process conducted on a much larger scale, and on more economic and scientific principles than formerly."

........Robert Niccol.


1 - Watt Library, 9 Union Street, Greenock, Scotland. PA16 8JH. Tel: 01475 715628.
2 - "Essay on Sugar, and general treatise on sugar refining, as practised in the Clyde Refineries : Embracing the Latest Improvements" by Robert Niccol : Practical Sugar Refiner Greenock. Printed by A. Mackenzie & Co 1864.
3 - The remaining four weeks of the year are supposed to be holidays, and to be taken up in making good any repairs about the works.
4 - The principal seat of sugar refineries in London is in Goodman's Fields : but whether the refineries of London have, since their introduction into England, been located in this district is perhaps not exactly known. Many of the original sugarhouses are still to be seen in the City of London and elsewhere turned into factories, general warehouses, and workshops : they are pretty, lofty buildings with small windows, in most cases consisting of five or six low floors.
5 - A goodly number of the so-called "sugar bakers" arrived in this country from Germany as street musicians : one played the German flute, another played the organ, while a third exhibited, in a small drum cage, some half-dozen white mice, these animals driving round the cage at a speed little short of that performed by the fly-wheel of a steam engine. These foreigners having, however, got employment in our refineries - which in general they accomplished with little difficulty through the influence of their countrymen - they soon assumed quite another appearance.
6 - The sugar was in former times, boiled either in iron or copper pans, over a naked fire. This system of boiling presents a wide contrast to the present convenient mode of boiling conducted in Howard's Vacuum Pan.
7 - The vacuum pan of Howard is unquestionably far superior to any other invention in the boiling of sugar raw or refined. It is much more convenient, it is easier to operate, quicker and more effective in its operation, and, at the same time, simpler to learn : it is also less liable to derangement in the hands of a skilful operator than those we have just mentioned. The range of work performed by it is much greater, having the twofold advantage of evaporating and concentrating the liquor or syrup at a comparatively low temperature and of effecting its granulation at the same time.


We are grateful to Ian Rathjen for producing this article for the website.



- from a variety of sources.
- Bryan Mawer.


It is unfortunate that Robert Niccol (1), in Pt. I, offered no support for his very one-sided opinions of the German sugar refiners in the UK; whether his thoughts were his own, based upon personal experience, or the pickings from his visits to refineries and meetings with refinery workers, we may never know. He did write well on the technical aspects of the industry in the mid-1800s, so maybe his attack was borne from at least some first-hand experience. Hutcheson (2) simply commented, "Many of these foreigners were excellent men, but for something like 50 years prior to 1850 most of them were autocrats of unquestionable sternness."

The early migrant sugar refiners brought the 'secrets & mysteries' of the trade from Europe to London and the other cities and towns, where a few apprentices were trained. These experts ran the refineries, but probably did not own them, particularly outside London. In London, it would appear that the owners of the refineries, for the most part, had only 'sugar' interests, whereas in Bristol, Liverpool, and Greenock, the refining companies were financed by partnerships of merchants with the likes of shipping, building, and trading interests. These refineries certainly required expert 'boilers', many German, but Niccol's comments regarding the workforce in these refineries does not withstand scrutiny for the industry as a whole - the labour was that which was available, and if there was not enough, it was obtained from the nearest source. Although the work was disliked by many of the British, it would be wrong to even imply that all sugar house labourers were German. London did use a great proportion of German labour, mostly ag-labs from the north of the Country, but with a shortage of strong, fit labour willing to work in the appalling conditions, there was a certain logic to this for all concerned. A number of these Germans were trying to earn enough for their passage to N. America, just like some of those in Liverpool. Both Greenock and Liverpool had far less labour from Germany, using migrant labour from Ireland where necessary; Bristol less than 10% with the censuses showing that mostly local men were employed.

In London, the owners of the larger refineries would provide accommodation for their single migrant workers, and, if Hall & Boyd in Breezers Hill in 1836 was anything to go by, this was no mean provision, with a series of rooms on three floors with kitchen and beer cellar (3), although the London City Mission in 1848 implies something less generous, "The unmarried men generally live in enclosed premises attached to the boiling-house, in parties varying from 15 to 25, under the control of the boiler" (4). John Wagener, originally from Trendelburg[?], Germany, with a refinery in Mansel St, built a row of houses (for his workers?) off Gowers Walk, close to St Paul's German Reformed Church in Hooper Square. Wagener was one of those refiners who became wealthy enough to move out of the East End to Essex, purchasing Gt Langtons, a large mansion in Hornchurch, where even after his death his family continued their charitable works in the local area (5).

There are examples to be found which confirm Hutcheson's comments that "these foreigners were excellent men". He mentioned Lear Wrede thus, "Mr Wrede had so long a connection with the Greenock trade, and became so entirely a Greenockian, that it may be excused if I add that he was a native of Hanover (from which province British refiners preferred, when possible, to draw their boilers), born in 1808" (6). Wrede's naturalisation memorials of 1851 confirm, "… [Lear Wrede] was married to Janet Service a natural born British subject and has had issue of the said marriage nine children seven of whom are still alive … member of the Established Church of Scotland … family permanently settled in this country …" and "… personally known to us to be a person of credit and respectability and of undoubted loyalty …" and "… Mr Wrede is most exemplary in all the relations of life … and he is much and deservedly respected in the town, by all who have the pleasure of knowing him" (7). Wrede became a member of the Church of Scotland; however, in London there were a number of German Churches (though not enough according to some (8)) catering for the religious and social needs of the German population. These churches received money from subscribers to provide care and education within their communities. Two lists (9) reveal the extent to which refiners contributed … I have marked known refiners * …

 St George's German Lutheran Church  
1771Caspary, H10 
1771Knoptfell, F77 
1772Spitta, Johanna100 
1773Deichmann, G *100 
1782Baurenhaus, J15 
1785Mar, And.100 
1786Schein, J70 
1786Ladenberger, R10 
1787Frowin, Theodor76½ 
1789Wittick, G *100 
1792Samler, H *200 
1792Kirkman, Jac.100 
1801Bott, Anna10 
1803Briebach, M *2 
1804Troll, Phil.4 
1805Möller, Joh. jun.10 
1806Bott, Joh. *100 
1806Möller, Joh. sen.100 
1809Detmar, Jos. *200 
1809Knies, Andr. *100 
1810Schweitzer, Joh.200 
1810Wethly, Joh.100 
1814Biehl, Jac.50 
1815Bott, Frau200100
1815Lecke, G100 
1817Meyer, H100 
1817Krug, P50 
1817Engel, J180 
1822Dettmar, J *180 
1824Harbusch, JH *100 
1826Caul, Joh200 
1826Woide, Luise10 
1828Muhm, H *500 
1829Wicke, G *300100
1834Möller, Anna1001778
1834Harbusch, Werner *500500
1840Bermes, Pet.10050
1842Mogge, H *10 
1842Se. Maj. Der König von Preußen50 
1845Paliske, N200 
1847Siffken, H20 
 St Paul's German Reformed Church  
1802Lüder, Georg100 
1805Holz, Joh.5050
1808Schweitzer, Joh.50 
1809Herring, HC20 
1811Schweitzer, Joh.50 
1812Dirs, CH *50 
1812Frechtman, J20 
1814Blancken, J Lütje100 
1814Speck, JG5050
1815Dorman, Joh.25 
1816Dorman, Anna C20 
1818Weisbart, Sam.100 
1821Groß, Joh. G50 
1823Lilckendey, G *20 
1826Witte, Ludw. *100 
1828Schweickhert, JA50 
1829Krösch, Died.50 
1829Wicke, Georg *100 
1832Flathman, HH100 
1833Diersen, Friedr.10 
1833Ringen, C *77 
1833Schulz, AC11 
1834Harbusch, Werner * 100
1836Lilckendey, Frau * 100
1837Böhm, JG400200
1840Bischoff, Mich.48 
1842Se. Maj. Der König von Preußen50 
1842Garms, L *25 
1843Bischoff, Joh. *48 
1847Von dem aufgelösten deutschen Verein50 
1850Bedwell, Theo.20 
1850Irion, Joh. G5050

St George's German Lutheran Church in Lt Alie Street (10) had its own school adjoining it. As mentioned, as these refiners became wealthier, they moved out of the confines of St George's in the East, and Whitechapel, to leafier 'villages' in N. Middlesex and in Essex, travelling in to oversee their businesses. This travelling posed a problem for their worship, and the churches soon began to organise services during the weekday afternoons rather than risk losing their wealthy benefactors.

Charity did not just stay within the German community, for other groups benefited from the generosity of the refiners. In 1820, the Committee of the East London Irish Free School in Goodman's Yard reported (11) the following subscribers, among others, known to be in the sugar industry …

Burnell, JWhitechapel Rd
Carlill, JLeman St
Coope, JOsborn St
Friend, E & CoCharlotte St
Harbusch, WCommercial Rd
Holthouse & DetmarBack Lane
Hodgeson & SonGoodmans Stile
Lucas & SonOsborne St
Lucas & MartinBack Lane
Martineau, P & SonGoulston Sq
Martineau, J & SonLeman St
Mum, HWhitechapel Rd
Schroder, J & SonPrinces Pl
Schlinker, GDock St
Wagentrieber, JCWhitechapel Rd
Witte & BuckWell St
Walton, Fairbank & CoLambeth St
Vulliamy, LEdmonton

Court Henry Dirs of Wellclose Square, in his will of 1812 left £300 to "the Middlesex Society for educating Poor Children in Protestant religion" in Cannon St Road, and £50 to the Gizman Charity in Lt Alie Street (12); and maybe the earliest of the few German sugar boilers in Bristol, Godfrey von Itterne, in his 1686 will, left a total of £43 to the poor of the parish (13). In London, it was the sugar refiners who formed the Phoenix Fire Assurance Co. in 1782 (14), with names such as Dettmar, Dirs, Bruniges, Arney, Wackerbarth, Kemble, Knies, Pritzner, Samler, Bell, Bracebridge, Jarman, Walker, Coope, Shum, Stonestreet, Turner, Eggars, Hahn, Whiting, and Rohde, involved; and in 1801 an Agreement of Subsidies for Maintenance of Roads (15) included G Wackerbarth, Thomas Hodgson, Walton & Witte, Henry Eggars, and Matthew Craven; both schemes were clearly for their own benefit, but also to the benefit of the local communities. Similarly, I V Hall (16) tells us that the Unitarian Meeting House on Lewins Mead, in Bristol, had an 18C congregation of many wealthy sugar bakers, including William Barnes father and son, James Hilhouse, and Edward Reed, who founded institutions, administered funds, and fostered the education and charity of the community. As businessmen, a number of the refiners held voluntary public office in their neighbourhoods, eg. David Martineau was a JP and alderman in South London (17), and John Vining of Bristol was also an alderman (18). As general concern grew in London in the 1840s over the social conditions, the German Hospital was founded at Dalston; the Deutche Wohltätigkeitsgesellschaft, a mutual-aid association, extended its activities to the East End; and the Deutsche Evangelische Stadtmission in London was formed by German Protestant congregations to work among the East End poor (19).

In later years, in the Plaistow district of Essex to where the London's sugar industry had migrated, the Glaswegian, James Duncan would pay for a day at the seaside for his (3000) employees and families. He participated in the efforts to improve the poor living conditions in the area, paying a doctor £300 a year to attend his men. He built two churches, one Congregational and one Presbyterian with its own school rooms, and made considerable donations to projects of other faiths. Henry Tate, a Unitarian, of course famous for the Tate Gallery on Millbank, was responsible for much more both in London and in other parts of the country, with Liverpool's university and homeopathic hospital, and colleges in Oxford and London, benefiting from major donations (20). The Plaistow area again benefited much from the Lyle family, in particular Queen Mary's Hospital at Stratford (21).

Just like the benefactors of, and subscribers to, these charitable works, the beneficiaries were also from assorted faiths and backgrounds, though the following examples are taken from the Accounts of the Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress, London, 1838 & 1853 (22) ...

1838 ...
 *Blumenstock, Ludwig, 121 Shovel Alley, Prince's Square, aged 70, a native of Baden in Germany. This man, who has been in England since 1791, was for many years in respectable circumstances as a boiler in a sugar house; but his employers having failed when he was already too old to find another situation, he has been gradually reduced to great distress. He has two of his children still to provide for, and besides the scanty and precarious earning of his wife, who sells a little milk, he has but trifling allowances from other quarters to depend on.
 *Bort, George, 16 West Street, Mile End, aged 73, a native of Wurtemburg, 53 years in England. After having worked in various sugar-houses he set up for himself and carried on business very successfully, as he states, but failed at last in consequence of misplaced confidence. Since then he endeavoured, by hard work, as long as he was able, to gain his livelihood but is now (as well as his wife who is older than himself) totally unfit for labour. Their only son who behaved in a most exemplary manner to his parents died, about a year ago, and they have now nothing to depend on but the scanty pittance which two unnmarried daughters earn by their needle-work, and a trifling allowance from another quarter.
 *Hollings, Carsten, Highbury Road, Islington, aged 73, a native of Hanover. Came over when young with his father; worked in sugar-houses and afterwards went to sea. Having married, he became a stone-sawyer, but being himself no longer able to work, his wife seldom finding any employment and his two children having families of their own and being likewise very poor, he is reduced to abject misery.
1853 ...
 *Schroeder, Eleonore, 40 George Street, King's Cross, aged 67, a native of Brückhausen
[Bruchhausen-Vilsen?](23), near Bremen. She came over to this country in 1810, and obtained employmment as a laundry-maid till 1816, when she married a respectable sugar-baker in London, who however died in 1832, and left her in destitute circumstances. Since her widowhood she has supported herself by washing, but being afflicted with gout and asthma, she has been unable to earn anything for the last twelve months. Of four sons, only one is living; he is employed as a waiter on board one of the Royal West India Mail Packets, and renders his mother occasional trifling assistance; but having a large family at Southampton to support, and having lately been laid up with yellow fever, he is unable to do much for her. She has no other assistance than 2s. a week from this Society.
 *Stock, Daniel Frederick, 1 Eastfield Street, Stepney, aged 81, a native on Glenhausen
[Gelnhausen?](23), near Frankfurt, fifty-two years in this country. By trade he was a sugar-baker, having been in the employ of one master for eight years and of another for twenty; is severely ruptured and afflicted with rheumatism, which quite disables him for work. He latterly obtained a scanty livelihood by vending sweetmeats, but his bodily infirmities are such as to prevent him any longer earning a subsistence by this means. He has been kept from absolute starvation through the kindness of relatives whose means are very limited. His only other resource is an allowance of 2s. per week from this Society.
 *Von Zalzen, Johann, 21 Cudworth Street, North Street, Mile End, aged 76, a native of Hanover, fifty-one years in this country. He maintained himself and family creditably for upwards of thirty years as a sugar-baker, and when his strength failed him, he did what he could to get a living wherever he could find employment; but he is quite past labour, being in ill health and very infirm. His wife, an Englishwoman, seventy years of age, earns a trifle by washing and shoe-binding, but she is likewise in declining health, and this industrious and aged couple are now reduced to a miserable state of distress. The parish refuse to assist them unless they go into the workhouse, and an allowance of 2s. per week from this Society is consequently their only present source of relief.
 *Wilhelm, Johann, 6 Denmark Street, Cannon Street Road, aged 74, a native of Bremen, sixty-four years in this country. He has worked all his life as a sugar-baker, but is now too old and feeble to earn anything; besides which he is afflicted with rheumatism, and in very great distress. His wife, an Englishwoman, is ill, and troubled with asthma. They have one son, who has gone to sea, but receive no assistance from him. He receives a weekly trifle from the church he attends, and his only other resource is from this Society, from which he receives an allowance of 2s. per week.


The expert 'strangers' came to the UK, some 450yrs ago, to introduce the process of refining sugar to a new audience. They could earn good money, and could be instrumental in developing a need for this new product, thus increasing production and earnings. Nothing much has changed over that time, then, for innovators and businessmen still have the same aims, and just like today, employers aimed for the best production from the best workers they could afford to employ. So, whilst Niccol complained about the situation, surely it was only a case of the migrant labour being essentially better than the native labour available. Niccol appears not to have seen it like this, or recognised the benefit this growth industry was having on its local communities.



1 - "Essay on Sugar, and general treatise on sugar refining, as practised in the Clyde Refineries : Embracing the Latest Improvements" by Robert Niccol : Practical Sugar Refiner Greenock. Printed by A. Mackenzie & Co 1864. ... Read an extract.
2 - Notes on the Sugar Industry of the United Kingdom by John M Hutcheson, James McKelvie & Son, Greenock, 1901. p.69.
3 - DEEDS TH4174 at Tower Hamlets Local History Library. ... Read an extract.
4 - The London City Mission Magazine, vol.XIII, 1848, p.165.
5 - Essex and Sugar by Frank Lewis, Phillimore & Co Ltd, 1976. ISBN 0 85033 107 2. p.27.
6 - Notes on the Sugar Industry of the United Kingdom by John M Hutcheson, James McKelvie & Son, Greenock, 1901. p.69.
7 - PRO HO1/36/1261 XC/A/11301. [With thanks to Ian Rathjen]
8 - The London City Mission Magazine, vol.XIII, 1848, p.165.
9 - Carl Schoell, Geschichte der deutschen evangelischen Kirchen in England, London/Stuttgart 1852 (Signatur Historische Bibliothek des Diakonischen Werkes der EKD: B II)
10 - St. George's Lutheran Church Library / German Parish Life in London.
11 - LP4011 at Tower Hamlets Local History Library.
12 - 1812 (Oxford 216) Will ... Read.
13 - 1686 (Lloyd) Sept. f.120 Will ... Read.
14 - Phoenix Assurance & the Development of British Insurance (2vols) by Clive Trebilcock, Cambridge Univ Press. 1999.
15 - Document at Tower Hamlets Local History Library.
16 - BRO 36772 Box 12 at Bristol Record Office.
17 - Essex and Sugar by Frank Lewis, Phillimore & Co Ltd, 1976. ISBN 0 85033 107 2. p.86.
18 - 1851 Census Bristol HO107/1952.
19 - The German Factor in London History by Patricia Hawes, AGFHS Mitteilungsblatt Extra Editon 1988, p.16.
20 - Essex and Sugar by Frank Lewis, Phillimore & Co Ltd, 1976. ISBN 0 85033 107 2. pp.77-84.
21 - Essex and Sugar by Frank Lewis, Phillimore & Co Ltd, 1976. ISBN 0 85033 107 2. p.94.
22 - Accounts of the Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress, (Established 1806), for Years 1838 & 1853, London: Schulze & Co.
23 - Examples of the difficulties encountered by the people of the time when listening, spelling, writing, and reading, in 2 different languages.