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Peter Martineau's Sugarhouse

Contributed by Survey of London on March 9, 2017

The sugar refining industry in England began in the 1540s when
Cornelius Bussine, a citizen of Antwerp with knowledge of the ‘secret’
art of sugar refining, established the first sugarhouse within the City of
London. Several more followed, but it was not until the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries that the business of sugar refining truly
gathered pace in London. By 1750 there were said to be eighty
sugarhouses in the capital and a further forty dispersed across the rest
of England and Scotland. In spite of the noxious nature of the industry
and the propensity of its buildings to catch fire, most of these London
refineries were still then located within the City walls, close to the
Thames or Fleet rivers. However, the opening of the West India Docks
in 1802 lured the sugar trade east and a ruling by the Court of
Common Council in 1807 finally forbade sugarhouses to remain
within the City. At the close of the eighteenth century suburbs already
claimed a number of well- established sugarhouses owing to
comparative openness and access to the Port, but in the early
nineteenth century these distinctive buildings, and the cramped
lodgings of their workers, became defining features of the parishes of
Whitechapel and St George in the East. This shift eastwards coincided
with a renewed wave of German immigration following that of the
eighteenth century. Skilled and unskilled sugar workers as well as
ambitious businessmen arrived from Northern Germany helping to
transform the industry from a collection of small-scale enterprises,
reliant on a high degree of manual operations, to a relatively
industrialised and technologically advanced industry, both dynamic
and lucrative as a result of the nearly unrivalled British consumer

Building new refineries on the banks of the Thames in the 1870s. which were better placed for Caribbean imports once London’s monopolies were loosened. Martineau’s closed in 1961. by 1880 only twelve remained. the East End industry slumped. Whilst the London sugar industry experienced a period of particularly profitable expansion in the 1860s and 1870s such extravagant prosperity did not last. a descendant of one East End family of sugar refiners. having cannily diversified into syrup and been early backers of the newly invented sugar cube.practically all the loaf sugar consumed in this country was produced in the East End of London. the Company secured a joint license with Tate and Lyle of the Langen cube-making process in the late nineteenth century and this delayed their demise but could not halt it altogether. giving way to Liverpool and Greenock. A single functioning sugarhouse lasted into the twentieth century in Whitechapel. Tate and Lyle of Silvertown are the sole survivors of this East End industry. reflected that “in 1856…. Whereas 1864 could claim twenty-eight London sugarhouses.George Martineau. the rise of beet sugar and proximity to Continental competition. Belonging to the Martineau family and located on Kingward Street.” The 1851 census demonstrated that over 90% of those engaged in the London sugar-refining trade were resident in the borough of Stepney.2 . before nationally subsiding not long after. Affected by duties.


The demise of Fry’s business dovetailed with the Martineau’s arrival into Whitechapel from the City. the Martineau family had become one of the most important names in the London industry in the nineteenth century. Peter. a warehouse at nos 3-5 Goulston Street and the sugarhouse on New Goulston Street. including the sugarhouse and its contents. c. was owner of a warehouse in the south-eastern corner of Goulston Square. Sometime between 1813 and . his assets. by 1806 he was also in possession of an apparently substantial sugarhouse located on the north side of present-day New Goulston Street. The seized sugarhouse was awaiting a new owner when a case against a theft of a loaf of sugar by a sugarbaker was heard at the Old Bailey. Two confiscated sites. David (1754-1840) and Peter (1755-1847).1840-5 (LMA.1840. David developed a group of sugarhouses at the south end of Christian Street. SC/PM/ST/01/002) Of French Huguenot descent. on the other hand. This was a commercial partnership with William Osborne. were auctioned off. In 1775 John Fry.Approx. the business was divided between two Norwich-born brothers. The business failed however and Fry was declared bankrupt in 1806. locations of Whitechapel sugarhouses. c. plotted onto Grellier’s map. Involving three sugar bakers at the site as well as the clerk of the sugarhouse. who had previously refined sugar on the site with James Diass in 1801. the incident confirmed that the refinery was gated and possessed a ‘men’s room’ – a lodging house for single male workers. Owning a number of Whitechapel refineries after their forced relocation outside the City walls in 1800. John Bell. a merchant of Finsbury. formerly Cowley’s Snuff House. were transferred to Peter Martineau who was quick to recognise the potential for further development at the northern site. Significantly however. established himself in the north-west of the parish in airy Goulston Square.

insured for £15 000 in 1819. counting house.3 . new men’s room and scum house (used for producing lower grade sugar by-products) facing onto both New Goulston Street and Goulston Street. Eagle. In 1817.1818. Given the flammable nature of the sugar and also the intense heat necessary for the production of it. Peter Martineau & Sons ‘of Goulston Street’ insured stock. Atlas. Martineau constructed a brick dwelling house. King and Co at Commercial Road. The additional new buildings and their contents were insured with the Sun for £3000 one year later. This was comparable to the seven-storey premises of Severn. utensils and the brick sugar house for £19 000 spread across five insurance companies (Sun. This new accommodation was located to the east of the main sugarhouse and divided from it by a gated yard. Glove. separation of the most dangerous processes from on-site housing was typical. Union).


In 1825 it was reported that a fire destroyed nearly half of the main sugarhouse building. curtailed the blaze with a plentiful supply of water. Webb was also implicated in the construction of other local sugarhouses around this period: Elers and Morgan’s at Goodman’s Stile (1849). and Davies’ at Osborne Street (1855) and Rupert Street (1854). Whilst the strategy of insuring the sugarhouse with a number of companies could not prevent the outbreak of fire. SC/PM/ST/01/002).4 . Martineau and Sons added a furnace chimney in April 1862 and by 1867 it was noted to have possessed a steam works. but that the speedy arrival of three fire engines. Peter Martineau and Sons. By 1870 Peter was dead and his firm. In 1847 a new phase of building work was undertaken by George Webb of Gowers Walk and modern refining pans were set in place by him later in 1855. 1849 (LMA. it certainly appears to have limited the damage caused by at least one such incident. arriving from the three different insurers. Whitechapel. Overseen by Charles Furnivall.Metropolitan Sewers Plan of Goulston Street and Neighbourhood. Site of Martineau's sugarhouse marked 'Sugar Bakers' on Short Street (later renamed New Goulston Street). appears to have vacated Goulston Street. Fairrie however regarded that the business stumbled on for a further three years under Peter’s grandson Hugh and ceased only on his retirement in 1873.