Ben Eastick Written by Ben Eastick

Exploring the role Martineaus played in developing the Ragus of today

Between now and the new year, we will be focusing on Ragus’ rich sugar heritage, retelling some of the stories that have shaped who we are today. This first blog of the series explores the role Martineaus sugar refinery played in our storied legacy.

The growth of sugar refineries in the UK, nineteenth century

Sugar was not new to Britain in the nineteenth century. It had been shipped from the Caribbean and Asia since the 1500s. But by the 1800s, it had become Britain’s most valuable import. Since the Elizabethan era, growing numbers of merchants and traders sailed out across the Atlantic and returned to the UK with tonnes of sugar on-board their ships.

So, an import that originated as food for the wealthy soon became a staple for all social classes in the UK. In fact, historian, John Burnett, suggests that in 1801, annual sugar consumption in the UK was 13.87kg per person. Sugar had, therefore, become ubiquitous to the British way of life.

Of course, trade was a key driver for this rise to ubiquity. But industrial progress and the growth of domestic sugar refineries also played a significant part in this social and economic trend. For example, there were over 300 sugar refineries in the UK in the mid-nineteenth century. Major sugar production hubs were located in Glasgow and Liverpool, but the growth of domestic sugar refineries was also somewhat London-centric. Over 28 sugar refineries were situated in what was Europe’s largest city at the time, with most of these refineries located in the east end of the metropolis. Indeed, this was the nucleus of London’s sugar industry, where the Eastick brothers, John and Charles, analysed sugar at their consulting practice.

Geography is what brings us on to Martineaus sugar refinery. Martineaus was located in Whitechapel, in the heart of East London. By the late nineteenth century, it was the second largest sugar refinery in the capital, and part of its success can be attributed to innovation. In 1875, for example, David Martineau partnered with Henry Tate to acquire the rights for Eugen Langen’s sugar cube manufacturing process in the UK, helping Martineaus gain commercial advantage for years to come.

A sketch of Martineaus sugar refinery, based in London’s east end sugar hub.  

The link between Martineaus and Ragus, 1883-1890

At the height of sugar’s ubiquity in British life, Ragus’ founder, Charles Eastick, invented the first formulation of golden syrup at Abram Lyle’s Plaistow refinery in 1883. The golden elixir was immediately a commercial success on the British market and has been loved the world over ever since.

This is where the stories of Martineaus and Ragus intersect. After the success of golden syrup, Charles decided to branch out his sugar chemistry innovation into production management and consulting. To do so, he moved from Lyle’s to Martineaus sugar refinery in 1890, where he became managing director.

Conducting sugar analysis at Martineaus, circa 1940s-50s. 

Innovation in the interwar years, 1918-1939

The First World War left its mark on the sugar industry, with a significant number of refineries going under. Britain’s reliance on Austria and Germany for beet sugar was no longer available, and the German navy began sinking cane sugar shipments from the Commonwealth destined for the British ports of Glasgow, Liverpool and London. The height of sugar refinery success in the nineteenth century was now a distant memory. Refineries were fast becoming part of history. Martineaus, however, survived, due to Charles and his family’s 11 sugar refining patents that helped differentiate the Whitechapel refinery.

And this is when Charles targeted another opportunity. In 1928, he established a new factory in Berkshire, UK, to focus on manufacturing specialist sugars: Ragus. Charles played a leading role in operations at both Martineaus and Ragus, but make no mistake, the two businesses were distinct from one another.

Martineaus was a sugar refinery – it imported raw sugar cane and refined it into white sugar (straight sucrose) and golden syrup. Ragus, on the other hand, was established to manufacture specialist sugars for bulk applications, such as invert sugar syrup for bakers, confectioners and brewers. This distinction is what the Ragus of today prides itself on.

So, although both companies were managed by the same innovator, they were very much different from one another. Martineaus refined raw materials into sugars for the retail market, whereas Ragus produced specialist sugars for industrial applications. However, there were two crucial connections between the businesses:

1. Ragus mainly procured and used primary production materials that were refined by Martineaus
2. Charles’ sons joined him at his companies: Frederick at Martineaus, and Douglas at Ragus

Post-war era and beyond, 1945-1976

Following the Second World War, demand for sugar soared again, and Martineaus was injected with new blood: Bernard, Frederick’s son, and Charles’ grandson, joined the Whitechapel refinery.

Hard at work in the mid-twentieth century.  

Eventually, Bernard and Frederick decided in 1961 to sell their shares in Martineaus, and the refinery was acquired by Manbré & Garton, a sugar and starch producer based in Hammersmith. The Whitechapel refinery closed as a result, with operations relocated to the Manbré & Garton site in the west side of London. Fifteen years later, the Hammersmith-based company was acquired by the Silvertown refinery.

What role did Martineaus play in Ragus’ storied legacy?

Charles Eastick was an innovator without Martineaus – he had already established his legacy in the sugar industry, having invented golden syrup seven years before joining Martineaus. But if it was not for his experiences as Managing Director and co-owner of Martineaus, Ragus might not have become the organisation it is today.

Martineaus was where our founder honed his production management expertise, where he developed his curiosity for innovation and brand differentiation, and where he refined the primary production materials required to manufacture Ragus’ specialist sugars.

Of course, there were also significant differences between both companies, with the finished product being one of the most obvious distinctions. Crucially, these differences are what have made the Ragus of today.

Ragus has over 90 years’ expertise manufacturing pure sugar products for industrial applications. To learn more about our rich sugar heritage, watch this video. To find out more about our portfolio of pure sugars and syrups, contact our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 575353 or sales@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.