The refining of sugar came to be associated with Greenock for over two hundred years. Colonial connections, initially with the slave colonies in the West Indies, ensured a supply of the raw material for processing and later imperial expansion led to the Greenock sugar trade pursuing business in almost all parts of the world. The refining trade made several dynastic business fortunes and these families came to have an important role in the business and politics of nineteenth century Greenock. The trade continued, through consolidations and takeovers, until it the last cargo of sugar was delivered to Tate & Lyle's Westburn refinery in June 1997, ending a connection of over 250 years.

The first ten refineries in Greenock

[1] The first large refinery was erected in 1765 at the foot Sugarhouse Lane with Glasgow and Greenock merchant backers, with Mark Kuhl as the 'practical manager'. The sugar house evetually burned down in 1882 and was replaced by The Brewers' Sugar Company, which greatly enlarged the works. 

[2] The second refinery was built at the south end of Sugarhouse Lane in 1788 by a syndicate of prominent local citizens. As was the fate of so many sugar houses It burned down in 1793 and once again in 1795. There were many changes in the ownership of the property and the last firm was Messrs. Alexander Currie & Co. When Mr. Currie died in 1886 the building ceased to be a sugar house and was converted into a working-men's lodging-house.

[3] Messrs. Robert Macfie & Sons built the third refinery in Greenock about 1802, in Bogle Street, and carried on the business until 1854, when they moved to their operations to Liverpool and the site of their Greenock refinery eventually became the property of the Caledonian Railway Company.

[4] The refinery of James Fairrie & Co., at Cartsdyke Bridge, was built in 1809. It was destroyed by fire in 1846, and was not re-built.

[5] Wm. Leitch & Co. opened a refinery in Clarence Street, Glebe, in 1812, which, like so many others, was destroyed by fire in 1847.

[6] The Princes Street works began in 1826 under the ownership of Alex. Angus & Co. It was then acquired in 1838 by MacLeish, Kayser & Co. before being rented in 1844 by Pattens & Co. but the property was was eventually purchase by John Walker & Co.

[7] Tasker, Young & Co.'s refinerey was built in 1829 on the east fall of the Shaws Water Company, but it was short lived and was wound up in 1837 and a few years later ceased working altogether.

[8] The original buildings of what is now the Glebe Refinery in Ker Street, were erected by Thomas Young & Co. in 1831, but they were idle before passing through various owners until it became acquired by a local syndicate under the title of the 'Glebe Sugar Refinery Company', with Mr. Abram Lyle as managing partner until 1873. On his acquisition of a large refinery in London in 1882, the Lyle family retired from the Greenock works.

[9] In 1831 a refinery was built at the foot of Baker Street by Alex. and Thos. Anderson but was burned down in 1851, and was not reconstructed.

[10] The Roxburgh Street Refinery was erected in 1832 by Hugh Hutton & Co. Several changes took place up till 1865, when the building was eventually pulled down and re-erected by Jas. Richardson & Co. as the Roxburgh Street Sugar Refining Company. The firm was wound up in 1896 the refinery sold and eventually broken up.

Members of many Greenock families were identified with sugar refining, and after having helped to establish the industry in their native town moved to other areas making fortunes and names in London, Liverpool and elsewhere. Amongst these were the Macfies, the Fairries, the Leitches, the Lyles and many more.

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Page last updated: 1 November 2017