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29 October 2014

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You are in: North Yorkshire > History > Local history > A smell of the past

A smell of the past

The last lorry load of sugar beet has gone through the gates at the British Sugar plant in York, bringing to an end 80 years of sugar processing in the City. We want your memories of the 'campaign' which heralded the start of Autumn.

British Sugar plant in York

The steam plume rises over York for the last time.

In July 2006, British Sugar announced it was closing its processing factory in York with the loss of around 100 jobs.  This news was a bitter blow to the City and the surrounding area, following hard on the heels of major job cuts at both Norwich Union and Nestle. 

The effects of the closure will be far reaching with about 1,200 farmers around the region who supplied the factory with beet, the hauliers who transported the harvest to the factory gates and many more being directly affected by the plant’s demise.

A sugar factory has existed in York since 1926 and for many the distinctive smell of the sugar factory heralded the start of autumn and another 'campaign' was underway.

Although not everyone appreciated the smell, this mixed with the one from the chocolate factories, gave York a very distinct aroma.

On Tuesday 13th February 2007 the very last lorry load of sugar beet went through the gates bringing yet another of York’s historic industries to a close.

Harvesting sugar beet

Harvesting sugar beet

There will still be significant quantities of crystal sugar and sugar syrup to be processed which will take until autumn 2007, then the factory will finally shut down.

Over the 80 years there has been a sugar factory in York, thousands of people have been connected in some way with the plant, and we’d love to hear from you if you have any memories.

Maybe you, or someone in your family worked at the plant, did you live in the Boroughbridge Road area near the factory and saw how that area developed with the growth of the sugar factory? Are you a farmer who supplies the factory with sugar beet, what are you going to do now? Or are you one of the permanent or seasonal workers who are about to lose their job?

If so, we want your stories…please contact us using the form below.

last updated: 07/05/2008 at 12:14
created: 14/02/2007

Have Your Say

Tell us your memories of the sugar beet plant in York.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Gabriel McNamara
1978 Beet processsor from Galway Ireland was there with Vincent O' malley, Tom Mullen, Johnny Conroy - Sorry to see it closed as it was our source of employment at the time.

Kevin Maxwell
Can the factory not be converted to create bioethanol for cars that can run on that fuel - the whole Saab range can now and there are no sites in the north yet?

Steve Lee
Good on you Eddie. You are making and keeping history.Your name will be famous in the future if you keep your films safe. Keep on at Nestle's they are missing a big PR chance there.

EDDIE
MY DAD WORKED FOR THE SUGAR YORK FACTORY FOR A LOT OF YEARS.. SO WHEN I FOUND OUT IT WAS TO CLOSE I WENT ROUND THE OUTSIDE OF THE SUGAR FACTORY AND FILMED IT WITH MY VIDEO CAMERA...THEN I TELLEPHONED THE HEAD OFFICE DOWN SOUTH TO SEE IF THEY WOULD LET ME VIDEO ON SITE..BRITISH SUGAR WAS VERY HELPFULL AND GAVE ME PERMITION TO GO INTO THE YORK FACTORY TO VIDEO IT IN ITS FULL WORKING OPPERATION..I HAVE SOME VERY NICE SHOTS TO KEEP FOR THE FUTURE TO SHOW THE PEOPLE OF YORK A WORKING FACTORY THAT WAS...AT THE MOMENT I AM TRYING TO GET INTO THE OLD ROWNTRES CHOCOLATE FACTORY IN YORK..AS A LOT OF THE BUILDINGS AR GOING TO GET KNOCK DOWN..I WANTED TO GO INSIDE THE BUILDINGS TO VIDEO WHERE PEOPLE USE TO WORK...I TELEPHONED THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY IN YORK..NO LUCK..I THINK THEY DONT WANT TO SAVE SOME OF YORKS HISTORY.....A BIG THANK YOU FROM ME TO ALL THE HELP FROM THE EMPLOYEES AND MANAGERS OF THE YORK SUGAR FACTORY WHO HELPED ME WITH THIS VIDEO AND ALL THE HARD WORK YOU HAVE ALL DONE TO GET SUGAR TO OUR TABLE.. GOOD LUCK FOR THE FUTURE.. ONE PEICE OF YORKS HISTORY SAVED FOR THE FUTURE..THANK YOU. EDDIE

steve howe
As a commuter - being stuck on the A64 between Flaxton and York on numerous occasions in rush hour behind tractors and trailors taking beet to the plant, unfortunate for those who lost there jobs - but otherwise good riddance i say!

Billy
I'm originally from Leeds and I thought the polluting fumes from the sugar beat plant were vile. If it had been a chemical factory it would have been shut down years ago - I'll be glad to see the back of it

Steve Lee
The sugar beet smell always reminds me of winter morning paperounds in Acomb as a kid in the early 70's.Where i live now we joke that you could tell the wind direction by smell. Terry's meant a South Westerly,Sugarbeet a Westerly,Rowntrees an Easterly,and "Pooh" a Northerly wind,from the sewerage works on Shipton Road !! Of course with Terrys and the Sugarbeet gone it's now more difficult !!

Janet
I remember sitting on the bend in Ouseburn Avenue waiting for the lorries to drive by, as they came down the hill and went round the bend we hoped that a sugar beet would fall from the lorry as we used to make lanterns from them. The tractors and trailers were the best as the beet were more likely to fall off. I knew many people who lived in the area and worked in the factory and like everyone else i will miss the familar smell of the factory in the autumn and winter months.

AndyBuckle
I remember walking from my home in Hob Moor Drive to Nunthorpe school on sharp, chilly autum mornings, the sweet smell of Terrys as we crossed the Knavemire mixed with the heady smells from sugar beet factory.... Great memories. I live in Australia now, sad to hear those smeels won't exist any more.

NYArt
You could always tell it was going to snow when you the sweet smell would drift over York (wind direction favourable to snow coming from the north, and before Global warning messed that up royally!). But one 'memory' I keep thinking of was 'given' to me by a colleague who used to be in the army; fellow soldiers said the aroma smelt like burning flesh!. Not sure what sort of things they were combating except maybe giant beets!

dorinda
Losing the distinctive and sumptuous choclatey/sugar beet smell in York is going to be as bad as closing the Cameron's brewery would be for Hartlepool-it's disastrous! It's part of the atmosphere of York. I just wonder what there is in the area to replace it...hmmm...

Fernando Fernández de Castro
I'm spanish national who lived in York for 3 years and i remember my first impression when i arrived. It was the smell coming from the sugar factory which lovely accompanies all my stay in York. I'm sorry to learn it finally closes. Fernando Fernandez Madrid

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