Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 19, 2019
Webpage updated: September 19, 2019




In 1838 Mr James Bryant built a sugar refinery on the site in Mill Lane that had previously been part of the Frankfort Barracks and partly a garden that once belonged to Sir Francis Drake.  It was operated by Messrs Bryant, Burnell and Company.  Their manager was Mr G H Brown.

When the legal documents were drawn up for the conveyance and assignment of the old Sugar Refinery, in Mill Street, to the British and Irish Sugar Refinery Company Limited, for the sum of 70,000, including stock, the names of the partners in Messrs Bryant, Burnell and Company were given as Mr James Bryant; Mr William Burnell; Mr John Burnell (1793-1864), all sugar refiners; Mr William Eales, a sugar refiner from the City of London; Mr William Henry Hodge, sugar refiner of Tiverton, Devon; Mr John Wakeham Sparrow, merchant; Mr William Edgcumbe Rendle, merchant of Plymouth; Mr Benjamin Sparrow, lime merchant, Cattedown; Mr Josias Hayne Dawe, banker; and Mr Eldred Roberts Brown (1809-1885), wholesale grocer.  The draft conveyance was dated December 16th 1856.

These may have been the original partners when the business was set up as presumably the deed for the building was in their names and therefore they had to be named at the time of transfer to a new owner. 

On Tuesday May 30th 1882 the Sugar Refinery was offered for sale by auction by Messrs Andrew and Son.  The sale was not largely attended but Messrs Pethick, J Wills, S Roach, F A Morrish, E James, and R W Woolland were noted amongst the few.  After recounting the conditions of the sale, the auctioneer commented that the machinery 'was in first-class order and fully adapted for resuming operations immediately'.  When bidding opened nobody was prepared to make the initial offer so Mr S Roach jokingly said he would help to get things started by offering 30,000.  As it transpired, that was the one and only bid and after some discussion with the chairman of the liquidators, Mr Roach was declared the purchaser.

The new owner was presumably Mr Samuel Roach, the monumental mason, slate and marble merchant and building materials dealer of 87 Union Street.

Exactly what happened after that is not yet clear.  Mr Samuel Roach died on August 19th 1886 at the very young age of 52 years and although it has been said that the refinery buildings were bought in 1885 by Sir Edward Bates (1816-1896), the local Member of Parliament, in an attempt to to keep employment in the Town, it may well be that he did not acquire the site until after Mr Roach's death.  He kept it open until 1888 by when it was one of only 10 such establishments in the country.  The others had closed because of cheaper imports. 

Within the last year of operation, machinery worth some 12,000 had been installed, including costly charcoal kilns and the machinery that operated them.  The charcoal kilns cost about 3,000 and were only installed three months before closure.  Even in 1897 they still contained 300 tons of powdered charcoal.

The older part of the refinery was six floors high.  In all there were around 40 steam engines and pumps, over 60 tanks and a large number of vacuum pans, some almost new.  One of them, costing 1,200, had been exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1852. 

Attached to the site were large offices, a caretaker's house, fitters' and blacksmiths' shops, and stabling for 15 horses.

The building then lay idle for nine years until 1897 when it was bought by Mr Henry Matthews, the local confectioner, who demolished part of the site and turned some of the remainder into accommodation for his wholesale jam and sweetmeat business.  The land that was left was made available for building on.

The machinery was dismantled by a Mr Harding, who was apparently well versed in such procedures, and some of it was to be shipped to the Continent, India or Egypt.  The newer premises were said to date from 1855 and be of five storeys in height.  On the ground floor were eight centrifugal machines, each attached to a separate engine.

Apparently while the buildings were empty there was a rumour that the London and South Western Railway Company had purchased the site for a central railway station.

Part of the site that had been the BBC's 5PY transmitting station was damaged during the Second World War and was demolished in June 1944.

Messrs Butt, Vosper and Knight Limited, occupied one of the buildings after the Second Word War but as the site fell within a reconstruction area, the premises were to be purchased by Plymouth City Council by the end of 1952. 

The building had to be vacated by March 1st 1954 but it was already in the process of being demolished in July 1953 as it was getting in the way of the extension of Cornwall Street towards Russell Street.