Monday, 6 April 2009

The sweet smell of Cantley Sugar Works

THE SICKLY-SWEET perfume of molasses drifting in on the wind has been a sure harbinger of autumn for the people of the Yare Valley for almost a century.

The smell comes from the sugar works at Cantley of course - a vast industrial giant in the middle of an otherwise pristine broads landscape. Ever since the factory was built in 1912 the sugar beet season (known as "the campaign") has started sometime in September and ended early in the new year.

No longer. British Sugar has been given permission to work all the year round. So it's sugar beet in the autumn and winter followed by imported sugar cane presumably in the spring and summer. And intriguingly the company has promised to investigate the possibility of the cane being brought in by boat along the Yare, rather than by road. Because of course that is why the factory is where it is. In 1912 the Yare was Norfolk's main artery for trade. The vast majority of beet arrived by river.

Retired farmers I've spoken to all testify to the importance of the beet harvest in this part of the world. For a start, the factory provided valuable employment during the campaign. Many workers from the south side of the river travelled via a long-defunct ferry at the Langley Round House. Farmers had their own staithes to unload the beet onto the ubiquitous wherries. One parish even had a bizarre narrow gauge railway for its crop. But you'll have to buy the book to read the details of that one...

*Read the news story here

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