Sugar Beet Factory – Visible and Fragrant
The Sugar Beet factory must rate as one of the more visible (and fragrant?) structures in Bury St Edmunds. I have known the ‘Beet’ as it was called, ever since I was very small.
My Grandfather Elsey Hedge worked there for most of his life in Bury, and my Uncle Lew Lomax worked at the factory as a Chemist during the war years before taking over as landlord of the Black Boy in Guildhall Street in the late forties. Another Uncle, Stan Whitmore, also worked there after the war as an electrician.
My earliest memory of the factory I cannot remember because I was then but a babe. But I was reliably informed by my mother (who could be more reliable?) that during an attempt by the Luftwaffe to bomb the Sugar Beet factory my mother was visiting someone who lived close to the factory and had taken her newly born beautiful baby boy to show them. When the sirens went off I was apparently thrown under a bed quickly followed by Mum to save me from the bombs!
My Uncle, who was at work in the Factory at the time, went out after the raid and picked up a piece of bomb shrapnel which he always treated as a lucky charm because it had missed killing him. It had pride of place on the mantle shelf for years afterwards, even into the early eighties when he died it was still around in the retirement flat they had in Kings Lynn. Sadly I don’t know what happened to it.
My earliest memory of the Factory was being taken there either by my mother or one of my mother’s three sisters and watching my Granddad, who was my mother’s father, sewing up sacks of sugar, which I remember as being brown, bypassing them under a machine and then pushing them onto a long shiny metal chute which went down to a loading bay below. I seem to remember it was made of brass sheet, thinking it looked like a super children’s slide I begged to be placed on it to follow the sacks down and was most upset when it was not allowed!
During the winter ‘Campaign’ season when the sugar beet was lifted on the surrounding farms, the factory swung into full production and the roads would be full of sugar beet lorries on their way to and from the factory. They were all strictly timed, so I was told so that they arrived at the factory on time and a long queue did not occur. The amount of soil left on the beet was also a critical factor and a load could be rejected if soil content was excessive. There are doubtless many people who know far more about this process than I who may like to comment.
One knew immediately the ‘Campaign ‘had started because then all the workers were put on shift work and the smell began! Everyone in Bury will remember this. I am not sure if it still occurs? But when the sugar beet was boiled to extract the sugar, the town was cloaked in an all-pervading sweet sickly smell. One got used to it after a while and didn’t notice it but it always seemed worse on foggy days.