Life beyond Elmbridge
In 2006 the Guinness Book of Records named Lyle's Golden Syrup as Great Britain's oldest brand.
John Lyle was one of the sons of Abram Lyle (c.1821-1891) the product's founder, and his wife Mary. Abram eventually joined his father's cooperage business in his native Greenock, Scotland. He subsequently became a ship owner and developed one of the largest fleets in Greenock. His ships carried sugar for many years before he bought into the Glebe Sugar Refinery in 1865; however, he sold his stake in the business in 1872 and sent his five sons south in 1881 to build a refinery in London. So, John Lyle left Greenock, his birthplace, and moved to England. In 1883 the Lyles started melting sugar at their Plaistow Refinery and syrup was a bi-product that usually went to waste, however, it was quickly realised that it could be refined as a preserve and as a sweetener for cooking - Lyle's Golden Syrup was born. The product first appeared in tins in 1885 and the famous trademark of the lion with bees coming from its stomach accompanied by the biblical reference, 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness', (based on the Book of Judges, 14:14) was registered in 1904. Captain Scott included tins of Lyle's Golden Syrup in the provisions for his ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1910-1912 and it received its Royal Warrant in 1911. The firm of Tate & Lyle was formed in 1921. Their sugar business including Lyle's Golden Syrup was sold to an American sugar refining company in the summer of 2010 for £211m.
Life in Elmbridge
John Lyle was a resident of Weybridge for over 20 years and raised his family here. His final home was Finnart House in Oatlands Drive, which was known as Aucote when he bought it. It is not clear when this house was purchased by Lyle. In 1891 he, his wife Margaret and three children lived at Penman (later known as Green Gables) in St. George's Avenue and the family still occupied this residence in 1899. John Lyle's only mention in the Schedule of Deeds and Documents relating to this property is in 1901. The house was built by Major Albert Vaillant (1813-1878) who purchased the plot in c.1860. The Major's son, the Rev. Wilfred Vaillant recorded this fact in a letter, 27 January 1936, to Mrs Grenside, the Curator of Weybridge Museum, 'My father (Albert Vaillant) built the then beautiful house (Meadowleigh).....We sold (1879) it to Lord Latymer (Francis B.T.Money-Coutts who was ennobled in 1912).' It was still John Lyle's Weybridge home at the time of his death in 1914. From 1937 to 1970 the property became Finnart House School, initially for Jewish boys but later incorporated boys of other denominations. When the building was demolished the land was used for housing including Latymer Close, Finnart Close and Vaillant Road.
John Lyle involved himself in the local community as President of the Weybridge Liberal Association and 'took a keen interest in the Provident Dispensary', (Surrey Advertiser, 4 Jan. 1908). Such dispensaries provided medical care and advice for modest weekly subscriptions; the Weybridge and Oatlands Dispensary had started in the late 1870s. On 28 December 1907 Lyle wrote to the Chairman of the Urban District Council, Weybridge stating that he had arranged to buy 7 acres of land, '....which extends from the footpath in continuation of Springfield-road to the houses facing Church-street, and I should like to present the freehold of it to the Weybridge District Council as trustees, to preserve it in perpetuity as an open space, for the benefit of the public, and to allow no buildings of any kind to be erected thereon.' He, in particular wanted the elderly and the young to benefit from his gift, '...it may be primarily a place of rest and recreation for the elderly people, the women, and the children of the neighbourhood, and not for athletic clubs for men and boys...' The Council recorded their thanks to Mr Lyle and invited him to attend a Council meeting to explain the stipulations he wished to make. John Lyle was not impressed by this offer and in a testy exchange with a local journalist made it clear that he was unlikely to attend a Council meeting saying that he, "....would have much preferred to make the offer anonymously, but that was not practicable, and so I did it in my own name. And the letter says everything that it is necessary to say." The Council accepted John Lyle's generous gift and in June 1908 Mr W.C.Pegram was appointed as the first Park Keeper at a salary of 30s weekly. By 1915 attractive gardens with seats had been laid out, a bowling green and tennis courts constructed and swings and seesaws provided for children. John Lyle also donated a pair of wrought-iron gates from Bushy House, Hampton that had been admired by Queen Victoria. When the Park was opened in 1908 the gates were erected c.30 feet in front of their present position. They display a metal plaque with the following inscription: 'Pleasure Grounds. Presented by John Lyle Esq. of Finnart House. 1908.' Part of the grounds was taken in 1949 to create a car park and access road.
After an operation John Lyle died on 5th July 1914 in a Nursing Home at 4 Dorset Square, London. He left an estate worth £452,035 10s 3d; such an amount has a current spending value of £25.8m. John Lyle's tangible legacy in the heart of Weybridge continues to be the Pleasure Grounds (Churchfields Recreation Ground) which still attracts families with children, tennis players, dog walkers and those who just want to enjoy peace and tranquillity - just as Lyle had envisaged.
- M.E.Blackman & J.S.L.Pulford, 'A Short History of Weybridge', Walton & Weybridge Local History Society, Paper 29, 1991
- Weybridge Provident Dispensary making satisfactory progress, British Medical Journal, 9 December 1882, p.1179
- 1891 and 1911 Census Returns
- Death Notices, The Times, 7 July 1914
- D.M. & J.L.Barker, 'A Window on Weybridge' (1993)
- The Churchfields Recreation Ground, Weybridge by A.Butcher, Surveyor to Walton Urban District Council
- 'Weighing-up Weybridge: A Look at Weybridge in the Years 1892-1939' extracted from the Surrey Herald by G.L.Lewis, member of Walton & Weybridge Local History Society (Elmbridge Museum archive)
- Particulars, Plans & Views of the Freehold Residence & Park -Like Grounds known as Finnart House, Weybridge, Surrey (Elmbridge Museum archive)
- Schedule of Deeds & Documents relating to Finnart House School, Oatlands Drive, Weybridge, Surrey, (1844-1957) from Messrs. Maples Teesdale & Co (Elmbridge Museum archive)
- Letters from Rev. Wilfred Vaillant MA to Mrs Grenside (Weybridge Museum's Curator), 1936
- History of Finnart House (also incorporating the Coach House) by Mrs H.D.V.Vollans, Aug. 1998
- Gates and Railings of Churchfields Recreation Ground (Elmbridge Museum archive)
- Julia Finch & Richard Wray, 'Tate & Lyle agrees sale of historic sugar business for £211m', The Guardian, 1st July 2010
- Kelly's Directory for Surrey, 1899
- Probate Listings, The Times, 1st September 1914