Down in Silvertown opposite the mighty Tate & Lyle sugar factories sits a rather forlorn looking building. Run down and neglected, it has the appearance of a large pub, or maybe an old music hall.

It is in fact an Institute — the Tate Institute, and was opened in 1887.

And yes, it is also a sort of pub and old music hall, as it was an entertainment venue built to provide for the workers in the factory just the other side of the railways.

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Without going into the company archives, it has been surprisingly difficult to find out much about it from the lazy comfort of an internet search.

It does pop up regularly in the newspapers of the time, as the venue put on popular musical entertainments and if someone famous was appearing, maybe a short note would appear in the press, and sometimes political meetings were held there.

Even the occasional Royal would turn up to formally open a fete or fair.

The venue also sold subsidized rum shipped in from the Jamaican sugar plantations. On Christmas Eve the tradition was for the girls to get drunk in their lunch break.

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Built by Sir Henry Tate for his sugar workers at a cost of £5,000, Sir William Tate donated £1,500 to renovate the institute in 1904, adding another £1,200 to endow it two years later.

The Institute however closed in 1933 and the building sold in 1937.

The top floor later served as the Silvertown library between 1938-61, with the ground floor still  used for social events. The building has been empty since 1961, occasionally employed by vanguard theatre companies but otherwise unused.

There was an attempt by the local council to have it listed in 2006, but that failed.

Curiously it was used for a public meeting on the 21st April 1999 to discuss the planned extension of the DLR to City Airport.

More recently, a new book was published which delves into the lives of The Sugar Girls who worked in the factory in the 1940s-50s, when the Institute was still open.

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I suspect that it’s fate lies in the compromise that that the pub-like front will be converted into a home one day, and that back hall area probably knocked down and a block of flats built on the land.

I am not too sad about the hall going, but I do hope they keep the front building as the decoration has a delightful charm and it at 130 years old, is a rare survivor in this part of London [map link].

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24 comments on “Silvertown’s derelict Tate Institute
  1. Charles says:

    Wow, disused since ’61! That is a long time. Sort of gives you faith that some wonderful places do stand still, untampered with. Which isn’t to say it wouldn’t have been better if it were utilised, but it’s great that it’s still standing in a time when most such buildings are razed/rebuilt. Silvertown’s such an incredibly rich area for not only history but the very present of London’s industry. Pity to see it changing so quickly in other ways..

    • Chris says:

      I don’t know where you got your information from but I worked for Tate and Lyle and the Institute was still open in 1998 when I retired.

  2. Alan Burkitt-Gray says:

    ‘Built by Sir Henry Tate for his sugar workers at a cost of £5,000, Sir William Tate …’

    A pedant writes: Nice little dangler there, Mr Visits.

  3. Richard Goodwin says:

    I like the look of the building nut it is pretty depressing that buildings stand unused for more than 50 years. Wheels of progress clearly grind slowly.

  4. James says:

    Was interested to see your post about the Tate Institute, but there are a couple of errors/gaps that I can help with …

    … firstly, it hasn’t been disused for 50 years. It didn’t close its doors in the early ’60s …

    My dad worked in the factory for 37 years from the 1960s having grown up in post-war Silvertown and my maternal grandmother and her sister (my great aunt) worked at the factory from the early 30s through to the 70s, so I know a little about the history of this place and the role that the Institute had in the lives of the workers and their families.

    Socials were held here for employees through to the ’90s – I remember going in the ’80s as child with my parents and even as late as 1997 going to a long service awards evening for employees (that one marked my Dad’s 35 years long service).

    The building and the socials that were held here also hold a special place in my parents’ memories, as they met in the Institute at such a social in 1967 … they married two years later and celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary this year!

    It is a real shame that this building is no longer in use – but as the factory has reduced its work force and many of the employees now live further away I guess it’s to be expected. But it’s very sad to see a place that holds such lovely memories looking so unloved!

    • IanVisits says:

      Thanks for that — it seemed suspicious, but despite much online hunting, I really couldn’t find any reports of the venue being in use for much more than the occasional event after the library moved out.

      Nice to see the dereliction is less long term than I had thought.

    • Graham Mcglone says:

      My stepfather, Albert “Soupy” Edwards was the caretaker of the Tate Institute for about 20-odd years from 1959, and I believe that it continued as an entertainment venue for a long time afterwards. As a teenager, I would often help him to get the hall and bars ready for the well-attended social events that were held almost every Saturday evening. Our family lived in the caretaker’s house at 1 Wythes Road, which is attached to the institute. After the library closed, the room was used as a snooker hall. Hope this clears up any queries. I visited Silvertown recently (2016) and the institute looks to be very dilapidated and in a sorry state. I agree that the back hall of the building wouldn’t be a great loss if it was knocked down – but the front aspect of the building should be retained as an architectural and historical cornerstone of Silvertown’s past.

  5. Jada says:

    I used to do dance lessons in here. I think it was around 1998.

  6. Tom Dale says:

    Hi Ian…..I am hoping you or someone can help me. I have been trying to research a family connection to the Silvertown area in the 1920’s. I believe a member of my family owned a chip shop opposite the Tate and Lyle factory after the first world war. The name of the owner was William Hardy jr and it may have been his mother or father who worked with him. My Grandmother was Lorna White who also married a William Hardy and they had a café in Brixton. My late Uncle was Bill Hardy, former mayor of Coventry. Do you or anyone else know of this chip shop and the family who owned it…..and/or the café in Brixton? Could the chip shop have been part of the Tate Institute? thanks Tom D

  7. Hi there. I am doing a bit of research on my local football club Epsom & Ewell FC and our Reserves used to play Tate Institute at Silvertown in London League matches in the late twenties and early thirties. Obviously this would have been a works side but can anyone advise exactly where the sports ground would have stood in relation to the main building?

    Thanks

    Richard

    • Brian Cook says:

      E16 2QS as a rough guide but was to the north of The Reach Bar (Ex Galleons Hotel)

    • Chris says:

      Tate and Lyle sports ground was about a mile maybe 2 away at Beckton. Sadly no longer there.

    • jo keith says:

      The sports ground sits directly under an over pass in Beckton E6
      one end you could use as a short cut from the shopping center and the other side was blocked off. Bridge to nowhere we called it and it ruined a wonderful sports venue between many company teams.
      I worked there preparing food for matches my step dad was the organizer and when they tore it down and dug it up it was so sad.
      But many good memories.

  8. Tim Peake says:

    Anybody know who owns the former Tate Institute? I have tried LB Newham and the Land Registry but drawn a blank

    • peter crowley says:

      In the 2002 I was told by a London Borough of Newham council official that they had bought it off of t&l

  9. Franco says:

    Hello everyone, if you are interested to the old Tate Institute i would like you to know that i currently live in it.

    No it has not been transformed into flat as you feared, instead there is a crew of hard working volunteers who are creating a new workshop Venue also in order to protect the Victorian building from being demolished.

    You are free to contact me by email for any info.

  10. Dave Leader says:

    My granddad used to be the caretaker of the Institute (Albert Edwards) I remember as a kid visiting and having a great time on a Saturday night, he lived in a small house which was attached.

    • Graham Mcglone says:

      Hi Dave Leader, if Albert Soupy Edwards was your granddad, then I guess we are somehow related. He married my mum, Dolly, in about 1960, and so he was my stepdad until he died in 1986.

      Contact me at: [email protected]

  11. David Conroy says:

    I’m sure you’ll find that it is owned by the London Borough of Newham as we discussed it with him in March 2013 for it to be leased to the local people at a peppercorn rent & were hoping that Crossrail would repair & decorate rate as a legacy for the grief they have had to put up with. Unfortunately, Crossrail, yet again, didn’t play ball!

  12. David Conroy says:

    With him I mean Sir Robin Wales Newham’s Mayor.

  13. Peter says:

    @Dave L

    Thanks for sharing! I hope more people share their attachment and memories. It would be a shame to lose all that history and community for the sake of a handful more generic flats. The neighbourhood needs more social spaces!

    • peter crowley says:

      North Woolwich old railway station has been acquired by a organisation cooperating with Crossrail to turn it into a set of Art studios to provide art space for the local community this has received funding.

  14. Hi my names michelle cook, im searching for brian cook he had 3 children samantha Matthew and myself, lives in newham london as far as i know. Can you help if you have any information please.

  15. jo keith says:

    I worked as a glass collector at the Tate institute in the 80s and worked my way up to bar staff at the right age. The general bar was open for shift workers during the day and many a pie or toastie I made. The main hall was used for functions (mainly retirements).
    All events while I was there were a good mix of every department with a big hot and cold buffet cost price drinks fun for all.
    Jean and Chas are the staff I remember the most.

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