Henry Tate was born in 11th March 1819 at White Coppice, a village near Chorley in Lancashire, the son of Unitarian minister William Tate and his wife Agnes. The Tate’s had twelve children (four having died before Henry’s birth) and in order to supplement his meagre income William Tate ran a school for poor children. Attendance at this establishment represented Henry’s only formal education.
When he was 13 Henry was apprenticed to his elder brother, Caleb, who had a grocery business in Liverpool. He clearly took to shop-keeping as by the age of 21 he had opened his own shop in Old Haymarket. By the time he was 36 he had six shops, four in Liverpool, one in Birkenhead and one in Ormskirk. The real shift in his fortunes came when in 1859 he went into partnership with John Wright, a sugar refiner in Manesty Lane. As this new venture prospered he sold his shops and a second refinery was opened. In 1869 Wright withdrew from the business and the name was changed to Henry Tate and Sons. A new refinery was opened in Love Lane, Liverpool and Tate astutely obtained the patents for producing sugar cubes. In 1887 he opened a refinery in London at Silvertown which remains in operation today.
By the time Henry Tate moved from Liverpool to live at Streatham his business acumen had made him a millionaire and his wealth enabled him to embark upon a remarkable journey of charitable bequests. Liverpool organisation which benefitted from his donations included the Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital in Hope Street (£20,000), the University (£42,500) and the Royal Infirmary (£8000). Probably his most famous gift to the nation was the building of the Tate Gallery at Millbank which cost over £200,000 and to which he donated his own art collection. Shortly before his death, in 1898, he was made a Baronet. A modest and retiring man he had earlier declined the honour but accepted on this occasion having been advised that a further refusal would constitute a personal affront to the Royal Family.
He died on 5th December 1899 and was buried in West Norwood cemetery. In 1921 Henry Tate & Co merged with Abram Lyle and Sons to form the now familiar Tate & Lyle.
Henry Tate married Jane Wignall in 1841 and they had ten children. In 1851 they were living in Woodchurch Road, Oxton but by 1861 had moved to an imposing house, ‘Highfield’, in Woolton L25 where they remained until his departure for London. ‘Highfield’ was sadly demolished in the 1980’s. Jane died in 1883 and he remarried (another Jane) in 1888.
There is a comprehensive entry for Tate in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
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