Did you know Norfolk has a special place in the history of sugar?

AgricultureNight fall at Cantley Factory which is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A

Nightfall at Cantley Factory in Norfolk which at the time was working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A new record for the factory had just been set up with the slicing of 28,158 tons of sugar beet in one week. Dated: November 4, 1949. - Credit: Archant Library

We have a rich agricultural heritage in East Anglia - but did you know Norfolk was a trailblazer in sugar production?

The Cantley sugar factory, next to the River Yare, was one of the first beet sugar factories to be built after earlier ventures in the 19th century in Suffolk and Essex failed.

But the facility faced its own challenges during its early years.

A glimpse of the production facilities and buildings at the Cantley sugar beet factory on September 26, 1969.

A glimpse of the production facilities and buildings at the Cantley sugar beet factory. Date: September 26, 1969. - Credit: Archant Library

After Dutch interests raised investment funds in 1911, the half-built plant was destroyed by the 1912 flood and it eventually closed in 1915.

The main reasons for the failure were a shortage of beet and the reluctance of farmers to grow the crop.

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Britain imported three-quarters of its sugar from Europe, mostly from Germany.

Unloading sugar beet at the factory in Cantley. Date: September 21, 1953.

Unloading sugar beet at the factory in Cantley. Date: September 21, 1953. - Credit: Archant Library

Dried pulp being loaded at Cantley factory in Norfolk. Date: December 12, 1985.

Dried pulp is being loaded at the Cantley factory in Norfolk. Date: December 12, 1985. - Credit: Archant Library

The war had a tremendous impact on shipping and this forced the Government to consider a domestic industry and measures to encourage food security.

Most Read

The English Beet Sugar Corporation was founded and in 1920 the factory at Cantley was reopened.

By 1922, the Anglo-Dutch Sugar Company was close to bankruptcy, but misfortune elsewhere in the country worked in its favour. 

A lorry driver arrives at Cantley Sugar factory on September 22, 1960

A driver gets a note from the weighbridge operator at the Cantley Beet Sugar factory as the 1960 campaign gets underway. Dated: September 22, 1960. - Credit: Archant Library

Unloading sugar beet from a lorry at the Cantley factory. Date: September 1964.

Unloading sugar beet from a lorry at the Cantley factory. Date: September 1964. - Credit: Archant Library

Two farmworkers at Cantley lift sugar beet at Mr H.J. Preston's Oak Farm at Southwood on October 12, 1977.

With the giant sugar silos dominating the skyline, two farmworkers at Cantley lift sugar beet at Mr H.J. Preston's Oak Farm at Southwood. Date: October 12, 1977. - Credit: Archant Library

A Nottinghamshire factory at Kelham went out of business. The beet went to Cantley and it kept its head above water - just.

A new storage vessel waiting to be moved into position at Cantley sugar factory on August 21, 1991. 

A new storage vessel waiting to be moved into position at Cantley sugar factory. Date: August 21, 1991. - Credit: Archant Library

In 1925, sugar beet production was subsidised and in 1936 the British Sugar Corporation was formed. With its creation, all existing sugar beet companies were effectively nationalised.

For more old photos and articles about Norfolk history and heritage, subscribe to our fortnightly Through the Decades email newsletter. Sign up by clicking here.