Saturday, August 07, 2010

Lipton's Circus

This post, where the author confessed that he did not know why Lipton's Circus was so-called, set me off on a long comment. It went on so long that I decided to turn it to a post on my much-neglected blog.

What an interesting piece of history you have missed.

Lipton's Circus is called that because the Head office of Lipton & Co used to be there (it was in the building that now houses United Motors/Standard Chartered Bank). The wall you see in the second photograph carried a large advertisement, I believe it said "Lipton Means Good Tea" with a picture of woman raising a cup of tea. I think roundabout had a statue on it, possibly of Lipton. Anyway, the whole area was unmistakably Lipton's, a bit like Piccadilly Circus in London I suppose.

The Liptons office moved to Brook Bond building Union Place (the Building next to JAIC/NTB) after the acquisition of Brooke Bond by Unilver (Unilever bought Lipton's tea business in 1972). The JAIC and Cargills Staples Street outlet occupy what used to be the tea warehouses and part of the office complex of Brooke Bond.

Brooke Bonds and Lipton's were two of the great names in tea, they owned plantations and were big sellers of tea from Ceylon. They lost their estates in the nationalisation in 1960's and 1970's and switched to marketing, diversifying their supply of teas to those from Africa (mostly set up by the planters who left Ceylon post-nationalisation).

The tea industry in Kenya, now a larger exporter than Sri Lanka, owes much of its fortunes to Mrs Bandaranaike, whose policies of nationalisation drove planters from Ceylon to start afresh in Africa.

At the time of the nationalisation, the economy was dominated by agriculture, the key products being tea, rubber and coconuts. Most of the tea and rubber plantations were owned by foreigners (some were even quoted on the London Stock Exchange, I believe). In order to prevent the exploitation of the country's wealth by greedy foreigners the plantations were nationalised, their ownership being transferred to the Janatha Estates Development Board (the people estates development board)-one can almost see the bright hope that the designers of that policy must have had for the future of the people in their choice of name- and the State Plantations Corporation.

The result was disastrous. Driving out the greedy, exploitive foreigner did little to improve the lot of the people and lead to the decline of the industry, although a revival of sorts has taken place under the aegis of private management since 1992.

As the late Joan Robinson, a Cambridge economist, once wrote, “the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all”, a quip, written in 1962, inspired by underemployment in South-East Asia.

For more information on the history of Ceylon Tea see here

Something information on African tea is to be found here. The two countries that benefited the most from the local exodus were Kenya and Tanzania.


Dee said...

cool. luv history

Jack Point said...

Thanks, Dee:)