Born in 1820 in Greenock, Scotland, Abram Lyle started his working life at the age of 12 as an apprentice in a lawyer's office, before joining his father's cooperage business. He subsequently developed his career in shipping in partnership with his friend, John Kerr. The Lyle fleet grew to become one of the largest in Greenock.
As a cooper and shipowner, Lyle was involved in transporting sugar for many years. In 1865, he added sugar refining to his business interests through his purchase, with four partners, of the Glebe Sugar Refinery. After the death of the principal partner, John Kerr, in 1872, Lyle sold his shares and looked for a site for a new refinery.
In 1883 Abram Lyle & Sons started melting sugar at Plaistow Refinery, just 1.5 miles from Henry Tate & Son's Thames Refinery. Lyle knew that the sugar cane refining process produced a treacly syrup that usually went to waste – but that could be refined to make a delicious preserve and sweetener for cooking. "Goldie" was made from the very start, in small but increasing quantities. The syrup was poured into wooden casks and sold to employees and local customers. Word spread even faster than the syrup, and, in a few short months, they were selling a tonne a week.
Wooden casks soon gave way to large Lyle's Golden Syrup dispensers that were placed on the shelves of grocery stores. Lyle's Golden Syrup was first filled into tins in 1885. Today more than a million tins leave Plaistow each month.
Abram Lyle died in 1891, leaving his sons to carry on the business at Plaistow.