Yorkshire was once the candy centre of the United Kingdom, and in a sense, we still are.
Did you know that many popular sweets, from Terry’s Chocolate to Liquorice Allsorts, can trace their roots back to Yorkshire. After Eight Mints, The KitKat, Pontefract Cakes (this one is kind of obvious); they all originated in Gods Own County.
While it was once the sweet capital of Britain, some of these classic treats are no longer made in Yorkshire following buyouts and mergers from larger multinational firms.
Don’t think we’re out of the running yet, though; we still have our fair share of confectionery suppliers and producers. In fact, one world-famous manufacturer runs their UK operation from right here in Yorkshire. Here, we run through the factories that helped to put Yorkshire on the map and indeed the ones which still exist on it!
Whilst you may not instantly recognise the name, you will certainly know the products. Famed for their toffees, humbugs and French Almonds, Cravens was founded in 1822 in the heart of York. Mary Ann Craven quickly became one of Yorkshires first successful businesswomen, supplying Harrods, M&S and Fortnum and Mason, having become one of the biggest producers of hard-boiled sweets in Britain. The business was eventually sold on in 1985.
Founded in 1842 by George Bassett, the company that created Jelly Babies had its home in Sheffield. One of the company’s other best selling products, Liquorice Allsorts, was actually created by accident by a salesman! Charlie Thompson was showing samples to his client when he accidentally dropped them. As he hastily reassembled the sweets, he inadvertently created some unusual flavour combos that the client loved! Bassett’s is now owned by American confectionery giant Mondelez.
Another name that you may not be familiar with, unless you’re from Pontefract, Dunhills were famous for one particular product; you guessed it – Pontefract cakes! Owned by the Dunhill family, who began growing medicinal liquorice circa 1720 in Pontefract Castle, Dunhills were the first company to make a business selling liquorice sweets. George Dunhill once claimed he invented the first liquorice sweet, but it is believed his claims were false as he was only seven years old at the time, and people had been enjoying liquorice in the area before he was born. The remaining shares of the business were sold to Haribo in 1994.
Haribo first had a stake in Yorkshire when they purchased shares in Dunhills of Pontefract in 1972. The German giant has since built a £92m factory in Castleford, which opened in 2015, and they also have a retail outlet in nearby Pontefract town centre.
any famous attractions and giftshops supply toffee and fudge made by Farrah’s of Harrogate. The company, which was established in 1840 by Ann Farrah, also make a range of sweets, biscuits and chocolates. In 1873 she was joined by her grandson John Farrah, who had proved himself to be a talented toffee maker. The business still has a factory in Harrogate, along with its traditional Olde Sweet Shop.
Originating in Elland in 1850, Dobsons began producing funeral biscuits and wedding cakes. They later added Victorian sweets, such as Voice Tablets and the famous Conversation Lozenges, which had moral messages embossed on them such as ‘take ye not to strong drink’ and ‘honour thy parents’. Coincidentally, Yorkshire Mix was created by accident, just like Liquorice Allsorts. Thomas Dobson, one of the sons of Joseph, was carrying various boiled sweets when he fell down some stairs, causing them to mix. The business is still based in Elland.
Perhaps one of the more well-known names on our list, Rowntree’s, is behind some of our favourite household confectionery, including Fruit Pastilles, Aeros, KitKats, Jelly Tots and Smarties. The company was founded in 1862 by Henry Rowntree in York and by the 1890s had become one of the most prominent players in the booming sweet industry. They even had a lab that was equipped to analyse rival products. Rowntree was eventually acquired by Nestlé following a bidding war with Jacobs Suchard.
You may not know the name, but you will certainly know the product – Quality Street. Harold Mackintosh invested the selection in 1936 in Halifax, the first of its kind. At the time, boxes of chocolates were expensive to package, so they were only really available to customers who were well off. Mackintosh got rid of the expensive packaging to create a more affordable variety tin. Rowntree acquired the business in a merger, which was then merged with Nestlé, the world’s biggest food manufacturer, in 1988.
Perhaps one of the smaller company’s on our list, Whitaker’s still boasts an impressive history. The chocolatier was first founded in 1903 and quickly expanded, opening their first high street store in 1929 in Skipton. They opened their first chocolate factory in the town in the 1960s and currently employs around 150 staff during their busy periods.
Terry’s is perhaps most well known for one particular product, the Chocolate Orange, with its instantly recognisable shape, box and distinctive taste. Terry’s started out in York in 1767 as a sweet shop, but it didn’t become known as Terry’s until 1828 when Joseph Terry became the sole owner. The Chocolate Orange, which went on to be the most famous product, was invented in 1932 – six years after creating the Chocolate Apple, which ceased to be manufactured in 1954. Terry’s has been the subject of many mergers and takeovers over the years, including Kraft and Mondelez. In 2016 it was bought by investment firm Eurazeo, which formed confectioner Carambar & Co. The Chocolate Orange is now manufactured in Strasbourg, France.
Whilst many of these company’s have changed hands over the years through mergers and acquisitions, it’s clear to see that Yorkshire features prominently in their history.