14 tooth-achingly sweet facts about York and chocolate

16 Oct 2014 @ 12.45 pm
| Food & drink, History

As we’re in National Chocolate Week (October 13-19), here are 14 facts you might not know about York’s sugary heritage…

‘Time’ for a break

Photograph: Sean Murray on Wikipedia
Photograph: Sean Murray on Wikipedia
In February 2014, Time Magazine named KitKat the most influential chocolate bar of all time. Six million are produced in York every day.

York’s first car


Rowntrees owned York’s first motor car. They created a giant can of Cocoa Elect to promote the brand.

The public would come from miles around to see the spectacle. The giant tin of cocoa would make it top heavy and it would often fall over.

Rowntree, Terry, Wonka

The competitive rivalry between Cadbury and Rowntrees is thought to have inspired Roald Dahl to create Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Oranges are not the only fruit


The famous Terry’s of York Chocolate Orange was originally a Chocolate Apple. Created in the 1930s, the apple wasn’t quite so popular.

Freezing cocoa


A tin of Rowntree’s Elect Cocoa was taken by Shackleton to the Antarctic in 1908. It was discovered completely intact 50 years later and its taste was pronounced to be in “excellent condition”.

His n’ her nibs


This cheeky pair were mascots for Rowntree’s. If “The Cocoa Nibs” weren’t too sugary sweet for you, they also had a dog called Cute.

Mr York of York, Yorks


Plain Mr York was an iconic character introduced in the 1920s. He even undertook a tour of Canada and would receive fan mail from all around the world addressed to Mr York of York, Yorks.

Here he is advertising Rowntree’s assortments. You can see a 1929 film of Mr York on the Yorkshire Film Archive website.

Seven golden years

The Thirties were the choccy golden age in York, when Rowntree’s launched the Black Magic assortment (1934), KitKat (1935), Aero (1935), Dairy Box (1937), Smarties (1937) and Terry’s came up with the Chocolate Orange (1931) and the All Gold assortment (1936).

Private chocolate museum

Joe Dickinson has spent more than 50 years collecting Rowntree’s memorabilia. His home in York is filled with old chocolate boxes, posters, gifts and pictures.

Liking a drop?


As a Quaker Joseph Rowntree frowned on the abundance of alcohol, and promoted cocoa as a temperance drink. His model village, New Earswick, was famously built with no pubs.

However, Joseph Rowntree’s household was not teetotal. A few bottles of wine and beer appear in his annual accounts up until 1880, and in 1874 he purchased a dozen bottles of champagne.

Chocolate covered Vikings


The relocation of the Cravens Sweet factory to a location outside of the city lead to the excavation of its Coppergate location.

And of course it was during this dig that the remains of Viking York were discovered – now found in the Jorvik Centre.

Royal approval


The royals have a taste for Rowntree’s, which has had the Royal Warrant since Queen Victoria’s day.

A York bar of chocolate, presented to the then Princess Elizabeth, was made with cocoa, sugar and vanilla all grown in the atrium at the Rowntree factory.

On a visit to the Terry’s factory in 1937 her father and mother, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were given a huge box of chocs. The still above is from film of the event on the Yorkshire Film Archive site.

Rowntree history


2012 marked 150 years of Rowntree’s: Henry Isaac Rowntree purchased the Cocoa, Chocolate and Chicory business in 1862 from the Tuke family in York.

It nearly went bust, but was saved thanks to a Frenchman who invented…

Pastille pleasures

Hammered by high-tech Cadburys, the Rowntree business was on the ropes – until Claude Gaget called on Joseph and Henry Isaac in 1879.

He had with him samples of French pastilles and Joseph realised making a cheaper British version could be a winner.

After trial and error they produce Rowntree’s Crystallised Gum Pastilles. Sold loose and unadvertised in 4lb wooden boxes for a penny an ounce, they were an instant success and saved the company.

Things to do this week

choc-week-logoGot a taste for something sweet now? There are several cocoa-related activities in York to mark National Chocolate Week, which include:

  • Yorkshire’s famous flavours, including ginger parkin, rhubarb and Wensleydale cheese, given a chocolate makeover by the chocolatiers at York’s Chocolate Story on King’s Square
  • Meet Bettys chocolate expert at the St Helen’s Square café, on Sunday, October 20, 11am-noon
  • Goddard’s on Tadcaster Road, once home to Noel Terry and now run by the National Trust, is holding blindfolded taste tests of chocolates, chocolate box design competitions and offering chocolate trails for families
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