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About A Week: Sweet Treats

Peter Hinchliffe recalls boyhood visits to the sweets shop.

Whenever I walk past the Beeboo at Whitley my mouth begins to water.

The Beeboo is a row of cottages with fields all around. There’s a panoramic view from the rear windows. Some say the unusual name means a bend in the road. Others that it dates from medieval times and signifies a place where bees were kept.

It is not the unusual name or the spectacular view which sets the mouth to watering. It’s the memories of sweet treats. Sixty years ago the front room of one of those cottages was Mrs Senior’s spice shop.

I was one of her customers. Every week I ran up to the Beeboo with two or three old pennies clanking in a pocket of my short pants.

Opening the door to the shop caused a bell to tinkle. In the brief delay while Mrs Senior came from her kitchen there was time to scan the glass bottles on the shelves behind the counter.

No need to read the labels. The sweets were recognisable by colour and shape. They could be tasted in imagination before a bottle lid was unscrewed.

There were acid drops, dragees, barley sugars, jelly babies, wine gums large and small, gobstoppers, humbugs, glacier mints, Pontefract cakes, bonbons. . . .

And more!

I could taste each sweet at a glance – and I can still taste them at the mere mention of a name.

Those were wartime rationing days. The need was for something which tasted good and lasted a long time. For me it was always Yorkshire Mixtures.

Mrs Senior scooped the boiled sweets from bottle to bag with a miniature metal shovel. She always added one or two extra after weighing them – her contribution to keeping up the morale of youngsters in tough times.

The first sweet was always in my mouth before the bell clanged to signal my departure from the shop.

The thing about Yorkshire Mixtures is that you get such a variety of flavours in the one bag. With skill and practice you could make each sweet last and last.

I always saved the fish until the end. It was the biggest and lasted longest.

I was sucking Yorkshire Mixture in 1940. I’m still doing so now. And those delectable sweets are still made in Elland by descendents of the family who ‘invented’ them around 120 years ago.

Tony Chadwick is the fourth generation to run Joseph Dobson and Sons, who make the sweets in Northgate, Elland. His mother was a Dobson. The firm was launched in 1850 to make biscuits and cakes. Boiled sweets followed during the 1880s.

Yorkshire has always been to the forefront in the sweet-making trade. Some of the earliest recipes for sugar-working are contained in a manuscript dated around 1500 which is kept in York
Minster library. Those recipes are bound into a collection of medicinal formulae. Sugar boiling was originally mastered by apothecaries.

Tony Chadwick, Dobson's managing director, says the firm makes a dozen other kinds of sweet besides Yorkshire Mixtures.
It's the Mixtures which brings in the fan letters. An enthusiast wrote plaintively from London, "Why can't I your confectionary here? I always buy a supply when in Yorkshire."

Tony explains that the market for Yorkshire Mixtures is very strong within a 40-mile radius of Elland. That includes a large chunk of Lancashire, where they know a good sweet when they suck one.
The Morrisons supermarket chain stock the sweets. Morrisons are opening new stores in all parts of the country, and Yorkshire Mixtures goes with them.

Tony is himself a Mixtures' fan. So too is his brother, the Rev Francis Chadwick, a retired vicar who lives in Somerset.

"He gets supplies when he visits us," says Tony. "When we pack his Christmas present we always fill in the corners of the parcel with Yorkshire Mixtures."

Tony's son-in-law Stephen Walshaw joined the business last year to carry on the family tradition. Stephen and his wife Miriam returned to England from Vancouver. He had been involved in purchasing for an engineering firm. Miriam was a nurse.

Tony tells me there are 18 different varieties of sweet in each bag of Yorkshire Mixtures. There are lime tablets, pear drops, green humbugs, brown humbugs, tangerines, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, pineapples . . .

Sorry I can't complete the list. The rapture is too overwhelming.

I've been sucking away while writing this column. Now I'm down to the final treat. The fish. It's just like being a boy again.


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