8 Old Fashioned Sweets with an Unusual History

8 Old Fashioned Sweets with an Unusual History

Some of the UK’s favourite old-fashioned sweets have a strange anecdote attached to their invention or usage. From arming bombs to treating horses. Discover how Bassetts Allsorts were invented and even how Aniseed Balls played a part in WWII.

1. Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts

Just before the turn of the 19th century, a young man by the name of Charlie Thompson accidentally created a British confectionery classic. He was a young member of the Bassetts sales team and had been tasked with carrying a tray of confectionary samples to a client.

As he walked across the room, he tripped and the tray went flying. As he hurriedly collected the fallen confections, the client had a moment of genius and decided that a mixed packet of sweets might just be a great idea. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A clear glass bowl filled with liquorice allsorts.

Liquorice Allsorts | Photo by David Edgar on Wikimedia Commons

2. Aniseed Balls

A classic, old-fashioned member of our pick n mix selections. Did you know that Aniseed balls once had a vital role to play in the second world war? Specially constructed ‘limpet mines’ were created by the government to act as underwater bombs. To give the men who attached them time to swim away, they needed a specialised delay mechanism.

After many experimental attempts, they finally settled on using aniseed balls. These round sugared treats were the perfect size to fit in the mechanism and dissolved in water in exactly 35 minutes. Allowing whoever laid the bomb plenty of time to swim away!

An image filled with shiny aniseed balls with a deep red colour.

Our Aniseed Balls, available in our pick n mix selections!

3. Pontefract Cakes

These old British classics are still produced in Pontefract to this day. But did you know that these black liquorice discs weren’t considered confectionary until the 19th century? They were mainly produced as a medicine to treat various conditions like coughs, infections and stomach pain. However, they were also given as a medicine to treat horses too!

A photo filled with the black liquorice disc printed with the text "Pontefract Cakes", with a castle at the centre. One of the oldest old fashioned sweets with an unusual history.

Our vegan Pontefract Cakes, ready to be added to your pick n mix pouch!

4. Barley Sugars

The history of these sugared delights stretches back to 17th century France. A Mother Superior nun by the name of Elizabeth Pidoux created the first recipe for barley sugars. She was experimenting with medicinal recipes and created the sweet treat when mixing sugar with barley water.

Golden orange hard boiled sweets wrapped in a plastic wrapper.

Barley sugars!

5. Soor Plooms

A Scottish sweet treat that is said to date back to the 14th century! Soor Plooms were apparently created to commemorate a fight between a party of English and Scottish men. The English men were caught while eating sour, unripened plums. Hence the name Soor Ploom!

8 Old Fashioned Sweets with an Unusual History

6. Jelly Babies

These sweet little jelly treats have been through a series of name changes over their history. From the controversial Unclaimed babies to the celebratory Peace Babies to mark the end of WWI. They finally settled on the sweet and cheerful ‘Jelly Babies’.


Jelly Babies | Photo by Sam Greenhalgh on Wikimedia Commons

7. Parma Violets

Love them or hate them, Parma violets are a classic retro sweet. They were actually inspired by old herbalism recipes that used real violet flowers in medicines. Throughout history, they were eventually turned into tiny confectionary lozenges. Today, they don’t contain violet flowers, but they do contain the purple natural food colouring called anthocyanin!


Parma Violets!

8. Wine Gums

One of the UK’s best old-fashioned sweet brands, Wine Gums almost didn’t make it onto the shelves They were the idea of Charles Riley Maynard’s son. A strict methodist man at the time, Charles didn’t approve of a confectionary that contained wine. But his son eventually persuaded him that they would be an alcohol-free alternative for people to enjoy.

12 wine gums laid on a white surface.

Wine gums | Photo by Evan-Amos on Wikimedia Commons


Featured Image: Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts photo by Dulaj R on Wikimedia Commons

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