The London Economic

Animation: The History of Sweets

By Nathan Lee, TLE Correspondent 

Historians have created a timeline of the history of sweets in Britain dating back as early as 8000BC.

Confectionery historian Tim Richardson created the timeline to show how our love of sweets has developed over the centuries, with Stone Age cave paintings showing our early ancestors raiding bee hives for honeycomb to get their sweet fix.

And as the years went on, the first lollipops are thought to have been enjoyed way back in 1550AD, gums and pastilles came in during the 1650s while toffee was a little later, in the 1890s.

Boiled sweets, chewing and bubble gum, liquorice, sherbet, marshmallows and the popular ‘A quarter of’ type sweets are also detailed in the timeline, which shows how our sweet-loving taste buds have evolved to enjoy the latest look and style candy.

It also shows how old favourites have been redesigned with new flavours and sizes as well as limited editions in more recent years.

‘Sweets: A History of Temptation’ author Tim Richardson created the timeline with Tangerine Confectionery, which is behind classic sweets such as WHAM bars, fruit salads, Flumps, DipDabs and Refreshers, to mark the launch of its new Softies sweets.

Mr Richardson said:  “A sweet little something enjoyed during the day can be a source of simple solace and pleasure, perking us up like nothing else. People have known this for centuries.

“Throughout history, many sweets have maintained their allure and popularity because they have kept up with the latest taste trends while fitting in with changing lifestyles. The nostalgia value of sweets has always been there but it has soared in recent years, with new ‘old-fashioned’ sweet shops opening up on high streets and booming internet sales of childhood favourite.”



8000BC – Prehistoric honeycomb

The first documented ‘sweet’ is the honeycomb depicted in a Stone Age cave painting that was discovered near Valencia. This image shows a caveman dangling on a vine while he raids a bees’ nest for honeycomb, which he is throwing down to a friend waiting below, as the bees buzz angrily around him.

800BC – Liquorice

Like many sweets it was first valued for its medicinal/useful qualities, and the thirst-quenching nature of liquorice root meant it was issued to Roman legionaries who were going on long route marches.

1000AD – Arabic almond lozenges

These are mentioned in one of the earliest of all cookbooks, written in Persia, which describes lawzinaj, which were aromatic almond sweets laced with musk and amber

1350 – Sucket (candied fruit)

This was one of the most popular sweets imported from the east — oranges, lemons and pineapples preserved in sweet sugar (the forerunners of boiled sweets). Still on sale today.

1450 – Comfits (aniseed balls and the like)

Hard sugary sweets began as medicines, since the herbs and spices the sugar encases were all perceived to be of medicinal value

1550 – Lollipops

The first references to sweets on sticks, made by means of a special box into which syrup would be dropped onto upright sticks.

1650 – Gums and pastilles

France perfected this art form and it was a French master confectioner who turned up at a confectionery factory in Yorkshire with the idea for fruit pastilles, in the mid -19th century

1820s – Boiled sweets

Originally conceived as cheap versions of crystallised fruits, the ‘sweetie wives’ of the Scottish Lowlands perfected the art, creating sweets such as ‘soor plooms’, Hawick balls and Berwick cockles

1840s – Rock

Seaside rock, complete with letters, was probably invented in Morecambe in the 1830s. Early rock sticks were given as courting gifts, with the letters spelling out cheeky messages, not place names

1871 – Chewing gum

Invented by a New York entrepreneur who had first tried to market tyres, toys, masks and boots using chicle sourced in Mexico

1870s – Penny chews

Chewy sweets –began to be made in intense fruit, liquorice and chocolate flavours

1890s – Toffee

A surprisingly late invention, toffee was commercially marketed by a Scotsman, while the French developed caramels

1899 – Liquorice Allsorts

Liquorice Allsorts were invented by a salesman in the Midlands, who was carrying his samples around in a case when they all got muddled up. Previously he had sold each kind of sweet in individual batches, but the ‘allsorts’ selection proved a runaway success.

c1900 – Marshmallow

The medieval medicine based on the sticky root of the marsh mallow plant was imitated by French confectioners using egg whites and sugar, and later took the USA by storm

1926 – Bubble gum

This was invented after hours by Walter Diemer, an accountant who enjoyed ‘messing around in the lab’ at the sweets firm where he worked in Philadelphia. The pink colouration was a spur-of-the-moment choice

1940 – Sherbet

Sherbet became the fizzy powder we know today only in the mid to late 19th century, as a kind of imitation of the exotic original [just as boiled sweets were imitations of sucket or preserved fruit].

1953 – The end of Sweet rationing

The long-delayed end of sweets rationing in Britain is a source of national joy, especially among children

1960s – A quarter of…

At around this time the traditional dominance in the sweetshop of loose sweets sold from jars in quarter-pound paper bags began to be challenged by brightly packaged wrapped sweets or multiple packs

1970s – Intergalactic theme

Space becomes an important theme in sweets marketing and packaging, with endless variations on rockets, spacemen and other inter-planetary exotica

1980s – Penny chew

The heyday of the ‘penny chew’ — small chunky/chewy sweets which were in actuality often halfpenny or four-for-a-penny chews, such as Fruit Salads, Blackjacks and Mojos (for which there are plans for a return…). Pick-and-mix continues as a high-street sweets stalwart, with Woolworths the main store to offer it

2010s – Softies

The vogue for variation, which started in the early 2000’s is extended into the world of chews, as favourite chewy sweets begin to be marketed in soft versions and new flavours


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