Licorice in early English History

27 November 2014 | Permalink

Liquorice dates back to 1200 in England - can you believe it?

  • How Liquorice was introduced to Britain is a mystery. The Romans could have imported it or it is possible that it was bought back from the Middle East at the time of the crusades.
  • After the fall of the Roman Empire, liquorice appears to have survived in Britain as a medicinal plant in monasteries founded by Mediterranean religious orders, used by Benedictine and Dominican monks.
  • Liquorice was recorded in England as early as 1200 at the time of King Arthur and King Lear.
  • In Elizabethan England, liquorice was used as a sweetener.
  • In the 1700’s Liquorice production was focused in Pontefract (Yorkshire), Worksop and London and was mainly grown for medicinal purposes and sent around the country. In 1853 Pontefract was the only producer of Liquorice in England
  • In 1701 the Borough of Pontefract tried to ban the sale of liquorice plants outside the town. They wanted to stop a rival industry being set up outside the Borough. Inhabitants of Pontefract were forbidden to sell, give or lend any Liquorice shoots or buds to anyone outside the borough and there were large penalties, which went to the poor.
  • By 1720, The Dunhill family rented the land in Pontefract castle to grow liquorice.
  • George Dunhill, who became a chemist, is reputed to have added sugar to the medicinal recipe to make the first liquorice sweet. He was seven years old at the time and wanted to put sugar on the liquorice he was given as
    a medicine. These sweets are known as Pontefract cakes.
  • By 1900 there were at least 10 liquorice factories in Pontefract and it was a major employer of the town, particularly of women.
  • In 1872, Prontefract’s liquorice industry played a part in national politics. Pontefract had the first by-election held under the new system. It seems that locally and nationally, the ballot boxes were held in contempt. This can be seen by the fact that the wax seals on the surviving boxes do not represent the ancient borough of Pontefract’s coat of arms, but show instead the emblem of Frank Dunhill’s Liquorice factory. The development of world democracy has therefore literally been stamped with Liquorice!