Carol Portas welcomed members to the June meeting of Retford Ladies Probus, at which she introduced Tom Dixon who had spent a big part of his working life in the liquorice factories of Pontefract. Liquorice came to Pontefract by a fluke, possibly brought by monks from Spain where it thrived in sandy soil, therefore it was often referred to as Spanish. Deep trenches have to be dug to enable the roots to grow and it is these roots that are boiled to release the black sticky stuff which is 50 times sweeter than sugar. Tom’s Uncle Jim grew the plant but his crop was bought by Boots the Chemist for medicinal uses. It was also used in the film industry. The character Jaws in Moonraker bit through an electricity cable made of liquorice and Charlie Chaplin ate a liquorice boot in the film Goldrush. In fact, Tom had brought the same object which Chaplin had sunk his teeth into!
During World War II, the government were perplexed as to why the Japanese troops could go without water in the jungles and ours couldn’t. The answer was liquorice. If you chew it you never feel thirsty. Dunhill’s Pontefract cakes and Liquorice Allsorts was the first factory and Mrs Dunhill was an Alderman of the Borough of Pontefract. She was at the Town Hall when the ballot boxes were being sealed with wax. She took one of the seals home and pressed it into one of the sweet balls her husband had made. Hence the first Pontefract cake was made. Other factories soon caught on, each having a different seal. At the turn of the century there were 17 factories making sweets. Queen Victoria became addicted to it, but it causes high blood pressure and teeth to rot, although diabetics can eat It. The liquorice fields are no more and It now comes from Iran and Iraq where it only takes two years to grow, as opposed to seven here.
Tom’s talk was lively, amusing and full of anecdotes. The club’s next meeting will be on 12th September at Westhill Community Centre, at 10.00am for 10.30am, when the topic will be ‘Birds in our Gardens’. All are welcome.