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A Sweetshop of Long Ago

We attempted to make versions of toffees, chocolates and fondants using some weird ingredients.


Photo of a sweetshop‘Temptations of Childhood’ could have been an apt name for the tiny, cramped sweet shop run by a neat, white-haired dame near my home many years ago.

A gingham pinafore covering her dark, neat dress, she served there stoically throughout the week, being especially busy on Saturdays when we urchins stocked up for the matinee at the local flea-pit.

Schooldays were enriched and enlivened when, scant funds permitting, we descended in droves upon the little shop, in reality the tiny front room or parlour of a shabby ground floor dwelling.

After pressing noses to the quaint window-panes facing the street and ‘oohing’, ‘aahing’, pointing and noisily debating the pros and cons of all the goodies on display, we jostled and elbowed for a front position at the makeshift counter.  This solid wooden barrier partitioned the sales area from the front-door entrance.  Crowded onto this, alongside gleaming brass scales and weights, were even more jars of sweets, a cornucopia of fruit drops, cachous, sherbet-dips, cinder toffee and so forth.  This display, coupled with the crowded confusion of delectable delights in the window, made choice a very difficult and lengthy process, everyone wanting the most input for the least output.  However, I seem to recall that ‘lucky’ bags were always popular, especially in the cinema, when swapping of items took up a large part of the proceedings, amidst the background cacophony of cowboy gun-fights and ear-splitting cartoons.

The sweet shop was as much a part of growing up as was the inevitable decay and loss of teeth, when a visit to the dentist held more terrors than any horrors witnessed on the silver-screen.

Looking back, I can well understand the significance of that little sweet shop, a haven from the stark realities of life at that time.

It was situated amongst several similar shops which were dotted throughout the impoverished East End area of North Shields.

It provided a very necessary uplift, albeit temporary, to the spirits of the numerous children, many of whom could not afford to buy anything, but hung about hopefully and were rarely disappointed as treats were often shared.

Confectionery experiments were carried out occasionally, with some strange results indeed.  We attempted to make versions of toffees, chocolates and fondants using some weird ingredients, dried milk powder, cocoa, suspect ‘flavouring’, cochineal for colouring, etc.  And yes, we tasted and devoured these but still scampered back to the little old lady’s sweet shop.  She was never deprived of her regulars for long.

Sweets, it seems, have been around for centuries, from honey-covered fruits in Roman times, dipped toffee apples in medieval times through to the modern-day varieties of all tastes, shapes and colours.  It is fair to say, or rather assume, that they will not disappear completely in the future, but will be far more ‘tooth-friendly’ where a little will go a very long way.

The Sweetshop
Photograph by Dave Morton (flickr)

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