The history of British seaside rock FEATURE

You can't visit a good old British seaside resort without coming home with a few sticks of seaside rock. BritEvents' Lucy Middleton finds out who came up with the idea of mass producing this teeth-breaking sweet, how the letters are put in, and how it's made.

The history of British seaside rock

By Lucy Middleton,

When you think of childhood summers spent at seaside resorts, you're sure to think of the sticky, sugary confectionery that is rock. Whether you broke a tooth biting chunks out of it, or took it home as a gift for an unsuspecting friend, it's a popular seaside tradition.

The earliest form of rock is believed to be sold at fair grounds in the 19th century and, though it was similar, it was not lettered or flambuoyantly coloured like the Seaside rock we are acquainted with today.

Ben Bullock, ex-miner from Burnley, began manufacturing sticks of brightly coloured, lettered candy at his Yorkshire-based confectionary factory in 1887, after conceiving the idea while holidaying in Blackpool. Bullock sent his first batch of lettered rock to retailers in Blackpool, where it was well received and seaside rock was born.

Sticks of rock can now be bought in souveneir shops of most British seaside resorts including Blackpool, Brighton, Scarborough and Weston-super-Mare.

How seaside rock is made

It takes an incredible amount of skill for sticks of lettered rock to be created, skill that machines are still unable to master even in the 21st century. Practised craftsmen of seaside rock are called Sugar Boilers and, as the name suggests, they start the process by boiling sugar and glucose in a copper pan heated to 300 degrees centigrade.

Once the sugar mixture reaches the ideal temperature, it is poured out onto a cooling table and separated into parts. The inner core part is aerated and flavoured (traditionally mint, though it can be a variety of fruit flavours), while the remaining outer layer and lettering sections are coloured. Getting the lettering correct is a skill that can take up to 10 years to master, as rock is often up to 6 feet long before it is cut.

The letters are made individuallly before they are stuck together in a line with white filler in between. Square-shaped letters (B, E, F, K) and triangle-shaped letters (A, V) are made first, while round-shaped letters (C, D, O, Q) are made last to prevent loss of shape before the rock sets.

The lettering, filling and core are rolled together before they are wrapped in the brightly coloured outer casing. The whole slab is then stretched into smaller, longer strips by machine before being cut and wrapped ready for sale.

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