The history of Caley’s chocolate in Norwich
135 years ago, an intelligent chemist decided to make chocolate. It was a decision he made to give his workers something to do in the winter … a wise move that enabled Norwich to have a world famous factory that would provide jobs for generations of men and women. women for 110 years.
Albert Caley moved to the city in the 1850s and opened a pharmacy on London Street. He may have been encouraged to come to us by his brother Nathaniel, a silk merchant, with a business nearby.
He started making mineral waters in a cellar at the back of his shop and how people liked his drinks. He had to move to larger premises in Bedford Street and hire more workers to keep up with demand.
And they weren’t ordinary thirst quenches. They offered a rare and exotic taste.
Ginger beer led the soda pop with lemonade and a range of tonic drinks… people were lining up for.
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There was soda, potash, seltzer water and more.
It was time to move again… and in 1880 he set up his expanded business in George Allen’s former weaver’s workshop at Chapel Field near his home in The Crescent.
The problem was, the booming soft drink business did well during the summer months, but when temperatures dropped so did sales.
What to do? Albert did not want to lay off his workers.
So he started making a popular winter warmer – cocoa – and in 1886 this led to a product that people could enjoy anytime of the year – chocolate.
He had hit the jackpot and started producing milk chocolate – a market dominated by the Swiss – with supplies sourced from the cows of Whitlingham.
These were the famous herd of Red Poll cattle from the famous farm run by Garrett Taylor. The result was a mouthwatering milk confectionery.
Within a few years they had run out of space and this time, in 1890, they built a large new factory nearby which would become one of Norwich’s great workplaces… one that sent a sweet scent across the city.
Albert died in 1895 after laying the foundations for a large company. His son Edward and his nephew Frederick took over the management of the business which became known as AJ Caley and Son.
Now their mineral waters were loved by members of the royal family and served in the best hotels in the country and in the House of Commons. The water was drawn from two deep artesian wells.
By 1904, the company employed 700 people and produced a range of Christmas drinks, chocolate and crackers.
They had agencies around the world – from Australia to Canada – and their chocolates and crackers were shipped to some of the most remote places on the planet.
During World War I, tens of thousands of Caley’s famous marching chocolate bars were delivered to troops on the front line. A rare treat during those dark and bloody days.
The business remained in the hands of the Caley family until the end of the war when the business was sold to the African and Eastern Trade Corporation.
It was then finished by John Mackintosh and Sons of Halifax in 1932. Nestlé finally took over and it closed 25 years ago, amid a lot of anger, but that’s a story for another day.
As for their ginger beer… Caley’s proclaimed:
“The brewed ginger beer, for which Caley’s is rightly famous, was first perfected under their aegis.
“Caley’s Brewery, which is in many ways a replica of an ordinary brewery, is built in the shape of a tower, in order to use the benefits of gravity as a means of clarification.
“Huge vats and tanks are on every floor and the place is spotlessly clean. In the basement is the storage cellar, which will hold 150,000 full bottles at a time.
Did you know?
Caley’s purchased The Elms at Unthank Road, which became the headquarters of the Recreational Association with space for 250 people, six lawn tennis courts and a large bowling green. The bocce club was part of the City League of the Norwich Bowling Association and their black and pool teams were hard to beat. The children of the workers loved the special Christmas holidays.
No wonder some of their early commercials grabbed attention – they were designed by a young Alfred Munnings who was an apprentice at Page Brothers in Norwich. He also designed posters and boxes of chocolate.