When little George Vinnicombe was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at just six months old, he was amongst the youngest sufferers in Britain, and it was in part thanks to a 19th century confectionary invention that he was kept alive.
JELLY GINGERBREAD MEN
Jelly Babies are one of our oldest sweet treats that are also shrouded in a little bit of confectioner’s mystery dust because no one can say with any certainty who invented them.
It was in 1830 that Thomas Fryer (no relationship to Fry’s) from Nelson in Lancashire struck up a conversation with a travelling confectioner salesman whilst enjoying a pint in his local; and between them they decided to open a sweet shop selling peppermints and lozenges.
Business was brisk, particularly as the cost of importing sugar had dropped and the Victorians soon discovered their sweet tooth, increasing the demand for all things sugary!
However, around 20 years later things turned sour for Fryer and he ran out of money. The business was bought by brothers Dr Edward Smith and William Smith, with William eventually taking over complete control in 1864; which is when the plot and gelatine thickens.
Now as we all know Austria produces some quite delicious sweet treats and the 19th century was no exception with producers thinking of new and innovative ways to tempt consumers; and it was in 1864 that Austrian immigrant and ‘jelly craftsman’ Herr Steinbeck, who worked for Fryer’s is said to have invented the tiny jelly sweets in the shape of the popular Austrian gingerbread man.
They soon became a big hit with children (confectionary had at one time been an expensive luxury in which only adults indulged) as production methods improved and costs went down; manufacturers soon realising how big an untapped market there was waiting to be exploited!
Their name at this time was ‘unclaimed babies’ until the end of the First World War when they were rebranded ‘peace babies’ to mark the end of The Great War.
But here is another mystery because the jelly sweets were by then manufactured by Bassetts, but it is not clear when they took over production or why. Particularly as Fryer’s opened a toy making factory during the 1920s depression to help the local unemployed back into work; so whilst the firm was still in existence, they were obviously calving off bits and selling them to the bigger names.
The next milestone was World War II when production stopped due to shortages of ingredients and because jelly sweets were pretty low down on the list of national priorities.
With the end of rationing on the horizon (it officially came to an end in 1954) Bassetts re-launched the jelly sweet in 1953 renaming them ‘Jelly Babies’.
Until 1989 each Jelly Baby was an identical shape albeit different flavours; however they were soon to take on their own individual characteristics, names, shape and taste:
- Baby Bonny – pink
- Big Heart – black
- Boofuls – green
- Brilliant – red
- Bubbles – yellow
- Bumper – orange
Then in 2007 Bassetts moved over to natural ingredients and colours, once more tapping into the consumers’ desire to eat something that was less harmful (albeit still very bad for your teeth!)
And of course they also have Doctor Who to thank for some extra promotion; in fact not just one Doctor but a whole host of them had a penchant for the powder covered sweet.
But whoever it was that invented them, and my money’s on Herr Steinbeck, I bet they never imagined their sweet creation would one day be responsible for keeping a 6 month old baby alive and that makes these jolly little jellies the best sweet treat ever by my reckoning.