His creative confections earned Halifax the title of Toffee Town. In the second of a three-part series, Virginia Mason recalls the Toffee King John Mackintosh

WHAT would be a favourite memory of Christmases past?

Snow perhaps? Turkey and all the trimmings maybe? The Wizard of Oz on the TV?

More likely, it would be a tin of our favourite chocolates and toffees – Quality Street.

What's more, just by looking at the design on the tin, it would be possible to put a date to each and every Christmas.

And that's exactly what visitors to a new exhibition dedicated to Halifax's Toffee King, John Mackintosh are doing.

"You can tell the different generations straight away," says Miriam Scargall, curator of clothes and textiles at Bankfield Museum, Halifax, where the exhibition is being staged.

"People come in, and once they see a particular tin they remember, their faces light up. They point at it and say 'that's the one I remember as a child'."

The exhibition, put together by Miriam, is part of Calderdale Museums and Galleries Month, which has a theme of ideas and innovation.

It celebrates one of Calderdale's most famous sons, who not only became known as the Toffee King, but who earned the name Toffee Town for Halifax.

His story began in 1891 when John Mackintosh invented a new recipe for toffee, which was sold by him and his wife Violet from their pastry shop in the town. Soon the name of Mackintosh's toffee became popular and by 1896, new flavours had joined his original culinary creation of toffee deluxe – including creamery toffee, Yorkshire dairy, Yorkshire buttercups, aniseed toffee and egg and milk toffee.

As new products were developed, John Mackintosh promoted them using the power of advertising.

The company would often advertise in national newspapers and publicity stunts were common with free samples being used to tempt new customers together with competitions and prizes.

In 1895 John Mackintosh Ltd was operating two warehouses in Halifax as well as a factory in Queen's Road and then in 1909 a new factory was built at Albion Mills. Between 1903 and 1914 his fame grew as factories opened in the US, Australia, Canada and Germany.

But perhaps Mackintosh's most famous creation was Quality Street in 1936. The name came from a play by Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie and the characters on the tin and packaging, Major Quality and Miss Sweetly becoming synonymous with the famous chocolates and toffees.

As a result the exhibition is a real treat for Quality Street fans, recalling nostalgic days of when praline cracknels, coffee creams and toffee pennies first made their appearance.

To launch the selection, Mackintosh took out an advertisement on the front page of the Daily Mail, on May 2, 1936 – An introduction to Quality Street.

In her poke bonnet, Miss Sweetly is coyly depicted tempting Major Quality with a tin of the newly-launched sweets.

"Sweets to the sweet, Miss Sweetly?" asks the Major, to which she proclaims: "Spare my blushes Major Quality, feast your eyes rather on this sumptuous array of toffees and chocolates... 'tis the most momentous thing that has yet happened in the world of sweetness."

She then presents him with a "toffee creme brazil" which he declares "a veritable triumph!"

The advert, plus other newspaper front covers, one depicting the work of Heath Robinson, showing the Mackintosh factory in full swing, are now included in the exhibition.

There are also tins dating back to 1902 – a tiny ball-shaped tin commemorates the coronation of Edward VII – as well as tins which once held tempting treats such as almond chocolate toffee de luxe.

But the exhibition does not only celebrate Quality Street, Mackintosh's other products are also recalled, including Beehive Toffee from the 1920s, Creamy Rolls, whose packaging featured a milk maid and her cows (1920 to 1929), butterscotch, also from the 1920s, Cresta – "new delicious chocolates" unveiled in 1950 – Caramac, Cracknel Bon-Bons, Toffo, Toffee Crisp, Golden Toffee Wafers and Rolo "croquettes" at two old pence.

A lovely old blue box, decorated with yellow flowers was once filled with Mackintosh's collection of Mimosa Chocolates, a treat from 1935 and more recently, another treat was a family assortment of Weekend, with its chocolates and candies.

An advertising poster shows a family at home in the 1930s, mum with a permanent wave in her hair, dad with pipe and children looking forward to tucking into their favourite chocolates.

"There has been so much interest because each item brings back special memories for someone," says Miriam.

"I knew about Mackintosh's and Halifax before I moved here but I never realised how important the business was in this field.

"It's is fascinating and I must admit as I was putting the items on display, I did have to keep nipping off to the shop to buy chocolate."

The exhibition runs until May 30. Bankfield Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, Sundays 1pm to 4pm and Bank Holiday Mondays, 10am to 5pm.

Part 1 on a trio of new exhibitions to celebrate Halifax's famous inventors and pioneers: Meet Felix, the patron saint of safe roads...

On Friday: A courageous woman who bucked convention to live the life she chose


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