Thursday, December 7, 2017

Castleford and the After Eight Mint Factory

Our Contemporary & Diversity Collecting Officer, Steven Skelley, has been working on a new exhibition at Castleford Museum:
Over one billion After Eight mints were made in Castleford every year at the Rowntree’s (and later Nestle) Factory on Wheldon Road. Thousands of workers, mainly Castleford women, toiled away making these wonder mints and other confections for the world, until closure in 2012.

To mark this significant industry and the lives of the amazing staff at the Castleford factory, the museum service undertook a project to record this history for the future. As well as developing a collection of fabulous After Eight packaging, factory tools and photographs, the service took a series of oral history recordings with ex-workers at the factory. These recordings, from contributors who generously shared their time and memories, have formed a vivid history, in which these ingenious mints are just the tip of the iceberg.
Originally invented by Rowntree’s in 1962, these after dinner mints were a marvel of chocolate technology. The workers used a secret recipe and enzyme that ensured the mint fondant centre only melted after the wafer thin chocolate casing had dried. ‘They were a hard mint to master, as the chocolate was so thin and the quality had to be top-notch’ one worker stated. They originally used special hairdryers to create the signature chocolate ripples too. The mints became an overnight sensation and are still sold in their billions all over the world.
By the 1970s After Eights were synonymous with Christmas and dinner party culture, as many families had more time and money to spend on fashionable dinner parties. After Eight sales boomed thanks to marketing targeted at the growing middle classes. Iconic television advertising made jokes about class elites and gender roles, while sales of these ‘posh’ mints continued to grow. But in becoming such a success the mints lost a little of their exclusive image.
Against the backdrop of glamourous dinner parties and cutting edge chocolate technology the lives of the factory workers and their families played out. This is a history of friendships, camaraderie, hardships, royal visits, industrial unrest, but mostly graft and raising families. All of which form the rich tapestry of factory life in Castleford.

There were many stand out memories in the oral histories, now saved for future generations. One night team broke the shift record, producing the most After Eights, only to discover that they had forgot to put in the mint centres in and they were all hollow. The unusable leftovers went to feed pigs, nothing was wasted. There were stories about Christmas cheer in the factory, where men would don green tights and offer out a sherry. One thing is certain, everyone interviewed agreed it was a good place to work for and you made friends for life. One worker stated ‘it takes hours to walk into town as I always end up talking to the other ex-workers, we are still a community’.
Visit Castleford Museum to see our new display; all with thanks to the people who worked minty chocolate magic down Wheldon road.

If you have a story to share about Castleford’s great mint factory then please do get in touch.