Robin Longbottom examines how Keighley was once famous for its sweet production

CONFECTIONERY is not a product that is readily associated with industrial Keighley, however for three, perhaps four, generations the town was famous for the manufacture of sweets – particularly mint rock.

Jonas Bottomley was born in 1831 and started his working life as a dyer's apprentice. He continued in the trade until 1866 when he and his wife, Martha, took a shop in Low Street and began making boiled sweets. By 1874 he had taken his three sons into the business and that year began to place regular advertisements – Jonas Bottomley & Co, Wholesale Manufacturing Confectioner, 49 Low Street, Keighley – in the local press. The power of advertising was such that demand outstripped production and the following year he took additional premises in Adelaide Street (now part of the Airedale Centre).

A year or two later he opened a warehouse in Manningham Lane in Bradford and by 1880 had opened a second shop at 9 Upperhead Row, Leeds. The shop in Leeds probably accounts for him being in the city on Wednesday, October 3, 1883, when he was seen “worse for liquor at the Midland Railway Station in company with a young woman”. The following morning at about half past five a railway porter found his body by the canal under the arches of Monk Bridge, a short distance from the station in Wellington Street. He had a wound on his forehead, his skull was fractured and his watch had been stolen. An inquest was held on October 18 when the jury returned a verdict of 'wilful murder by some person or persons unknown'. The case was never solved.

Despite the tragic loss of their father, his sons William, John and Jonas took the business from strength to strength. In 1887 they built a larger factory in Adelaide Street “with all the best and latest plant necessary for the trade” and “capable of turning out over twenty tons of sweets a week”. On November 1, 1899, they opened a second factory in Manningham with a capacity of making an extra ten tons per week.

They were now producing a variety of sweets, including mint rock, lime fruit tablets, caramels, gums, lozenges and “flower flavoured cachous” (a small sweet to mask bad breath). In 1894 a new caramel toffee was launched under the name of Kamarella, and the company boasted that “five months after it had been introduced over 57 tons were sold”. However, the sweet that Bottomley’s were most famous for was their mint rock, said to prevent coughs and colds. A close second in popularity were their lime fruit tablets – “a refreshing confection for clearing the voice, quenching the thirst and purifying the breath”.

In the early 20th century, the company were agents for Rowntree’s, the York chocolatiers, and for Craven’s sugared almonds, which were also manufactured in York. A surviving bill of 1922 reveals that they were wholesaling a variety of Rowntree’s one-and-a-half pound boxes of chocolates. Also listed on the bill are novelty products such as chocolate clowns, drums, cigars and smokers' outfits, which included such things as a chocolate pipe, cigars, match box, cigarettes and even ash trays.

With no sons to take over the business it was eventually sold to Herbert Ogden, who ran the Station Oil Works at Thwaites. Herbert later relocated the Keighley works to Bradford Road, Stockbridge, and his youngest son, Fred Ogden, eventually took over. The Ogden’s introduced a new toffee cutting and wrapping machine and when a wasp flew into the machinery one afternoon Fred and a friend sat up all night unwrapping toffees looking for it, but only found half. Unsurprisingly the other half was eventually sent in by a customer. The business finally closed in the early 1980s.