The cracker connection: why Norwich is at the heart of Christmas cracker heritage
PUBLISHED: 10:42 06 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:42 06 November 2019
Ever wondered where Christmas crackers came from? Here we shed light on the local connection and provide a step-by-step guide to making your own.
When it comes to the festive season, the humble Christmas cracker is one of the most enduring traditions of all - in fact, it's almost impossible to imagine sitting down to a Christmas lunch without the snap of paper, the groan from a bad joke or the rustle of a colourful paper crown.
A confectioner's apprentice called Tom Smith, based in London, first had the idea in 1847 when he decided to combine a 'banger' mechanism with a love note and a package of sugared almonds. The firm he founded - the eponymous Tom Smith's - was soon booming.
A few years later, rival companies including Norwich chocolate firm Caley's, started to make its own from the factory in Chapelfield, Norwich. Although not quite as large in output as Tom Smith's, Caley's crackers became world-famous, supplying France, Africa, Egypt, Australia, Canada, India, China, Japan and Iceland with these seasonal delights.
In the 1950s the two companies merged and began to operate under the Tom Smith brand. The business moved to a new factory at Salhouse Road in Norwich and, by the 1980s, employed more than 400 staff producing around 50 million crackers a year.
The production began each November for the Christmas of the following year, with the completed boxes of crackers stored in large warehouses until the spring when they were moved out to different storage depots around the country. They were then sent to individual shops over the summer.
Giant handmade crackers also became popular, and some were as big as 3ft. They were filled with a variety of gifts, including jewellery, and often used as prizes or by shops as a centrepiece for their festive displays.
Even the Royal Family enjoyed Norwich-made crackers for a number of years - and not just for Christmas. Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, had crackers made at the city-centre factory as part of their wedding breakfast.
Over the years, the packaging became just as eye-catching as the crackers themselves, with artists such as Alfred J Munnings lending his work to the designs. Some photographs, held at the Norfolk Record Office, also show crackers with characters from the Jungle Book, the Muppets, Thunderbirds and Batman, as well as the more traditional festive illustrations you might expect.
Christmas crackers continued to be produced in Norwich until the early 1990s, when Tom Smith's was taken over by Guiness Mahon and Co.
In 1998, exactly 100 years after production started in Norwich, the last Tom Smith's crackers came off the city's production line.
Make your own Christmas crackers
Homemade Christmas crackers are a lovely way to add a bit of personality to your table and are simple to make. And what's more - because you get to decide what's inside, they're often cheaper and more
eco-friendly, too. Here's how.
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You will need:
- Toilet roll tubes - three tubes will make two crackers
- Paper, cut to A4 size - feel free to use recycled newspapers, magazines, book pages or decorative wrapping paper of your choice
- Sticky tape
- Cracker snaps
- Decorative string or ribbon
- Gifts - small toys, chocolates, jokes, puzzles, games, paper hats
1. Place a toilet roll tube on the long edge of your paper and thread a cracker snap through the centre. Secure with a piece of sticky tape.
2. Cut a second toilet roll tube into half and then half again, so you end up with four equal segments. Place one segment either end of the main tube, about 2cm from the end of the paper. Feed the ends of the cracker snap through these at either end, and then tape to secure in place.
3. Roll the three tubes evenly across the paper so that they are completely covered, then secure with tape.
4. Holding the cracker at one end, between the longer tube and segment, apply pressure with your thumb and forefinger and gently twist to form a neck. Tie ribbon or string around this in a neat bow, and cut off any ends.
5. Place your gifts in the centre tube, ensuring that the snap is still in place.
6. Close the end by gently twisting it to form a neck and tie with ribbon - tada, you've just made your first cracker! u