Did you know Norwich had a world-famous chocolate factory?

Workers at Caleys chocolate factory Norwich

Workers at Caleys chocolate factory Norwich - Credit: Archant - EDP Library

 It was 135 years ago when a clever chemist decided to make some chocolate. It was a decision he made to give his workers something to do in the winter…a wise move which resulted in Norwich having a world-famous factory which would provide jobs for generations of men and women for 110 years.

Albert Caley moved to the city in the 1850s and opened a chemist’s shop in London Street. He may have been encouraged to head our way by his brother Nathaniel, a silk merchant, with a business nearby.

Bridewell Museum Caley's chocolate day 1921 copy pic of Caley's factory

Bridewell Museum Caley's chocolate day 1921 copy pic of Caley's factory. - Credit: Supplied

Marching chocolate given to a boy by a soldier at the 1937 Coronation. Caley's café in Norwich.

Marching chocolate given to a boy by a soldier at the 1937 Coronation. Caley's café in Norwich. - Credit: Bill Smith

He began making mineral waters in a cellar at the back of his shop and how the people loved his drinks. He had to move to bigger premises in Bedford Street and take on more workers to meet demand.

And these weren’t run-of-the-mill thirst-quenchers. They offered a rare and exotic taste.

Ginger beer was top of the pops along with lemonade and a range of tonic beverages…which people queued up for.


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There was soda, potash, seltzer and more.

It was time to move again…and in 1880 he set up his expanded business at George Allen’s former weaver’s workshop at Chapel Field near to his home in The Crescent.

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The trouble was that the booming soft drinks business did well in the summer months but when temperatures dropped so did the sales.

What to do? Albert did not want to lay his workers off.

So, he started making a much-loved winter warmer – cocoa - and in 1886 that led to a product people could enjoy at any time of the year – chocolate.

He had hit the jackpot and started producing milk chocolate – a market dominated by the Swiss -  with supplies from the cows at Whitlingham.

This was the famous herd of Red Poll cattle at the well-known farm run by Garrett Taylor. It resulted in mouth-watering milk confectionary.

Within a few years they had run of room and this time, in 1890,  built a big new factory  nearby which would become one of the great Norwich workplaces…one which sent a sweet smell across the city.

Albert died in 1895 having laid the foundations of a great business. His son Edward and nephew Frederick took over at the helm at the company which became known as A J Caley and Son.

Caley's cracker and box making factory at St James Mill.

Caley's cracker and box making factory at St James Mill. - Credit: Supplied

By now their mineral waters were loved by members of the Royal Family and was served at the top hotels around the country and at the House of Commons. The water was drawn from deep two Artesian wells.

Come 1904 the company was employing 700 people producing a range of drinks, chocolate and Christmas crackers.

They had agencies across the world – from Australia to Canada – and their chocolate and crackers were shipped to some of the most remote places on earth.

During the First World War tens of thousands of Caley’s famous Marching Chocolate bars were delivered to troops on the front line. A rare treat during those dark and bloody days.

Caley's chocolate factory.

Caley's chocolate factory. - Credit: Supplied

The company remained in the hands of the Caley family until the end of the war when the business was sold to the African and Eastern Trade Corporation.

It was later over by John Mackintosh and Sons of Halifax in 1932. Nestle eventually took over and it closed 25 years ago, amid much anger, but that’s a story for another day.

As for their ginger beer…Caley’s proclaimed:

“Brewed ginger beer, for which Caley’s are justly celebrated, was first brought to perfection under their aegis.

“Caley’s brewery, which is in many respects a replica of an ordinary brewery, is built in tower form, in order to utilise the advantages of gravity as a means of clarifying.

“Huge vats and tanks are on every floor, and the place is kept spotlessly clean. In the basement is the storage cellar, which will hold 150,000 filled bottles at one time.”

Did you know?

Caley’s bought The Elms in Unthank Road which became the HQ of the  Recreational Association with space for 250 people plus six grass tennis courts and a large bowling green. The bowls club was in the City League of the Norwich Bowling Association and their darks and billiards teams were tough to beat. The children of the workers loved the special Christmas parties.

No wonder some of their early advertisements caught the eye – they were designed by a young Alfred Munnings who was an apprentice at  Page Brothers in Norwich. He also designed posters and chocolate boxes.

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