Liquorice History and Development in the Medicinal Field
There is no clear documentation as to hoe liquorice found its way to Britain. There are theories that suggest that it could have been brought by the Romans who rule Europe and it grew in abundance then. There are those who claim that it could have been brought from the Crusades by the subscribers of the De Lacy family who are responsible for building the Pontefract Castle.
Yet there are others who believe that it was brought by the Monks, who are best known for alternative and traditional medicine. Those who hold on this believes justify it by the presence of the Benedictine monks who had a monastery in Pontefract since 1090. They believe that the monks could have cultivated the plant on their grounds for ages because of its therapeutic components.
It is in the 1500s that Pontefract and Liquorice got to be mentioned together. This suggests that it is at this period of time that liquorice may have found its roots in Pontefract. Afterwards in 17th century, in the ‘Pontefract’s Siege Plan’ there is a documentation of a liquorice field (Garth) which stretched from the Castle to the Siege works. The filed works had been dug by the parliamentarian army.
Growth and Development of the Health Industry
By the year 1750, there were about 47 liquorice farmers in Pontefract. The rich and deep soils of the region made it possible for this to happen. In 1649, the township people of Pontefract requested for a demolition of the Castle and in place, the established gardens and liquorice was among of the plants cultivated in the gardens. The preference for cultivating the plant in massive scale, even on the ground that the castle stood, maybe have been due to the popularity that that medical Pontefract cakes was receiving since their launch sometimes in 1614.
Among the notable growers was the Dunhill family who leased land in the castle region in 1720 with the sole purpose to grow liquorice. It is George Dunhill, one of the family members, a chemist by profession who claims to have the first ever liquorice confectionery in 1760 by making a liquorice cake which had sugars added to flavor it.
From hence the industry started to mature as more farmers got contacted by confectionery firms. They were required to soak the roots of the plants in hot water at homes. They had first to lacerate the roots before boiling them to get the forth. This created a new culture during harvest time when men were required to dig up the roots while women and children collected them for boiling.
By 1872 when Pontefract became the first town ever to hold a secret ballot for its local leaders, the Pontefract Cake stamp which showed the emblem of the Dunhills liquorice factory was used instead of the standard was seal of the Borough of Pontefract. This was a clear indication of the immense influence that the plant had in the livelihoods of the locals as well as a sign of how highly it was regarded in their eyes and presence.
Need for an Anniversary to Mark the Importance of the Noble Plant
Thus as time went by, more liquorice factories were established and the 1920s, there were at least 10 factories in the region with most of the labor outsourced form the women because they were a bit cheaper.
Soon there was need for a festival to appreciate the importance of all this. This came to materialize in the 1930s. It was during one Christmas party then at Wilkinson dance which had a dress competition that volunteers were requested to adorn in liquorice depicting dresses as a way of marketing the plant. One of the notable volunteers was Emily Money who dressed up in liquorice form head to toe. That might have been the triggers of the liquorice festival.
This is because in 2004 the Liquorice Festival revived the idea. That year, there was a catwalk fashion show where all attires and there accessorizes were made of liquorice.
The growth of the plant rocketed in the 1940 with hundreds of tons produced in the area each week and getting exported to various destinations worldwide. However, as time went by, the land used for cultivation became under pressure especially given the fact that the plant took considerably too long to mature thus becoming less attractive. The last nail of the coffin was seen when companies decided to export supply from Turkey and Spain.
This lead to a closure of the factories involved with only two remaining by mid 2008. Maybe the Liquorice Trust established in 2003 with the aim of reviving Pontefract’s rich Liquorice history will be able to turn the table in the future.