The Edward Gray sweet factory in central England evokes a bygone age where brass cauldrons steam with molten sugar and workers wrestle with huge chunks of gooey treacle, but its handmade products now enjoy a global demand.
A "sugar boiler" employed at the traditional sweet manufacturer Edward Grays of Dudley, or better known locally as "Teddy Grays," makes Grays Herbal Tablets in their factory in Dudley, central England, Jan. 25, 2022.
The company – also known as "Teddy Grays" – dates back to 1826 when John Gray went house to house in a horse and cart buying homemade sweets, before selling them to retailers.
Copper pots of a sugar solution come to the boil in the traditional sweet manufacturer Edward Grays of Dudley, central England, Jan. 25, 2022.
But it was his son Edward, an entrepreneur in the mould of Willy Wonka and Colonel Sanders, who built the business's name. The small factory in Dudley now makes around 5 tons of boiled sweets a week, with products including rhubarb and custard, pineapple rock, strawberries and cream, pear drops, toffee and chocolate-coated coconut ice.
A sugar solution comes to the boil in the traditional sweet manufacturer Edward Grays of Dudley, central England, Jan. 25, 2022.
But the jewel in the crown is its "Herbal Tablet," a menthol sweet that it claims has provided relief from "cold nights and mornings" for more than 100 years. "It's an acquired taste, but with COVID now, it relieves coughs and colds," explained Dave Healy, the company's marketing manager.
The secret recipe is locked in a vault in a nearby bank. Two descendants of the founder are the only people alive aware of its contents. "They wouldn't tell me because I talk in my sleep," joked Healy. "It's all down to the blending, if you don't get the blend correct, you get an oily taste."
The sweet was only really known in the surrounding area, known as the Black Country because of the smoke and soot of its industrial past. But the fashion toward local and artisan produce, coupled with endorsements from celebrities such as actor and writer Stephen Fry, has seen its fame spread.
"When COVID kicked in we opened an online sweet shop ... just to basically generate some sort of movement of the stock," said Healy. "But we've had requests from America, Korea, Japan, Australia." A lot of the interest comes from those who moved long ago out of Dudley, some 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Birmingham, and who are yearning for a taste of nostalgia.
"They say in their emails they used to live in Dudley, used to love the smell of the factory," he said. Despite the incessant demand, the factory has no plans to expand, preferring to maintain its intimate feel and traditional ethos.
A malleable mixture is rolled at the traditional sweet manufacturer Edward Grays of Dudley, central England, Jan. 25, 2022.