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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust


A. J. Caley Limited

Caleys, the great Norwich confectioners, in fact began by making something entirely different. A. J. Caley came to Norwich in 1857 and established a chemist‘s business in London Street. In 1863, he started making mineral waters in a small cellar at the back of his shop. The business expanded rapidly, and a year later he moved to Bedford Street. Even then the larger premises were not sufficient for the ever increasing trade. His son, Edward J. Caley joined the business in 1878, and in 1880 they took over a building in Chapel Field formerly occupied by George AlIen, a glove cloth weaver.

Drink and chocolate

Among the aerated and other waters made were soda, potash, seltzer, lemonade, ginger ale, and tonic beverages, quinine and iron water, chalybeate water, amara (an effervescent bitter beverage), inadore and mineral water. A speciality was ginger beer, which was brewed secundem artem (according to the accepted practice of the trade). All the effervescent waters were aerated in silver-lined cylinders, thus avoiding any danger of contamination from copper salts.

The sales of soft drinks were seasonal but Mr. Caley did not like ‘laying off‘ his workers in the winter. He looked around for something else they could do and as a consequence, in 1883, he started manufacturing cocoa. That, in turn, led to the making of chocolate in 1886. A.J.Caley retired in 1894 and died a year later, when Frederick W. Caley joined the business. Three years later, in order to give additional work to the girls employed on preparing the frills for the chocolate boxes, they started making crackers.

The Chapelfield works

In 1890 a large new factory known as the Fleur de Lys works was erected on a site at Chapelfield in Norwich and the business became a joint -stock company. By this time their mineral waters were famous, used by Royalty and Members of the House of Commons.

Water was drawn from two Artesian wells, 400 feet and 500 feet deep respectively, on the Chapelfield site. By 1904 they were employing 700 people and their chocolates and crackers were being shipped to the most remote quarters of the world. They had agencies in Canada, South Africa, Australia and India, and there was a large demand for Caleys‘ crackers in Paris.          

The mineral water department was painstakingly described in 1904: ‘Here are large gasometers for storing the carbonic acid which has been prepared with greatest care. This gas has to be incorporated with the, at present, un-aerated soda or seltzer water - as the case may be. Here is a powerful machine which, in one movement, draws gas from the gasometers and un-aerated water from large slate tanks; both are forced together into strong metal cylinders, heavily plated inside with silver. The pressure in a cylinder varies generally from 100 to 200 lbs. per square inch. From these cylinders water, now highly charged with carbolic acid gas, travels to the various machines for bottling or filling syphons. The thorough cleansing of the bottles is an important condition to successful mineral water manufacturing. The preparatory stage is soaking in hot water, after which each bottle is passed over brushes revolving at the rate of hundreds of revolutions per minute. The rinsing is done with jets of water under great pressure.

Brewed ginger beer, for which Caleys are justly celebrated, was first brought to perfection under their aegis. Caley‘s brewery, which is in many respects a replica of an ordinary modern 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. ‘

At the beginning of the twentieth century large quantities of milk chocolate was being imported from Switzerland, a chocolate vastly superior to the domestic product. Caleys decided to obtain milk of equal quality and make it on the same lines. They therefore installed a plant similar to that in Switzerland and made arrangements with a Mr. Garrett Taylor to supply them with the very best and richest milk from his celebrated Whitlingham herd of red poll cattle. This had the desired effect and Caleys were soon widely known for the quality of their milk chocolate.

Norwich made chocolate bars were popular with British troops during the first world war. Thousands of bars of Caley‘s famous Marching Chocolate were sent to the front, starting their journey in the firm‘s own solid tyred vans.


The business remained in the hands of the Caley family until 1918, when it was purchased by The African and Eastern Trade Corporation, who, in 1932, sold the firm to John Mackintosh & Sons Limited of Halifax for £138,000. The firm continued under the Chairmanship of the First Viscount Mackintosh, well known for his leadership of the National Savings Movement. The first pack of ‘Rolo‘ was manufactured in Norwich in 1937, and its popularity spread around the world. ‘Rolo‘ was exported to over 100 countries stretching from Canada to the Cape Verde Islands, Fiji to Finland and Nepal to Nicaragua. The main ‘Rolo‘ plant at Norwich produced two tons an hour.

World War Two brought a substantial setback when in April 1942 an incendiary raid on Norwich caused a fire which spread rapidly and totally destroyed the works. Work on rebuilding the factory began in 1946 allowing limited production facilities to operate, with the first phase of the reconstruction being completed in 1949. The whole rebuilding scheme was not completed until 1952.

There followed a succession of new products from the Norwich factory; Week-End and Munchies were introduced in 1957, Caramac in 1959, Good News Assortment began in production at Norwich in 1960.

The mineral water business was sold to a local brewery after the war. In 1953 the Christmas cracker manufacturing side of the business was merged with Tom Smith & Company who maintained production at the factory at Salhouse Road, Norwich.

Following the integration of the Mackintosh and Rowntree operations in 1969, the Norwich factory has played an important role in the continued development of the Rowntree Mackintosh business both in the U.K. and around the world. The Rowntree Mackintosh group received the Queen‘s Award for Exports on three separate occasions.

In 1988 on the Chapel Field site, which covered approximately seven acres, chocolate production continued as it had for over 100 years. Water from the same artesian wells was used in the chocolate making process, but almost nothing in the factory was wrapped or made by hand. Only in centre making and packing were traditional methods used. Modern plants like ‘Yorkie‘ used only a quarter of the labour of the older plants, and produced a greater output per hour. A computer controlled ingredient system had been installed, replacing manual labour and leading to more consistent use of materials. Rowntree-Mackintosh employed about 1,100 people in Norwich and 17,000 throughout the United Kingdom. The Norwich factory manufactured over 40 million chocolate eggs each year in preparation for Easter.

Nestle and demolition

Sadly this state of affairs was not to last. In 1988 Rowntree-Mackintosh was taken over by Nestle and within eight years the Chapelfield factory had been closed with the loss of over 900 jobs as production was centralised at York. The former chocolate factory was demolished during 2004 and replaced by the Chapelfield shopping centre which opened in September 2005 claiming to provide a ‘vibrant new retail, leisure and residential quarter for Norwich, providing around 800 jobs during construction and upon opening creating up to 2,000 retail job‘s‘ as part of Norwich‘s changing role from that of a major provincial manufacturing centre to a shopping destination for a wide area.

Joyce Gurney-Read


Revised by Nick Williams March 2008