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When Christmas crackers had a Norfolk connection

PUBLISHED: 11:43 24 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:43 24 December 2017


Caley's "Buttercup Art" Crackers - an Alfred Munnings design, early 1900s.


Once, it was Norfolk crackers that were an essential part of Christmas for families across the country and beyond. Trevor Heaton looks at some of the most nostalgic items in the Peter Kimpton Collection.

Famously, it was the Victorians who provided many of the Christmas traditions that we still follow today. And one of the most enduring is the Chrismas cracker.

It was a confectioner’s apprentice, Tom Smith, who first had the idea, in 1847, of combining a ‘banger’ mechanism with a bon-bon wrapper. The firm he founded was soon booming.

Rivals spotted the appeal of the invention, and began to make their own versions. One of these firms was Caley’s, the famous Norwich chocolate and confectionary firm, which added crackers to its range in 1898.

After the end of the Second World War, these one-time rivals merged, with Caley’s crackers now coming under the Tom Smith brand.

The new-look company started production at a factory on Salhouse Road in Norwich in 1953, and produced hundreds of millions of crackers until its closure in 1998 - 100 years after Caley’s first crackers. The Tom Smith’s name lives on, but these days its crackers are made in South Wales.

Thorpe St Andrew man Peter Kimpton, who worked at Tom Smith’s in Norwich from 1968 to 1992, is regarded as the world’s leading expert on the history of crackers, and fields inquiries from all over the world. He has written two books on the subject and - to help us all get in the mood for Monday - has picked some of his favourite box designs for us, both from the Caley Norfolk years and some Tom Smith’s London classics from before the merger.

So it just remains for us to say: have a crackin’ Christmas....

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