Eltsac – Sweetmaking in Conisbrough

December 1910

Mexborough Times, December 17, 1910

Eltsac Toffee Works
Story of Mr Bosdin J. Clarkson
The Art of Sweet Making

An interesting and a profitable afternoon can be spent at the Eltsac Toffee works, Conisborough, by the curiously inclined. Mr Bosdin J. Clarkson’s enterprise afforded me a lot of information relating to the production of the succulent bonbon and other sweet meats in which juvenility takes an abiding delight. The name “Eltsac” read inversely, refers, of course to Conisborough’s great historical landmark, and therefore is a most appropriate trade term. The history of Mr Clarkson’s confectionery and bakery works is the history of Mr Clarkson himself. He has created the concern almost single handed. He is the works. He is another instance of the self-made man, who started with nothing. He was the youngest of a large family, and was born at Braithwell, three miles from Conisborough in 1859. The youngest son of Mr William Clarkson, a hosiery manufacturer, he was only six weeks old when his father died, and he was left to be cared for his Mother and 10 brothers and sisters. The business was kept on by a brother, who was 16 years then, and who is still a grocer at Braithwell. Young Bosdin did what he could at home in his boyhood, but at the age of 13, he was bound apprentice to Mr. Charles Kenyon, confectioner, jam manufacturer and baker, carrying on business at Rotherham. The same business is still in existence today, carried on by the son of Mr Kenyon, as a private limited company.

Early Struggles

Applying himself diligently to the study of this business, he learned it thoroughly from first to last and in 1880 at the age of 21; he was a practical baker and confectioner. Released from his indentures he came to Conisborough and commenced work in the same line of business for a man named William Allen, from whom he bought the business, after working for him for 6 months. Those were rough and ready and strenuous times. The arrangements, as we have said, were of a primitive character, compared with the facilities which exist today. The sugar was boiled in a pan over an open fire, and the bread baking was but little advanced from the scientific point of view, from the housewives process. In the days of his early struggles, Mr Clarkson found his wife a faithful helpmeet. He married in 1881, a year after his arrival in Conisboro’. In those days he had only one assistant in his business, a man named Richard Horton, whose name is still familiar in Conisbrough people. But Mr. Clarkson did the big bulk of the work himself.

Eighteen Hours a Day

Mr. Clarkson used to rise at 3 o’clock in the morning and put his 18 hours in regularly. It was quite customary for him to retire to rest long after his neighbours and to rise long before them.

His unflagging industry was not without reward, and his name soon became familiar from Wombwell, on the west side to Bawtry on the south. Although as a man with strong religious convictions he had a wholesome respect for the Sabbath, he would often be at work as soon as the midnight hour had struck on a Sunday.

That is what Mr. Clarkson attributes his success in business to, unremitting industry, and personal supervision.

Gradual Growth

In 1885, Mr Clarkson built the factory, which at present represents his business premises in Doncaster Road, and abandoned the Little Brook square workshop, which has since been demolished. The present works stand on a little over an acre of ground, and includes a shop and house, the freehold of which was purchased from a man named Shepherd of Barnsley. The plant was still far below its present standard. The baking was done with a couple of old fashion ovens, of the type which fired inside. From time to time he developed his plan as the business grew, and as people became alive to the possibilities of his sweets, his bread and cakes. He duplicated his sugar boilers, added steam power, and introduced up to date hot air ovens for baking. Gradually the number of work people was extended until, instead of employing only two, including himself, he now has 44 work people on the list, and they appear to be a very happy family. In this connection it is interesting to note that one man has been with Mr Clarkson for 28 years; another 26 years, and another 25, another 20, another 18, and still another 17 years. It may also be mentioned that the Eltsac toffee works have proved an admirable nursery. Most of the people who are interested in rival enterprise of this kind have, at some time or other, been employed by Mr Clarkson.

The goods have always been supplied in vans by Road, and though the district has never been materially wide, the density of it has increased, and the Doncaster and Rotherham trade, so that vans have to be added from time to time. The radius covered is about 15 miles.

About 20 years ago, Mr William Clarkson, of Braithwell, nephew of Mr BJ Clarkson, came into the business, and is the present manager of the concern, although the proprietor still has a big share in the supervision. Mr Clarkson has a family of three sons and four daughters.

The Farm

The eldest son is Mr Barnett W. Clarkson, and he has taken up the calling of agriculture. It should be mentioned here that in 1892, Mr Bosdin J Clarkson took over a farm of 135 acres from the late Mr Andrew Montagu, and though it came quite a freshening experience to this branch of trade, by the dogged pluck and perseverance which characterised him in the building up of its confectionery business, he made a success of his farming. Two years ago Mr Barnett W. Clarkson marrying, he took over the farm, as tenant on his own account; and it should also be mentioned that the milk which is required in the manufacture of the well-known Eltsac Toffee, the leading product of the works, is supplied from this farm. The butter which is required for various kinds of toffee also hails from the same quarter. The second son, Mr Mark Guy Clarkson, also has the agricultural bent, and on the ninth inst emigrated to Australia to take up farming there. The youngest son Mr Bosdin Joseph Clarkson, is engaged in the confectionery business, and shows a good deal of aptitude for the work. Indeed, Mr Clarkson senior is well served by the younger generation.

The Milk Supply

A Look Round

As I have already pointed out, a stroll round the works is most instructive and interesting. Although the premises are compact and do not present an imposing appearance to the passerby, the plant is really extensive, even for one of the more successful businesses of its kind in South Yorkshire. It is a perfect honeycomb of storerooms, bakeries, workshops and warehouses. The topmost story is a granary for flour and sugar and other ingredients employed in the business. There are all types of sugar from the refined lump sugar to the Demerara. I was greatly interested in the process of sweet making. The sugar is boiled by steam in pans, and very quickly boiled too. Then it is poured off and transferred to a flat slab with ridged edges. It quickly cools into a kind of coat, and is then wrapped up into lumps after being flavoured and coloured. While I was there a consignment of sugar fishes was being manufactured, and they were turned out, as one of the workmen humorously observed, a good deal quicker than the rate at which the most expert angler could catch them

Corner of the Sugar Boiling Department

Making Fishes

The filmy coat of boiled sugar is split up into three sections, to each of which is imparted a different colour and a different flavour. Each section is rolled into a lump, and these are arranged side-by-side, while strips of white sugar are drawn across the whole. Thus we have a shapeless mass of red, purple, white and opaque, and from the ball, long strips of the sticky stuff are pulled out and passed through a miniature mangle, whose rollers bear the mould of the fish. Thus they come out in a long chain of sugary fishes, and are turned out as quickly as the operator can put them through, until the original lump is demolished. When the sugar has become quite solid it is very brittle and the fishes fly apart at a touch. These fishes are used in the trade as makeweights, and are highly popular with the youthful connoisseurs. In one corner of the same department girls were busily engaged in wrapping vanilla bonbons, a species of toffee, up into small paper parcels.

Liquorice rock

I was further privileged to see the making of a batch of liquorice rock, or Indian rock, as we used to term it in those happy bygone days, to which I have already had occasion to refer. The ingredients, the principle which of course is boiled sugar, are collected into a large mass, the colours, which are largely black-and-white, arranged symmetrically in the lump, and then the parcel is rolled out into a giant cylinder. If it is too large to be quite manageable, it is cut into two with a pair of special scissors. Then long streaks are pulled out of the cylinder, rolled and cut off until the slab is full of thin, long sticks of this liquorice rock. These become brittle as they get cold and little chunks of the rock are chipped off at a furious rate into sieves. The whole process is very simple indeed. Indeed, all the making of the different types of sweet meats defer in detail in every case, but the grand principle is the same, the boiling, colouring, flavouring and collecting into lumps. The two specialties upon which the proprietor particularly prides himself are the Eltsac toffee, for which milk from the farm is used, and the Multum in parvo sweet. Also, rum and butter toffee is largely made, and ingredients for this are suggested in the title. Another popular sweet is the dainty cachu, generally done in pink.

The Pulling Machine

One of the features of the process of Rock making is the design or lettering which permeates the rock. In this department of the trade, Mr Bosdin Clarkson, Jr, shows himself particularly apt. The design or lettering has to be carefully arranged and spread right through it; and this work calls for no mean amount of delicacy and judgement. In the pack – or bottling – rows upon rows of different kinds of boiled sweets may be seen, and one is astonished at the changes, which can be rung upon a sheet of boiled sugar. The boiling is done in three copper pans of the latest pattern. Mechanical power is obtained from a steam engine of 8 horse power, and the steam is generated by two large perpendicular boilers. One feature of the manufacture of the sweets is the patent pulling machine, an arrangement with three arms, which work flail fashion in opposite directions. Lumps of sugar are put upon these arms and they are pulled out by the action of the machine into one equal length. The machine in operation has the appearance of a loom.

The Bakery Business

If we deal more particularly with the confectionery side of the business, it is because that has the more interesting points to offer. But the bakery department is a very sound and substantial affair. The bread is baked in four hot air ovens, each with a capacity for 40 stone, or 280 two pound loaves. All manner of bread and cakes and the general flotsam and jetsam of the Bakers art are produced here, right up to the stately iced birthday cake, or brides cake. Mr S Steed is the head baker.

Two Seasons

The horse corn is also prepared on the premises and in an establishment which boasts 15 horses and six vans – this is a consideration. The stables and harness rooms are well appointed, and almost in every detail the works are up-to-date. At the present time the Christmas trade is in full swing. The confectionery business owner recognises two seasons – the Christmas season and the Easter season. So soon as the demands of Christmas-tide are satisfied, the works will be busy with the Easter trade.

As A Public Man

Just another word relating to Mr Bosdin Clarkson, the owner of the busy bee hive, He has not been too engrossed with his own affairs to give a thought for public affairs as well. For about 15 years he has been an overseer of the poor of the parish of Conisboro’, and holds that office at present. He was a member of the old burial board, and in this time there was no divisions in the county, he occupied for 12 months, the office of way warden, and a kind of Guardian of the poor. He takes an interest in politics without being an active politician, and his sympathies are with the side of the liberal policy. Also, as were mentioned, he is of religious convictions, and has been a valued member of the Wesleyan church for years.

2 thoughts on “Eltsac – Sweetmaking in Conisbrough

  1. kate howel

    Do you have any more info on Bosdin Clarkson or his family? He is my husband’s great grandfather and we are interested to find out more about his children – Barnet W. Clarkson in particular.

    1. james Post author

      Hi Kate

      No more information at present; but I am continually researching the years – so keep visiting !




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