The 'oldest sweet-making machine in the world' found in Wigan

Wigan confectionery firm bosses preparing to celebrate their 125th anniversary have discovered what is believed to be the oldest sweet making machine in the world.
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The humbug-maker is more than a century old and was found by staff at Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls, one of the most venerable sweet manufacturers in Britain.

The discovery was made during preparations for next year’s anniversary celebrations and, despite being left unnoticed for decades, it is still capable of producing hand-made sweets.

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Manufactured by BCH Rochdale, the device is made of cast iron with brass insets and is believed to date back to before the William Santus and Co Ltd factory opened on Dorning Street in 1919.

Antony Winnard with the museum piece of a machineAntony Winnard with the museum piece of a machine
Antony Winnard with the museum piece of a machine
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Toffee was fed into the side and the manual mechanism turned it into the familiar triangular pyramid shape of a humbug sweet, which traditionally comprised 16 black and white stripes.

In its heyday, it would have been used to making 40lbs of sweets every 20 minutes.

Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls are made by the privately-owned traditional sweet company that was established in 1898.

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Each year 33 million sweets are confected in the same way as the first ones back in late Victorian times, when William Santus’s wife Ellen started boiling up sugar in the kitchen of her home in Acton Street, Swinley.

They soon became a local favourite and their fame spread, as did the slogan "They keep you all aglow".

The ownership has been passed down through the family generations and joint managing directors John Winnard MBE and Antony Winnard are the great, great-nephews of the company’s founder.

They said: “As part of preparations for our 125th anniversary next year we were searching through a little-used storeroom and in amongst the old paperwork and machinery parts we were amazed to see this old humbug-maker, still in perfect working order.

The ancient device can still make sweets todayThe ancient device can still make sweets today
The ancient device can still make sweets today
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“It was obviously forgotten about when we installed the modern machinery that we now use, but back in the day you could have made a lot of sweets in one day using it, although you would have left work with a sore arm!”

The company has already been in touch with a local museum about displaying the device.

These days it’s not just mint balls the company produces, but also flavoured sweets using rhubarb and ginger, sugar-free ones and a variety of other treats. There’s even been a special limited addition Uncle Joe’s Gin.

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