The holidays — starting with Halloween — are primetime for sweets. And chocolate ranks as one of the most popular of all North American treats. It’s a temptation that has a long history and if you ever want to learn about it, Cadbury World in the village of Bournville, England, is the place to go.
A visit to Cadbury World unveiled for me the fascinating history of chocolate, as well as the history of the Cadbury Co., and although it felt at times like a big marketing campaign designed to get me to buy more Cadbury chocolate, it was also interesting and educational. Besides, no examination of the history of chocolate would be complete without a look at the Cadbury family and their impact on the worldwide chocolate market.
Our tour began outside the factory with an exploration of the village of Bournville. In 1893, George Cadbury purchased 120 acres of land next to his new factory in the countryside near Birmingham and designed, at his own expense, a model village to house his factory workers. His plan was to “alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped living conditions” that existed for factory workers in many parts of Britain.
The Cadbury brothers set out to build the ideal village for their workers with wide streets, plenty of green spaces, sports and recreation facilities and cute cottages. Each cottage owner received six fruit trees and the village grew into a beautiful green little community.
Our guide, Eric, explained that the Cadburys were ahead of their time with regard to the health and wellness of their workforce. They developed pension plans, medical programs, and supported recreational activities and facilities in the community to help maintain the health and wellness of their workforce.
Even today, Bournville is considered one of the best places to live in Britain. The only thing lacking in Bournville are drinking establishments. The Cadbury brothers were Quakers, so no pubs or drinking establishments were ever built in the village. While this may be a deterrent for some visitors, residents have fought to maintain the community as a dry town, even going so far as to take on Britain’s largest supermarket chain in court, winning a case in 2007 to prevent it from selling alcohol in the Bournville outlet.
The next stop on our tour was a look at the history of chocolate via a walking tour inside the Cadbury World Welcome Centre. The walking tour began with displays of the Aztecs who first introduced Europeans to chocolate. Chocolate played an important role in Mayan and Aztec religious events. Priests presented cocoa beans as an offering to the gods and served cocoa drinks during sacred ceremonies.
When the Europeans conquered the Aztecs, they discovered cocoa and added sugar and milk to the Aztecs’ chocolate drinks. The drink became very popular with Britain’s social elite and in the early 18th century, chocolate houses sprang up all over London — rivalling the coffee and tea houses that had been an integral part of that city for more than a century. Chocolate houses were at the heart of London’s social life — offering the social elite food, card playing, dice and gambling, and a place to get together and talk about everything from poetry to politics — while they drank their expensive hot chocolate.
It was at this point that the Cadburys became involved in the chocolate industry. In 1824, John Cadbury borrowed money to start his own business as a tea, coffee and chocolate dealer. At first he sold cocoa primarily to chocolate houses as a drink, but he ultimately developed a chocolate candy bar that started people eating chocolate as well as drinking it.
The business was passed down through the family until it came to George and Richard Cadbury. With the passing of the “adulteration of food act” in Britain, George saw an opportunity to improve the product and grow the business. He dropped the lower grade cocoas and added more milk to the recipe, creating the world’s first Dairy Milk chocolate bar in 1905, a candy bar that is to this day is one of the most popular chocolate bars in the world.
The next part of the tour took us through interesting displays on the history of Cadbury’s advertising campaigns and then through the packaging area of the Cadbury factory to see the workings of a real chocolate factory. There were special demo areas along the way that allowed visitors to try their hand at chocolate making and chocolate samples to be enjoyed.
We boarded a ride called Cadabra next to be transported into “a magical chocolate world.” For my part, the ride was reminiscent of Disney’s It’s a Small World with giant cocoa beans taking the place of the costumed dolls.
Our tour ended in the World’s Biggest Cadbury Shop, a huge gift shop with all of the Cadbury chocolate you might ever want. As I stocked up on Cadbury treats that are unavailable in Canada, I couldn’t help wondering if Cadbury World was exactly what I first suspected it to be — a complicated marketing plan to get me to buy more chocolate.
If so, it worked.
Cool chocolate facts
• It takes an entire year’s crop of cocoa beans from one tree to make 450 grams of chocolate.
• The largest moulded bar in the world was made by Cadbury Ltd. in October 1998. The bar weighs 1.1 tons and stands nearly 2.75 metres high and more than 1.2 metres wide. It is estimated the average person would require 120 years to eat it all. No estimates are available for what the person would weigh when they finished eating it.
• Although chocolate originated in Mesoamerica, most of the world’s cocoa beans today come from West Africa.
If you go
• Cadbury World is located south of Birmingham, England — about 90 minutes by train from London. In November, Cadbury World will be celebrating Aztec weekend in honour of the history of chocolate. The weekend will include special activities for kids such as a craft zone where kids can make Aztec headdresses, samples of Montezuma’s favourite chili chocolate drink, special activities and prizes.
• Following Aztec Weekend, Cadbury World will be getting into the festive spirit with its popular Christmas Celebration weekends. Admission to Cadbury World costs £14.95 for adults and £10.95 for children. Family rates are available. For more information about a visit to Cadbury World, visit www.cadburyworld.co.uk.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. Follow Debbie’s travels at www.wanderwoman.ca. If you have an interesting travel story you would like to share, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.