Blackpool rock makers show how legendary treat is made amid fears for its future

Rock factory workers have been showing how their skills are used to create the traditional Blackpool confectionery as the campaign to protect the candy is stepped up.

The staff from Stanton and Novelty, a third-generation rock manufacturer on Warwick Road, are among those concerned about the threat from cheap imitation imports, mainly from China. A petition has been launched seeking special status for Blackpool rock. It is hoped to protect the name ‘stick of rock’ under the UK geographical indication (GI) protected food names (PFN) scheme.

Labour’s Chris Webb also recently highlighted the issue by asking a question in Parliament and warning MPs of the threat to Blackpool rock. Chris, who was elected Blackpool South MP at a by-election in May and who is now standing again for Labour in the constituency, visited the factory to see the rock-making process for himself.

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This included the lettering process and how hand-stretched and stacked strips of white and red toffee are put into long blocks to form letters. Employee Carl Ferguson, said: “The key to lettering is the letter C. If you can make a C you can make a U, you can make an N, a W, an M and an E.”

David Thorp, director of Stanton and Novelty Confectioners, said: “You have to think of letters as being 3D and about three feet long. So you’re not just writing the letter itself, you’re doing everything around it. You’re putting in what would be the white on a piece of paper if you wrote it out.

“Then you have to make sure you put the letters in the right order. It’s really easy to get it wrong and then you have to start all over again.”

Carl is one of three people at Stanton and Novelty who know how to letter rock, along with David and his dad who is semi-retired. The three of them represent 10% of people in the entire country who practice this skill. David said: “There are only about 30 people in the UK still doing it and there’s about 50 who know how. We’ve got three of the 30 here and the rest of them are in Blackpool, so it’s definitely a dying trade and one worth saving.”

The differences between Blackpool rock and imported rock include –

  • Imported rock is shrink-wrapped rather than hand-wrapped and twisted at either end.

  • The imported rock is yellow in appearance on the inside, as opposed to pure white which is due to the aeration process

  • The imported rock that is seemingly not aerated is harder as a result and potentially more damaging to teeth.

How the rock is made

Doreen Stanbridge rolls the rock into perfect cylinders by hand as it is pulled through a machine with the three-foot letters Carl created now appearing on a minute scale inside long lengths of rock.

Doreen said: “I’ve been doing this for 50-odd years, on and off. I worked for David’s grandad who was brilliant. When I started I was expecting my first daughter and she’s 46 now.

“I should have retired but I came back because I can’t stay at home. It’s the thing that’s keeping me fit. Years ago there were a lot more factories. It’s sad there are so few now and nobody’s learning the trade. We need to keep it going.”

Once the lengths or rock are cut they are wrapped with around 15,000 sticks of rock wrapped by hand every day at Stanton and Novelty, which operates seven days a week.

David added: “I think British people have a cultural affinity to Blackpool rock. There’s an expectation that if you go to the seaside you’ll buy a stick of rock that’s made in the UK. 99% of it is going to be made in Blackpool and that’s why it’s so important that we protect it. It’s part of our shared cultural heritage.”

Chris said: “It’s been great to get stuck in on the production line with the brilliant, skilled employees at Stanton and Novelty. It was very exciting for me to get the insight into production as a Blackpool lad who’s grown up with rock as a symbol of our seaside identity. I’ve seen the process first hand but I still think it’s actual magic how they get the lettering inside.

“We need as many people as possible to sign the petition to save Blackpool rock and put pressure on whoever’s in government after this general election to make sure we save that special heritage that largely exists in Blackpool.

“These cheap imitations are jeopardising the livelihoods of Carl, Doreen, Wendy and the other hardworking employees who I’ve met today and across the town. It’s vital that we protect their jobs and this important piece of Blackpool culture.”