In November 2016 there was a guided walk of Sheffield General Cemetery. I was early and parked near the entrance and had a jam sandwich and cup of coffee in the car. Some cemeteries are out of the town in where surrounding fields can accommodate thousand more cadavers but this was fairly central to the city and amid student bedsit-land. Lots of students were milling around and I felt old. There was the perennial pair of shoes bound together with laces thrown over a telephone cable to broadcast drugs were available.
About twenty people arrived for the tour of the Victorian cemetery home to over 87,000 skeletons. The Greek Doric and Egyptian buildings were unusually ornate and the catacombs were darkly creepy but the main headstone I’d gone to see was neglected. We were asked not to get up to it and a sort of wicker barrier had been erected to deter visitors but after the tour I got up to the stone to have a stroke and a touch. The grave covers the King Of Confectionery George Bassett.
George was born in Ashover and at 14 took an apprenticeship with a confectioner. At 17 he bought a confectionery and wine business. The Bassett Company was on its way. The kindly George took on as an apprentice, a 12 year old lad called Samuel Johnson whose mum had died. The company grew sideways and upward. At 33 George moved into larger premises and persuaded Samuel a partnership.
The company expanded rapidly and employed hundreds of local people from Sheffield city which was often imbued with sweet flavoursome aromas. Ten of thousands of tons of sugar and glucose were shipped into this noisy steaming firehouse of industry. Everything was on a grand scale - boilers, pans, cutters, conveyor belts, steamers, stoves, slicers, sifters, mixers and blenders. There were whole lakes of ingredients - lemon, rose, ginger, tamarind, black currant, peppermint and strawberries. There was Liquorice Room all on its own.
George, king of the kingdom, was a respected man about Sheffield and never moved away. Ulysses Grant the President of the United States of America stayed at the Bassett home.
Over the years George had eight children with his first wife Sarah Hodgson whom he married when he was 28. When Sarah died, George married again and had two sons. The 12-year-old apprentice George had taken on (Samuel) married George’s oldest daughter but she died giving birth.
Aged 58 he became Mayor of Sheffield. He had a stroke at age 60 and was never the same man again. He died aged 68 despite the mammoth millions in the bank and mammoth empire which supplied colouful candy to the sweet tooth of the world.
Shamefully the grave is in a poor state. I ran my fingers across the “B A S S E T T” engraving. It seems the residents of Sheffield know his products but not the man himself as nothing had been done to clean up the stonework. The top tapering section of his grave had blown off in a storm and was on the deck. There are some steel magnates in the cemeteries of Sheffield but only one confectionery king so you would expect Sheffield City to have refurbished his grave. In 2003 a £500,000 Lottery Heritage grant was used to refurbish the gatehouse and catacombs of the cemetery but poor George remained neglected. How could this miss this true-life real Willy Wonka who brought to the world Liquorice Allsorts, Jelly Babies, Liquorice Comfits, Fruit Pastilles, Pontefract Cakes, Mint Imperials, Murray Mints, Victory V Lozenges and Sherbet Fountains.
After George’s death Bassett’s became a public company and Samuel’s grandson William Johnson became chairman and managing director. The popular company mascot Bertie Bassett, a round-headed figure in the liquorice allsorts advertisements, was created in the 1920s and is still in use. Bassett’s is presently used as a brand of Cadbury and owned by Mondelez International.
I put some Liquorice Allsorts into paint once. Here’s the link…it's your for £40,000...go on then £4,000...
Leading up to the cemetery…student bedsit land…
Drugs available here…