Clough’s sweet shop – Newcastle’s answer to Willy Wonka
Clough’s traditional Sweet Shop has been selling assorted confectionery in Heaton in Newcastle Upon Tyne for 115 years since Victorian times. It has been in the Clough family for almost 80 of those 118 years and is the oldest sweet shop in Newcastle. Now run by Alan Clough, the very fresh faced 65 year old son of its original owners Arthur and Edith Clough, it is a little piece of social retail history in a very modern world.
I remember the formidable Mrs Clough who remained serving in the shop until she was 95! She was a very small old lady but she still used to climb the ladders and dislodge the jars of sweets from the top shelf with her walking stick. She would then catch them as they toppled. I’m not sure how she got them back up again. Alan Clough, her son, started serving in the shop when he was 6 years old standing on a box.
Clough’s sweet shop – Mrs Clough the legend
After attaining full height, he continued working in the family business man and boy. He took over the management of the shop after the death of his much loved mother. Alan remains remarkably svelte for someone who works in close proximity to such sweet wall to wall temptation He insists he does eat the sweets, although he tries not to. Of course he still has to sample all the new products when they come in.
Clough’s sweet shop favourites
I asked if people’s favourite sweets had changed much over the years. Some had, some hadn’t, he replied. Top six choices from 50 years ago were Midget Gems, Mint Imperials, Merrymaid chocolate covered caramels, Blackbullets, Jelly babies and Jelly Beans. Today’s favourites are much the same but Bons Bons (toffee and strawberry) storm into the charts and Fudge takes over the chocolate covered caramel spot.
Sweet take over
Lots of the sweets sold at Clough’s in years gone by were manufactured by local companies, many of which have now gone out of business and with them, some recipes have disappeared forever. Gone to that great sweet shop in the sky are Rileys chocolate toffee rolls (lovely dark chocolate) The firm was taken over and that product bit the dust. Nutty Bon Bons, lemon quenchers and Sherbet Shandy lollies went the same way.
Clough’s sweet shop – ounces or grams?
Sherbet Shandy lollies had a sort of Edinburgh rock consistency and the new firm sacked all the old staff and brought in their own. These new people just couldn’t get them right! They didn’t have the know-how of the previous sweet makers, and Cloughs were forced to send the stock back. Sherbet Shandy lollies now had the consistency of holiday rock and the customers were not happy. Cremona Toffees, Maynard’s and Welch’s went the same way.
Big firms took over the smaller factories or put them out of business. While I was there an older lady came in and asked for two ounces of Blackjacks and two ounces of Fruit Salads ‘The smallest amount I can buy’ she said. After she left the shop I asked if they still did things in ounces. ‘No’ was Alan’s’ reply. ‘They ask for ounces – we give them grams.’
The newest sweets in the shop are the Chocolate Mint Cups (very moreish) and the oldest ones? The Ginger creams. Cheryl Cole, the Pop Star and former member of girl band Girl’s Aloud grew up nearby in Heaton. She famously patronised Clough’s Sweet shop as a child. ‘Do you remember her as a little girl?’ I asked. Alan honestly replied that he didn’t really remember her in particular, she was just one of hundreds of children who came into the shop. ‘I remember her brother’, he said ‘He was more noticeable and her mother always looked down in the dumps.’ In an interview in glossy magazine Cheryl recently reminisced about what sweets she used to buy at Cloughs. She liked the foam bananas and prawns and the candy milk bottles apparently.
Clough’s sweet shop – Cheryl’s choice
Alan admitted that times were tough for the small retailer but that he prides himself on quality which you couldn’t always get in a supermarket. He also made an interesting and rather unexpected observation about children coming into the shop today compared to all those years ago. ‘Kids are much less bother,’ he said. ‘Maybe it’s just that I can cope with their antics better now but they are all nice kids apart from the odd one. In my day kids would always be trying to steal something, distracting you in groups. It made it hard to keep an eye on them. Now, you even get kids saying ‘keep the change’ to you! That would have been unheard of fifty years ago’
Clough’s sweet shop – kids today
I ventured that this may be more due to the fact that people were much better off now than in those days and that sweets were bought much more often. Or it could be that the demographic of the area has changed from what would have been a solidly working class part of town, to one more full of students and the aspirational middle classes.
Clough’s sweet shop – never forget!
One man who grew up here came back after living in Australia for 50 years and was quite overwhelmed by the fact that the only thing that hadn’t changed from his childhood memories of Heaton was Cloughs Sweet Shop. This is a unique little shop and part of our local heritage. Do you love sweet treats from times gone by? Would you like to see the finest display of flavoured rainbow crystals this side of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory? Then pop in to 88 Heaton Road in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, and you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Sweet shop update BREAKING NEWS! We have evidence that a party of Americans turned up at Clough’s sweet shop and bought a whole lot of sweets. Because they’d read my blog! Fantastic! Alan has now retired and the shop is being run by Barry. He is under the strict instructions not to change things too much. However can tell you that luxury Russian Caramels are now back on the shelves. This is a very special shop. One man still comes in every second Thursday for a whole jar of Toffee Crumble which he cannot get anywhere else. My favourite remains the sherbet filled liquorice flyers…