<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to EDP Norfolk today click here

Rock: the secrets behind this seaside sweet

PUBLISHED: 10:50 22 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:50 22 August 2017

Docwra's famous rock (photo: TMS Media Ltd)

Docwra's famous rock (photo: TMS Media Ltd)

Archant

Nothing says a day out at the seaside quite like a bright and cheery stick of rock – but what are the secrets behind this enduring symbol of happy holidays by the sea?

It is as much a part of Britain’s traditional seaside resorts as buckets and spades, fish and chips and stripy deckchairs.

The humble yet extraordinary stick of rock is a great feat of confectionery engineering which has delighted both children and adults for generations.

These brightly coloured sugary sticks of joy, with letters running all the way down the centre spelling out all manner of messages, are a souvenir of a happy day at the beach, albeit one which might not last too long once that cellophane is unwrapped and a first bite taken.

Great Yarmouth is still home to one of the few traditional rock makers in the country, where customers can come in to the shop on Regent Road and watch it being made before sampling a huge range of flavours for themselves.

Great Yarmouth rock on sale at Docwras (photo: TMS Media Ltd) Great Yarmouth rock on sale at Docwras (photo: TMS Media Ltd)

Docwras has been at the heart of the town’s

tourism industry since Victorian times and production has changed little in the 119 years since William Dowcra first opened his rock and sweet factory there.

William’s grandson Stephen Docwra, the company’s salesman and fudgemaker, says that the rock making is a tourist attraction in itself. “People love to see the mystery of how rock is made, especially adding the message through the middle – a skill which can take years to master.

“The start of the summer, when the sun is shining, always feels incredibly special. Some people come back every year. They come in with their grandchildren, just like they would have been brought in by their grandparents generations before and treated to rock. They love the nostalgia; it is a fantastic part of the seaside tradition here in Yarmouth.”

1 Rock and roll � the giant rock is rolled into shape at Docwra�s rock factory in Great Yarmouth

Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media. 1 Rock and roll � the giant rock is rolled into shape at Docwra�s rock factory in Great Yarmouth Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media.

“Rock’s enduring appeal is that is still a fun pocket money-priced treat and souvenir. People still say to holidaymakers ‘bring us back a stick of rock’.”

In its heyday of the 1950s and 60s, the factory employed 140 workers and was making 120,000 sticks of rock for not just Yarmouth and other Norfolk coastal towns, but for resorts around the UK.

“I was here during those real peak times when Great Yarmouth really boomed. There were thousands of people coming here every summer and the town was packed.”

Stephen grew up above the shop and still lives there today and has seen a huge transformation in both his business and the town’s tourism economy.

2 Shaping letters
Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media. 2 Shaping letters Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media.

“I first started working in the shop in 1959, during school holidays as a kid and then as a 15-year-old while doing my ‘O’ levels. I worked in the factory with my brother and a load of friends. I had no intention really of going into it; I was keen to join the army. But my father became ill and I found myself having to step in. I had studied accounting so was very much on the office and management side while my brother looked after production. By the time I was 24 we were running the factory.”

Docwra is now owned by national company John Bull whose main factory is at Bridlington.

“I was determined that only a traditional confectionery maker should buy the business, one which respected those traditions. We are still very much involved; my wife Janet manages the shop and I still make the fudge.”

Docwra’s rock shop still makes 25,000 sticks a week, but – much like the resort itself – it is enjoying a longer season thanks to other year-round markets for which it produces special, personalised sticks, such as corporate events, charity promotions and weddings. Guests receive a stick as a reminder of the big day, the couple’s names and date of the nuptials carefully written with love through the centre.

3 Making words

Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media. 3 Making words Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media.

“Ultimately tastes change, the economy changes and the tourism market is very different now, so we do a lot of personalised rock for special events and different organisations.

“It is a declining industry with challenges, but it is the few good traditional businesses which have remained. The largest confectionery retailer in the country was Woolworths and it had a huge impact when it disappeared, so we have very much had to adapt with the times.”

How is rock made?

4 Putting the rock into the rollers to slim it down

Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media. 4 Putting the rock into the rollers to slim it down Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media.

A two-to-one mix of sugar and glucose is boiled to nearly 150 degrees (300 degrees F) before being poured on to water-cooled steel plates.

Coloured elements – including the outer casing and lettering – are created using food colouring.

The cooling mix forms a skin so it can be cut with shears.

Part of the mix is aerated by a ‘pulling machine’ with fixed and rotating arms to create a white centre from a creamy mix.

5 Sticks in their finished size ready for cutting and wrapping

Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media. 5 Sticks in their finished size ready for cutting and wrapping Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media.

Lettering skills – cutting shapes spaced by white fill – take years to master. Round characters are made last because they lose their shape more easily.

The completed wording is rolled around a stiffened centre and the casing added before the thick stick is reduced in size using tapered rollers which are heated to keep the mix workable.

Once set, the rock is cut into short lengths and wrapped, with a landmark picture, inside clear plastic.

6 Stephen Docwra with the finished product

Docwras Rock Factory and Shop, Stephen Docwra. Pic by TMS Media 6 Stephen Docwra with the finished product Docwras Rock Factory and Shop, Stephen Docwra. Pic by TMS Media

Rock facts

- The first sugar canes – in effect mini sticks of rock - were exactly that, little strips of raw sugar cane cut straight from the field and given to children to suck.

- There are conflicting theories about the invention of seaside rock. It was first offered at fairgrounds in the 19th century as a treat, though in a simpler form without lettering or flamboyant designs.

7 Sweet message from a happy holiday

Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media. 7 Sweet message from a happy holiday Docwras Rock Factory and Shop. Pic by TMS Media.

- It is believed then that either ex-minor Ben Bullock or a character known as Dynamite Dick first took the idea from the fairgrounds and embellished the sticks of rocks with lettering and bright colours at some time in the 1880s. Whoever came first, the idea took off instantly, initially in Blackpool, before spreading around the coast.

- It was an affordable seaside treat in resorts which were very much for the working classes and it still remains a cheap sweet treat today, with the price for a stick of rock in pence not pounds.

- In 1956 Docwra moved its rock and sweet factory from Middlegate to South Denes. The factory finally closed in 1985.

- The Regent Road factory shop opened in 1922.

- Great Yarmouth rock was once sold by Woolworth stores in coastal towns across the UK and was a corporate marketing “sweetener” for major clients including Birds Eye, BBC and the Electoral Commission.

- There used to be five rock factories in Great Yarmouth alone. Now there are just a handful across the country.

- Cheeky 1930s singer George Formby, who had a home on the Norfolk Broads, had a hit With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock.

- The recipe is not much different from that of a classic boiled sweet – just sugar and glucose. But after it has cooled slightly, the mixture is repeatedly worked until it takes on a white, cloudy appearance.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other EDP Norfolk Magazine visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by EDP Norfolk Magazine staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique EDP Norfolk Magazine account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Norfolk Magazine

12:21

If you’ve a precious family heirloom that’s looking a bit tired, or you’ve accidentally poked a hole in a treasured painting, don’t panic – help is at hand

Read more
November 2017
11:44

This month Peter James of Norfolk Ramblers takes us around a walk just a few miles south of Norwich

Read more
November 2017
11:38

Enjoy a delicious ‘festive’ themed afternoon tea in relaxed, comfy and funky surroundings from 20th November – 30th December for £15.50pp.

Read more

Nothing is more welcoming than a plate piled high with roast meats, potatoes, Yorkshire puds and all the trimmings. We have selected 13 places to indulge in a hearty Sunday roast in Norfolk

Read more

What’s on in Norfolk this weekend? We have selected some of the best events that are not to be missed

Read more

With unusual presents, artisan crafts and local delights in abundance, we look at Norfolk’s fairs and markets that have Christmas gift-buying all wrapped up!

Read more
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Once he was alert for ambushes as he searched out routes to take food to the starving and bring peace to war-zones. Today he finds channels through tidal bays and saltmarshes

Read more
November 2017
Monday, November 13, 2017

We love exploring Norfolk through your Instagram feeds, so we picked 10 of our favourites from this week. Tag us on Instagram @EDP_Norfolk

Read more
Monday, November 13, 2017

This month Dominic Castle runs the rule over Sprowston Manor’s popular grill restaurant

Read more
Monday, November 13, 2017

Once a mummy, always a mummy - whether they’re with you or not, writes Jo Malone

Read more
 
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory
EDP Norfolk Application Link

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Norfolk's trusted business finder

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search