World's oldest sweet shop in Yorkshire sees sales boom as nation seeks solace in sugar

There is a haven in Nidderdale that smells of liquorice and lime, as a lazy shimmer of sugar dust swirls in welcome promise of a warming childhood embrace.

This is the world’s oldest sweetshop, which for centuries has housed a confectioner of comforts, be it in a paper bag filled with pear drops or a sour sherbert dip.

As the light glints on glass jars filled with humbugs and white mice, a tiny bell tolls to signal yet more visitors to the tiny Pateley Bridge shop.

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In a turbulent time, it seems the nation is seeking solace in sweet relief.

Keith Tordoff MBE, who owns The Oldest Sweet Shop in England - now the World - in Pateley Bridge. Image: James Hardisty

“It’s extremely busy,” said owner Keith Tordoff, the proprietor for nearly a quarter of a century. “It’s a reassurance, perhaps.

"I don’t know anybody who can walk into a sweet shop without a smile on their face.”

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In the Nidderdale market town of Pateley Bridge, at the top of the High Street recently named the best in Britain, sits the shop aptly named The Oldest Sweet Shop in the World.

The building itself dates back to the 1600s, while records show it has housed a confectioner since 1827. Image: James Hardisty

The building itself dates back to the 1600s, while records show it has housed a confectioner since 1827.

It is now formally accredited as being the oldest continuously trading sweet shop in the same building in the world, and named in the Guinness Book of Records.

Mr Tordoff, a retired West Yorkshire police officer, took on its running with his wife nearly 25 years ago.

There have been many troubled times for traditional countryside communities, he said, reflecting on any number of crises that can come over the span of a quarter of a century.

Pear drops are always popular, as are rhubarb and custards, while the bon bons, said owner Keith Tordoff, have seen “phenomenal” sales of late. Image: James Hardisty

One thing the shop always notes, he added, is an uptake in visitors when people feel in need of a little sanctuary.

“At a time of any recession, or depression, what brightens people’s lives is memories,” he said.

“This is somewhere grandparents or even great-grandparents bring the children.

“I’ve been here for nearly a quarter of a century, but I still get that sense of excitement. It’s not changed, the history of it. And the one thing that people always turn to is sweets.

Keith Tordoff MBE, who owns The Oldest Sweet Shop in England - now the World - in Pateley Bridge. Image: James Hardisty

“It does bring back a nostalgic feel of more happy times. And most folks have a bit of spare change in their pocket, to buy themselves a bag of comfort.”

Edible treasures

In the row after row of glass jars that line the shelves in this tiny store, there is a wealth of edible treasures.

There are monkey nuts and chocolate toffee rolls, shining jars of milk bottles and black jacks, and the ever-present paper packages of humbugs and cola bottles.

Pear drops are always popular, as are rhubarb and custards, while the bon bons, said Mr Tordoff, have seen “phenomenal” sales of late.

Then there are the sour sweets, a favourite with younger visitors, and for a continental twist on traditional liquorice, theirs is flavoured with chilli or salt.

Keith Tordoff MBE, who owns The Oldest Sweet Shop in England - now the World - in Pateley Bridge. Image: James Hardisty

There is a sense of childlike delight in discovering these retro treasures, and it has featured prominently over recent years on film and television screens.

Robbie Coltrane, perhaps best known to youngsters as Hagrid in the Harry Potter series, filmed here for a series with ITV on exploring some of Britain’s most undiscovered places, while there have been more recent visits from Paul Hollywood, Nigel Slater and Clare Balding.

The sweet shop’s reach has now grown to worldwide inquiries, said Mr Tordoff, with at least weekly calls from the United States asking for an extension to its sales.

“This shop is a living, working museum, and people appreciate the nostalgia,” he said. “It’s a place that speaks to generations of families, with grandparents bringing the children to experience how it used to be at the corner shop on virtually every street in the country.

“It’s a magical place. I think that every time I open the door, when the little bell dings and you can smell the sugar in the air. It’s all about being happy.”

Sweet history

Yorkshire is famous for many things, but also heralds as the birthplace of some of the world’s favourite treats.

Some of the best known hailed from York’s Rowntree’s factory, from the first formation of the Kit-Kat which was launched as a Chocolate Crisp in 1935 to the famous Chocolate Orange.

Then there are jelly babies, produced by Sheffield-founded confectioners Bassetts, and originally named ‘Peace Babies’ in commemoration of the end of the First World War.

The humble party ring, which reached peak fashion in the 1980s, was introduced by Batley-based Fox’s Biscuits in 1983.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson

The World's Oldest Sweet Shop has been extremely busy, said owner Keith Tordoff. Image: James Hardisty
Gloria and Keith Tordoff, MBE, who own The Oldest Sweet Shop in England - now the World - in Pateley Bridge. Image: James Hardisty