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Pontefract or Pomfret or Pomfrey Cakes


Soft, black, liquorice sweets approximately 1in diameter, ¼in thick, made in the form of an old-fashioned wax seal, most traditionally carrying an impression of Pontefract Castle. Sometimes called 'Pomfret' cakes, from an older spelling of the town name.

Up to the 1960s Pontefract Cakes were pressed out by hand, and a skilled 'Thumper' could use a metal stamp to convert a lump of liquorice dough into 30,000 Cakes a day.

Cutting liquorice root, and a 'thumper' at work

In August 1872 Pontefract became the first town in Britain to elect a Member of Parliament by secret ballot. Under this new system, the voter placed a mark next to his preferred candidate on a paper slip, which was then deposited in a wooden box. At the end of the poll the boxes were sealed using wax, and, there not being enough official seals to go round, were impressed with a liquorice stamp used to make Pontefract cakes.

Local information traces medicinal liquorice tablet manufacture in Pontefract to Sir George Saville around 1614. In 1760 an apothecary named George Dunhill began producing a sugared version, and thereby began the whole liquorice sweet industry, known from advertisements at least since Newcastle Courant of Saturday 15 October 1763.

Cheltenham Chronicle - Thursday 7 November 1811

Although liquorice is no longer grown in the area (it mainly comes from Turkey), Pontefract still has a number of liquorice processors, including the original Dunhill business, now owned by Haribo.

In the licorice fields at Pontefract
My love and I did meet
And many a burdened licorice bush
Was blooming round our feet;
Red hair she had and golden skin,
Her sulky lips were shaped for sin,
Her sturdy legs were flannel-slack'd
The strongest legs in Pontefract.

Sir John Betjeman

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