Edward Sharp and his Toffee Empire

In each of our upcoming monthly newsletters we will focus on one toffee tin from our vintage toffee tin collection that is on permanent display in our shop in Darling, and the history behind the tin. For our first edition we focus on a truly South African tin, issued by Edward Sharp, South Africa Pty. Ltd. in the 1950's, featuring a Hex River Homestead on the lid.

It is difficult to say the name “Edward Sharp” without thinking “toffee”. He was born in Maidstone, Kent, the son of a paper factory manager, and educated at the local grammar school. Starting in 1878 with a modest grocery store, Edward Sharp stocked his own home-made sweets, predominantly nougat and toffee. During the first three years he employed two people to assist in the making of these to be sold in this shop. However, as the demand for his toffee picked up Edward Sharp decided to open a dedicated factory, and did so in a former roller skating rink in Maidstone and imaginatively named it “The Kreemy Works”. With excellent advertising, determined marketing and a great product it’s no surprise that in little over ten years The Kreemy Works became the largest toffee manufacturer in the world. Mr Sharp himself credited much of his success to finding ways to improve toffee manufacturing.

Edward sharp was a religious man who was very much involved in the local Maidstone community. At the height of his toffee manufacturing career Britain honoured him with the title of baronet. His wife passed away in 1922 and three years later Mr Sharp got married for the second time, at the age of 74, to his secretary. Edward Sharp died in 1931, leaving his two sons as the managing directors of the company, with the estate’s estimated value at £156 367 (just over £9 million in today's terms).

The Sharp sons, James and Wilfred, in turn left the toffee manufacturing business to their sons, who became joint managing directors. The family become the foremost confectionery manufacturers in Britain by 1951. Their great boast was that the factory could produce 600 wrapped sweets per minute, with their top seller still being their “Super Kreem” toffee. Business was so good that 24 hour production was needed to cope with sales, with 350 people employed for the night shift by 1954.

The second World War and aftermath restricted supplies of raw materials and so it was decided to focus on export trade. It was during this time that they established a number of toffee manufacturing plants outside Britain, including South Africa. The Edward Sharp toffee factory in South Africa was situated in Cape Town.

Edward Sharp and Sons acquired Trebor, a privately owned London confectionery manufacturer, in 1961. Sales were merged to form Trebor Sharp in 1969, which was acquired by Cadbury in 1989. The Maidstone factory was closed in 2000 to cut costs and 300 jobs were lost. Production was then moved to factories in Chesterfield and Sheffield. The original factory in Maidstone was demolished in 2002 to make way for housing.

The brand was relaunched in 2004 as Sharps of York, and sold to Tangerine confectionery in 2008, but by 2016 the Sharps brand was quietly dropped.

From the Darling Sweet Vintage Toffee Tin Collection.

The Sharps legacy lives on in the branded Sharp’s tins which still exist today; a nostalgic heritage is embodied in this large range of merchandise which is highly collectible. The Edward Sharp tin here depicted was manufactured under license in South Africa and is part of a great series of tins which included hand-coloured photographs and illustrations of various subjects.

This tin depicts a Hex River Valley Homestead which still exists today; it seems the property has changed hands a few times over the decades. It is thought that the property was run as a dairy farm during the time that the image was used on the tin, suggesting that the owners and the company had a mutually beneficial relationship as butter is a necessary ingredient of toffee. Years later the land was used to farm grapes, but a flood a few years ago caused a lot of damage. Today this homestead still stands and it is rented out as accommodation.

The Hexriver homestead today

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