Lion Confectionery - A Brief History by The Sweet Scoop

fruit, fruit salad, lion, liquorice, liquorice gums, midget gems, poor bens, wine, wine gums -

Lion Confectionery - A Brief History by The Sweet Scoop


Here at The Sweet Scoop we absolutely adore sweets, especially if they are made less than 15 miles from our shop. Lion Confectionery (now owned by Tangerine) make some of the tastiest* hard gummy sweets known.

*entirely our opinion :)

In a marvellous town, to the South West of Leeds, called Cleckheaton you will possibly find heaven on Earth. Especially if you like sweets as much as we do! Cleckheaton has a rich history as a mill town, however a lot of this industry has now vanished.

Where It All Began...

Since 1903, Lion Confectionery have been making their signature gummy sweets. Frank & Albert Hillard first began making batches of boiled sweets in a row of cottages in their home town, and decided it would be a good idea to set up a production line to make the sweets on a larger scale. To do this they needed money, some of which was kindly loaned to them by a local shopkeeper John Hillard, with the condition that their company name should have the same name as his chain of corner shops, Lion Stores.

What Do They Make?

Makers of the infamous Midget Gems, Liquorice Gums, Wine Gums, Fruit Salad, Football Gums and Poor Bens. There have been other products they have made too which we are often asked for. These are Fruit Pastilles and probably the number 1 request is for Butterscotch Gums. As I am in my 30s, honestly I never remembered these sweets but as I am told they played a crucial role in many of my customers’ lives. Stories of where they would be bought a ¼lb of Liquorice Gums and a ¼lb of Butterscotch Gums and proceed to combine the two, just sounds bliss. Why oh Why did they have to discontinue these in 2015? I would have loved to at least been able to try them!

Where Did the Liquorice Go?

Talking of changing times, Lion and Maynards both became owned by Cadbury and later Lion were sold to current owners Tangerine. During that time however there were changes made to some of Lion’s confectionery lines most notably that the liquorice was removed from the Sports Mixtures and Midget Gems. It is safe to say however that when Tangerine took over, they reintroduced the black liquorice to the two lines. Which is why when people ask us for Midget Gems, we say the “Is it the proper ones or the other ones?”

You can certainly tell the difference now between Lion Confectionery and other brands as they are firmer, have a chewier texture, a shiny appearance and have longer lasting, fuller flavours. Did you know that this is because they are stewed for 168 hours or in other words … a whole week!

And Finally...

Finally a quirky fact… The Spen Valley (where you will find Cleckheaton, among many other towns) has its own Civic Society and The Spen Fame Trail. On this trail, plaque 40 is at the Lion factory. Where you may learn the fun fact why Poor Bens are called as such… well I’m going to tell you now any way.

After many successful trials they achieved a notable and popular success with Poor Bens, which were named after the man who first sampled them”.


  • amro

    Fact check please.
    Hillard or Hardill?

  • Paul crossley

    Could u tell me if they any jobs going just moved to cleckheaton all ways worked in food factorys

  • Andre

    Please bring back butterscotch tablets!

  • Graham MASON

    “Nah then, what’s all this ‘ere then, wi’ folk tawkin’ abaht Lion Confectionery ?” (For you, non-natives of Yorkshire, I’ll finish wi’ t’ Yorkshire dialect – but I miss hearing it out here in central France. Incidentally, not far from Sharon Settle – see her comment above).
    I can tell you of a, thankfully non-serious, incident that occurred during my short stint working there in the 1970’s. I’ll make it ‘brief’ –
    The gelatine, glucose and sugar were mixed and boiled in large, copper cauldrons raised up on a sort of mezzanine platform (Maybe it still is, eh ?). Underneath this mezzanine was where “we” got changed into work overalls and also, where we had our tea-breaks.
    On this particular day, just after lunch break, we were putting on our overalls, when there was an almighty crashing sound above our heads, on the mezza. We rushed to see the cause, but I was still not fully kitted-up!
    A large sheet of perspex had dislodged itself from the skylight and dropped about 20 feet onto the open cauldrons. Luckily no-one was injured, but it could have been much, much worse.
    As I returned to finish dressing, I heard someone remark “Hey, we should ’ave bl—-y steel ’elmets up ’ere lads!” That comment fired my sense of humour, so, with a marker pen, I scrawled “COME AND GET YOUR STEEL HELMETS – ONLY TEN SHILLINGS EACH!” on a piece of cardboard, then grabbed about five metal buckets, put one on my head, then emerged onto the factory floor waving my bit of cardboard. There were roars of laughter and she-wolf-whistles from the female workers, even Ian Hardill, the Directors son, was chuckling, because I was still only wearing a white tee-shirt, white underpants and my (regulation) black wellington-boots, BUT with a bucket on my head !!!
    Frivolity was short-lived though, as round the corner appeared Mr Hardill, Snr. (the Top Boss Man!). As he strode past me, and without giving me a second glance, he snarled “Go get dressed!” So I dragged my, now, sadly depleted ego back under the mezzanine.
    To be fair, he didn’t “drag me over the coals” for my light-hearted take on the situation, despite him being a very serious-minded boss.
    The gums (sweets) were certainly far superior to any that I had tasted until that time (Yep, my favourites were the Butterscotch too!) but nowadays, the thought of eating/wearing any animal-based products is something I find repulsive on all counts. (That’ll put a proverbial “spanner” in the works, I imagine).
    The “Lads an’ Lasses”, when I was working there, were a “reight grand bunch” and I still keep in touch with someone from those days, who’s become a real good mate; no names here, but he (and his Dad) were the engineers at Lion.
    I have other tales of Lion Confectionery, circa 1977, but “tha’ll ’ave ter waite ’til ah writes mi memoires, ah kid!”
    Best Wishes,

  • Neil Wilkinson

    Hi have always loved the real and genuine Midget Gems, Sports Mixture and Fruit Salad by Lion, in fact I’m tucking into a bag of Fruit Salad right now.
    I used to live and work quite near the factory in Cleckheaton, and still pass there regularly. Great to know it is still going with some of the original products.
    Long live Lion, quality confectionery since 1903.

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