During World War One, Albert Leslie Simpkin was wounded twice. Afterwards, he was offered liquid glucose after an operation for shrapnel wounds, perhaps the moment he thought it should be offered in sweet form.
Returning to Sheffield, Simpkin opened a grocery shop in 1921, on Sedan Street at Pitsmoor, and devised a machine to produce glucose drops.
This was the start of a business that is still going strong today, exporting sweets to over forty countries.
After deciding to close his shop, Albert bought a burnt-out refrigeration factory at Hillsborough, replacing it with a purpose-built plant producing bulk barley sugar sweets, later converting to powdered sweets in small tins.
The company turned out to be pioneers in glucose medicated confectionery, choosing to sell through chemists to avoid competition from bigger manufacturers. “Simpkins Glucose Products for Health and Vitality,” was a slogan soon to be seen throughout the UK.
Its biggest seller was barley sugar drops, “to alleviate the symptoms of travel sickness,” leading to a range of other products, ‘Travel Tins’, that are still the backbone of the company’s product range today.
However, after visiting the Leipzig Show in 1939, Simpkins picked up the recipe for a glucose tablet, containing dextrose monohydrate, creating Vita Glucose Tablets, compressed under 15 tons of pressure. These were used by leading athletes, high-altitude flyers and mountaineers, including the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953.
The range soon extended to other medicated pastilles and tablets, including Glucose Blackcurrant Pastilles, Dilly Duckling Children’s Cough Pastilles, which had a cherry flavour, and even orange-flavoured Halibut Liver Oil Hexagons.
Speaking in 1939, Albert said, “The modern idea of presenting medicine in sweet form might have been gained from a fourteenth century painting in which an apothecary is seen making up a prescription for his royal patron in the form of a confection.”
A.L. Simpkin & Co Ltd, still manufacture on Hunter Road, although its main entrance is on Roselle Street, off Middlewood Road.
These days, the company is run by Albert’s grandchildren, Adrian and Karen Simpkin, producing the ‘Travel Tins’, Juicees Chews, Nipits (said to be a favourite of Margaret Thatcher), ‘Frog in your Throat’ lozenges and pure liquorice sweets. It is also a leading supplier of corporate branded and private label tinned confectionery.
Don’t expect to find Simpkins Sweets in the supermarkets, they’re still to be found in chemists, as well as garage forecourts and high-end sweet shops.