Laurence Alster makes a mouthwatering tour of two famous confectionery factories
A 16th-century chronicler noted how English sailors found what they believed were sacks of sheep droppings in the holds of captured Spanish ships returning from South America and threw the lot overboard. This happened repeatedly, and the sailors' ignorance that the cargo was in fact cocoa beans gave the Spanish court a 100-year start on other Europeans in the enjoyment of drinking chocolate.
By the early 17th century the French and English had caught on, and drinking chocolate became popular in both countries. It was another 100 years before the Swiss Daniel Peter produced the original milk chocolate bar, and a bar was first sold in England by the Cadbury Brothers in 1898.
Cadbury World, the visitors' centre adjoining the factory in Bournville, gives a history of the confection. You start the chocolate trail with a walk through reproduction Mayan temples in the rain forests of South America and have a chance to taste the Aztec recipe (thick cocoa with a hint of curry).
Tableaux chart the increasing popularity and changing nature of the product in Britain. Well-designed activity booklets for children keep them interested. There is a potted history of the Bournville factory (which practised strict segregation of the sexes until after the Second World War), films and displays on the manufacture and distribution of Cadbury's chocolate, plus a fascinating peep at the packaging process.
The historical displays include a survey of Cadbury's television advertising since the Fifties - remember those old slogans "Pick a lucky number", "Roses grow on you" and "Everyone's a fruit and nut case"? Visitors are given a free Curly Wurly at the start of the tour and get other goodies half-way through, but you don't get to make your own chocolates. The visit is probably best suited to under-13s.
At the John Bull World of Rock at Carnaby, near Bridlington, there are no free samples but you can try your hand at just about anything, and you can keep it. That includes making a stick of rock with your initial running through it.
After boiling enormous amounts of sugar, glucose and water, the resultant mixture is coloured, flavoured and stretched. Huge sugar letters are set between great slabs of white rock mixture, and this is wrapped in the glossy coloured rock that will cover of the stick. The monster sweet is then placed in a machine and stretched, and a slim rope of rock, sometimes hundreds of feet long, snakes out to be cut to length. Throughout each piece are the letters. The children's efforts are a little less accomplished.
They're rather better at making moulded chocolate lollies. And when not making something, visitors can watch staff - there are only 25 - making and packing biscuits, rock, chocolates and other sweets or study the history display.
Cadbury World, PO Box 1958, Linden Road, Bournville, Birmingham B3O 2LD. Tel: 0121 451 4159. Fax: 0121 451 1366. Open 10am to 5.30pm. Group rates: fewer than 20, Pounds 4.30 a child, aged 5-15; 20 and over, Pounds 3.50 a child; free admission and preview visit for teachers.
* The John BullWorld of Rock, Lancaster Road, Carnaby, Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire YO15 3QY. Tel: 01262 678525. Fax: 01262 605588. Admission: Pounds 1