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'Most controversial' chocolate

Aug 28, 2023

A box of 122-year-old chocolate made in York which was sent to troops fighting in the Boer War on behalf of Queen Victoria has been discovered in an attic.

The tin of Rowntree's chocolate, which was manufactured in York in 1899 and dubbed the "most controversial chocolate ever made", only has one piece missing.

The chocolates were a gift sent to troops fighting in the Boer War on behalf of Queen Victoria, but sparked a row because Rowntree's owners were pacifists.

Found in a box of household junk in an attic in Immingham, Lincolnshire, it's thought to have belonged to the homeowner's late husband's grandfather, who fought in the conflict.

The Second Boer War was fought between 1899 and 1902 between the British Empire and two independent Boer states which were trying to gain control of South Africa.

Paul Cooper, from Eddisons, which is auctioning the chocolate, said it is "incredibly rare to find one that still contains the chocolate" - but he wouldn't recommend eating one.

The old chocolate. Picture: SWNS

He said: "That's the thing that makes the find special.

"The tins turn up quite often but it's incredibly rare to find one that still contains the chocolate.

"This tin was found in a box of household junk during a recent attic clear out at a house in Immingham.

"It is believed that it was stored away many years ago by the vendor's late husband, whose grandfather fought in the Boer War.

"She had no idea it was there."

Paul described the gift as "the most controversial chocolate ever made" as the commission triggered an argument involving all of the UK's most famous chocolate makers.

He said: "It is incidentally some of the most controversial chocolate ever made, a Royal commission that triggered a row involving all of the country's most famous chocolate makers.

"The Queen had decided to cheer up her troops fighting in the war, which was going rather badly at the time, by personally paying for a seasonal gift tin of chocolate to be sent to every ordinary soldier.

"The problem was that Rowntree, Cadbury and Fry were all owned by Quakers.

"They were pacifists, opposed to the war and appalled by the idea of being seen to profit from the fighting.

"In the end the three firms decided that they would make the chocolate – and donate it free of charge - but it would be unbranded and in tins that did not carry their names.

"The Queen was not amused. She wanted the boys to know they were getting best British chocolate.

"The firms backed down again, sort of. Some of the chocolate was then marked but the tins never were."

However, it is advised that the lucky bidder doesn't try the chocolate, as it can become 'hazardous' as it ages.

Paul said: "Impressive as it looks, I don't think I’d be tempted to give it a go.

"The experts say that chocolate actually doesn't becomes hazardous as it ages – it just loses its flavour, texture and taste.

"That said, they probably did not have 122-year-old bars of the stuff in mind!

"Of course the militaria and Boer War enthusiasts who are going to be bidding to add this rarity to their collections would not dream of eating such a treasure."

The tin will be auctioned later today (September 20) and is expected to make around £100 - £200 in the online auction.