Definitions

Treacle mine

Treacle mining

Treacle mining is the (fictitious) mining of treacle (similar to molasses) in a raw form similar to coal. The subject purports to be a serious topic but is in fact an attempt to test the credulity of the reader. The thick black nature of treacle makes the deception plausible. The topic has been a standing joke in British humour for a century or more.

Locations often suggested

Several treacle mines have been claimed to exist in Britain, most notably in Bisham, Chobham, Tadley, Skidby, Ditchford, Crick and Dunchideock, in several northern towns including Natland and Baggrow in Cumbria, in Croftamie, Scotland, and in the obviously fictional village of Wymsey.

In Leeds and West Yorkshire it is commonly said that the Treacle Mines are in Pudsey - the other item of note about this small town being that birds are said to fly backwards there. The paper mills around Maidstone, in Kent, were known as "The Tovil Treacle Mines" (Tovil pronounced to rhyme with "Bovril" - not "Toeville"), by locals, after the area where one of the mills owned by Albert E. Reed was situated. The company also helped the myth along by regularly exhibiting a float in the Maidstone carnival with a "treacle mine" theme. One suggested answer to the treacle mine story in this area is a rumour that the local paper industry was under threat during the Second World War because they were unable to import timber. As a solution to this, the fermentation of straw was tried. This was found not to work, a sticky goo being the result. However this is not actually true. There were repeated attempts to make paper from materials other than rags in the 19th century and an early commercial success was achieved by Samuel Hook and his son, Charles Townsend Hook using straw at Upper Tovil Mill in the 1850s. The road next to Upper Tovil Mill became known, and was later officially named, as Straw Mill Hill. To produce pulp, the straw was cooked in hot alkali. After separation of the fibre, the remaining liquid had the appearance of black treacle. Upper Tovil Mill closed in the 1980s and the site was used for a housing estate. Tudeley and Frittenden in Kent are also said to have had treacle mines.

Modern folklore suggests that the name derives from the use of old Treacle tins to store money in because banks could not be trusted and that the tins were buried around the village by locals. Criminals soon realised that if you needed funds you could try "mining" for Treacle tins in the vicinity.

Explanations offered

The story given to the listener might offer a plausible explanation such as:

  • That Cromwell's army buried barrels of molasses that later leaked and seeped to the surface.
  • That prehistoric sugar cane beds became fossilised in a similar way to peat and coal.

There are two theories behind the Treacle Mines of Tadley:

  • That, in the early 20th century, a gardener unearthed a tin of treacle (or possible golden syrup) containing an amount of money
  • That, more likely, the "treacle" refers to the heavy clay soil of the area, hence Tadley Treacle Mines.

Origins

"Treacle" originally meant any kind of a thick syrupy salve, and it is likely that bituminous seeps from coal deposits were used in traditional remedies, so this may have been the kernel of truth that inspired the joke. The Tar Tunnel near Blists Hill in Shropshire has natural deposits of tar oozing from the walls which could be said to resemble treacle.

Another explanation is that "treacle" originally meant 'a medicine', derived from the appearance of the Greek derivative 'theriacal' meaning medicinal (Gk theriake = a curative or antidote), so the various healing wells around Britain were called "treacle wells". Treacle later came to mean a sticky syrup after the popularity of a honey-based drug called "Venice treacle", and the continued use of the old form in the treacle wells led to the joke.

Actual places

There is a Treacle Mine Public house in Grays, Essex. The Treacle Mine Roundabout features on the local bus timetable and is named after the public house.

The Broomsquire Hotel in Silchester Road Tadley, Hampshire, was previously known as the Treacle Mine Hotel. Another Treacle Mine pub is in Hereford.

Cultural references

The subject of the Treacle Mine has been a whimsical joke played on children and the gullible since at least the nineteenth century and may go back even further.

See also

References

External links

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