Steve Lamacq said that it was on this day one hundred and thirty-five years ago, 6th July 1986, that James and William Horlick first sold their malted drink to the public.
Thinking that the drink was quintessentially English, it was a surprise to discover that it had been developed by the Horlick brothers after both had emigrated to the United States from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. It would be four years after the first sales in America that James Horlick would open an office in London in order to import the powdered drink.
American or not, Horlick’s seems emblematic of a 1960s English childhood.
Perhaps we were an unsophisticated family, but my mother always drank Horlick’s at bedtime. Open the larder door and the distinctive jar with its blue label and lid was a familiar sight. Horlick’s seemed an appropriate sort of bedtime drink, it was a drink that went with warm fires, soft pillows and woollen blankets. Horlick’s meant the family being together, with curtains closed against winter nights. Horlick’s meant a feeling of security, the doors would have been locked and there would have been the deep silence of rural Somerset all around us. Horlick’s meant our mother fussing over us and our father checking everything was ready for the morning.
Horlick’s had a symbolic significance beyond that of a malted drink.
When they were empty, the last teaspoon of powder taken out and the jar tipped up, lest any remain, Horlick’s jars would never have been thrown away. Perhaps they were the biggest jars in the shops, certainly I cannot remember many other products in jars of a size comparable with the largest of the Horlick’s jars. My grandmother would use the large for the jam made with fruit from her garden and marmalade made with oranges bought at the market.
For a child with a sweet tooth, the distinctive shape of the Horlick’s jars became inextricably associated with slices of bread cut thickly with a bread saw, from loaves baked that morning and delivered by the baker on his rounds, slices which were spread with layers of butter that would be thick enough to show the teethmarks of a boy oblivious to such concepts as heart disease, and then layered with strawberry jam or coarse orange marmalade made with so much sugar that sometimes they crystallised in the jar.
Horlick’s was a symbol of happiness, a symbol of feeling safe and well.