I should cocoa: Some go for the history of the Quakers, others to experience death by chocolate. Tony Kelly takes in Cadbury's World

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The Independent Culture
A crowded restaurant at Cadbury's World: burger-and-chips families and a children's birthday party in the corner. A fire alarm rings; anxious workers clear the building as I retrieve my triple chocolate gateau just in time. Outside: a freezing car park, adults shivering, children in tears. Two fire engines draw up and the fire-fighters dash indoors, only to emerge minutes later, each carrying a large box of Flake bars.

In my mind's eye, a camera cuts to the next scene, a fire engine climbing a mountain or crossing the desert. A fireman steps out, music plays and a deep voice begins: 'And all because the lady loves . . .'

Birmingham's Cadbury World, the 'chocolate experience', has received more than 10,000 visitors a day since it opened in 1990. People go for different reasons. For some, it is a museum of the history of chocolate and the fascinating story of the Cadbury family; for others, like the group of Scouts who followed us around, a chance to gorge out on free samples.

A favourite is the bitter-sweet Aztec drink, a concoction of cocoa, nutmeg, cinnamon, honey, vanilla and chilli. Cocoa was first discovered by the Maya of Central America, who used the beans as coinage, an early case of money growing on trees. A 16th-century explorer in Nicaragua reported that a pumpkin was worth four beans and a slave a hundred. The cocoa drink which the Maya invented was 'more suited for pigs than men', according to the traveller Benzoni, but the recipe was passed on to the Aztecs and brought to Europe by the Spanish invader Hernando Cortes.

A tour of Cadbury World takes about two hours. You pass a replica of Cadbury's first shop, a teahouse opened in Birmingham in 1824, which sold drinking chocolate in the hope of keeping people off beer. You watch film of cocoa being harvested and chocolate being made. You see antique chocolate boxes and labels, war ration notices and posters from the (recent) time when chocolate was still considered a health aid.

You relive TV ads from the last 40 years - including that ad for Milk Tray - as well as Cadbury's commercials from India and the Middle East. You visit a packaging plant where bars roll off the production line at the rate of four a second, and a demonstration area where workers put the finishing touches to the hand-made chocolates which are only sold here. As of this month, there is a new exhibit, a 'fantasy factory' for children.

The founders of Cadbury's were a Quaker family for whom business and social obligations went hand in hand. The Bournville factory complex, where Cadbury World is based, was conceived as a 'garden village', where workers would live in attractive, comfortable conditions in contrast to the squalor of the inner city.

Houses and gardens were provided, sports facilities and social events laid on, but the concept of community embodied an element of control as well. There was no alcohol in the village and even today residents suffer from a shortage of pubs. And when George Cadbury's female staff married, he presented each one personally with a Bible, a carnation and a redundancy notice - in the interests of 'family life'. The tradition of Bibles and carnations continues, but married women have been employed at Bournville since the Second World War.

The Bournville story is told in a separate building, beside the children's play area. I couldn't help being struck by the contrast between Cadbury's origins and its modern image. The heirs of John and George Cadbury preside over a multinational company with a turnover of billions and a tourist attraction which charges children to feed their habit. I wonder what the good Quakers would have made of that.

Cadbury World, Bournville, Birmingham (021-451 4180), 10am-5.30pm weekends and most weekdays. Adults pounds 4.75, children pounds 3.25, under-fives free, family ticket pounds 13.50. Visitors advised to book (021-451 4159)

(Photograph omitted)