Chocolate given by Queen Victoria to troops in 1900 found in Oxburgh Hall attic
A 121-year-old chocolate bar that was given to British troops to boost morale during the Boer War has been discovered in the attic of a National Trust property.
The “remarkable find”, still in its original wrapper and tin, was part of a batch commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1900.
It was found in a Boer War helmet case at the 15th century Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk and belonged to the 8th Baronet, Sir Henry Edward Paston-Bedingfeld.
National Trust conservators unearthed the ageing treat while cataloguing the belongings of his daughter Frances Greathead, who died last year aged 100.
Anna Forrest, the National Trust’s cultural heritage curator, said: “Although it no longer looks appetising and is well past its use-by date – you wouldn’t want it as your Easter treat – it is still complete and a remarkable find.
“We can only assume that the 8th Baronet kept the chocolate with the helmet as a memento of his time in the Boer War.”
The Second Boer War, or South African War, was fought between the British Empire and two independent Boer states over the Empire’s influence in South Africa.
It began in 1899 and lasted three years.
More than 100,000 tins, each containing half a pound of plain chocolate, were produced.
It was intended that every soldier and officer would receive a box with the inscription “South Africa 1900” and “I wish you a happy New Year” in the Queen’s handwriting.
Queen Victoria commissioned the country’s three principal chocolate manufacturers, Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree, to undertake the order.
As pacifist Quakers that opposed the war, all three manufacturers refused to accept payment for the order and originally donated the chocolate in unbranded tins.
However, the Queen insisted the troops knew they were getting British chocolate and the firms backed down, marking some bars.
The tins themselves were never branded.
It is unclear which of the three manufacturers made the chocolate discovered at Oxburgh.
“By the turn of the century, Henry was a major in the militia of the King’s Liverpool Regiment and fought in the Boer War,” said Ms Forrest.
“He was still in South Africa when his father died in 1902, which is when he returned to England and to Oxburgh Hall, aged 42.
“We know his return to Oxburgh was mentioned in family memoirs.
“It’s said that one night while in his tent, Henry heard a woman crying, followed by his father’s voice saying ‘It’s your mother, Henry. I’m dying’.
“In the morning he met the adjutant, who wrote his story down and dated it.
“But it was two weeks before they got a telegram confirming his father’s death.
“Henry’s uncle was a friend of the 5th Duke of Wellington and arranged for Henry to be sent back to England.
“We believe that’s when he returned home to Oxburgh, with the chocolate, his helmet and a new title.”
As a gift from the Queen, many soldiers preserved their chocolate tins, with some posting them back home for safekeeping.
While some tins survive, few can be traced to their original recipient, and fewer still contain the chocolate more than 120 years later.
The items are not currently on display but the National Trust hopes to do so in future.