Made in Cheshire - The Cheshire Cracker Company
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 December 2015 | UPDATED: 10:19 16 December 2015
Crackers are not just for Christmas for Macclesfield's Jan Sleath. She's making a business from bespoke cracker creations, writes Heidi Nagaitis
One Cheshire woman is looking to create some seasonal sparkle through the humble Christmas cracker. ‘Nothing fills young and old alike with as much childish joy as pulling a Christmas cracker,’ says Jan Sleath, owner of the Cheshire Cracker Company, and all round cracker enthusiast.
Jan, a Macclesfield resident for 30 years, began her business venture over a year ago after falling ill. ‘I work for the Civil Aviation Authority and I had a couple of months off work to recover from an illness. I had to keep myself occupied while I rested, so I began researching various crafts and stumbled upon Christmas crackers.
‘The more I read about crackers, how they were made and the sentiments behind them, the more I wanted to make them. That Christmas my friends and family were treated to handmade crackers and the orders have been flying in ever since.’
Christmas crackers were originally created by London confectioner Tom Smith in 1850. He was looking for a way to sell unpopular bonbons, so while sitting in front of a crackling fire one evening, Tom decided that adding a spark to his sweets could be the answer. Thus the cracker was born.
Following in his footsteps, his sons began developing the cracker. They produced various themed crackers, including a design for bachelors and spinsters which, when pulled, offered false teeth and wedding rings to the unlucky recipient! Other ranges included crackers for suffragettes and soldiers.
‘The royal family has bespoke Christmas crackers made for them, so I think it’s about time we all enjoyed our Christmas crackers a little more. Even the luxury crackers you can buy have been made in China and the gifts inside always seem disappointing.
‘In the Victorian era, each dinner guest would have their own personalised cracker with a special gift in it which they could keep,’ said Jan.
‘We have definitely lost this sparkle from our Christmas dinner tables and I think it’s important we bring back that little luxury inside each cracker.’
It takes Jan up to an hour to construct a cracker and each of her designs is unique. ‘Any style of cracker, whether it’s round or square works well as long as it makes a statement at your table,’ she advised.
‘This year I have made around 300 crackers for friends, family and customers alike. It’s a long process, from choosing the style of the cracker, adding any extras and finishing with a present inside, but the crackers are treasured by my customers, which is incredibly satisfying.’
So what part of the cracker process is Jan’s favourite? ‘I love it when customers ask me to source the gifts inside each cracker. One lady was having a Christmas party with eight guests, she provided me with a list of each of their favourite pastimes and I spent time choosing little pieces which they could keep – she wanted every cracker to be a surprise.’
Crackers are not limited to 25th December for Jan, who has been busy throughout the year creating new designs for numerous celebrations.
‘Crackers make fantastic wedding favours. They work as place settings and can contain anything from sweet treats to tokens. I’ve made crackers for birthday parties, anniversaries and even networking events. Of all the events for which I’ve created crackers, one of my favourites must be for a wedding proposal.
‘I knew the gentleman was looking for an extra special way to ask for his partner’s hand, so I suggested a bespoke cracker with the engagement ring inside. It did the trick and they’re happily married now.
‘My best customers are probably my sons,’ said Jan. ‘Both are grown up and settled and regularly request crackers and shout about my designs to friends across the country.
‘I also have a number of regular customers who now feel it’s obligatory to have crackers at every one of their dinner parties – their guests have come to expect it!’
With such a busy year, has Jan found the time to prepare her family’s own crackers for their Christmas celebrations? ‘I’ve been so busy that they’ll be a last minute addition to the dinner table, but we will definitely be having homemade crackers.’