When you talk to long-standing residents who remember Clottu’s chocolates, a misty look will come over their eyes and a dreamy quality comes into their voices as they remember the taste of those chocolates.
They were handmade chocolates of the highest quality with delicious fillings. You would buy them by the quarter pound as a special treat to be savoured and would come out of the shop carefully clutching a drawstring bag with the word Clottu in deep brown emblazoned on the front. They were the kind of chocolates that your mother bought as a weekend treat, or that grandma would buy and keep for herself as they were too expensive to waste on children.
The creator of these wondrous confections was Hermann Achille Clottu, who was born in Switzerland in 1881. The original family came from the Alsace region of France and date back to 1572. Hermann was the son of Emile and Adele, and the grandson of Achille. Both his grandfather and father were renowned landscape artists. However, Hermann was destined to become an artist of quite another sort, not in paint but in patisserie and chocolate.
Hermann was a master chef and pastry cook who came to London in 1916 to work in a prestigious hotel. Whilst there, he was borrowed by Windsor Castle for two weeks, which is where he met Queen Alexandra. As French was both their native language they had many conversations and meetings and he even named one of his most popular chocolates after her. The Alexandra Cream had a rich chocolate filling and was covered in dark chocolate.
Whilst in London Hermann met his wife Violet Charity Beck, and they were married in Hammersmith in 1921. He soon left London for Southport, where in partnership with Matti and Tissot he established two shops and began making chocolates. Every morning a tray of hand-dipped chocolates was set close to the window to cool, and it was noticed that the end chocolate nearest to the street kept disappearing. They discovered that a schoolboy, whose hand could only just reach the sill, was removing the delicacy on his way to school. A special chocolate was then prepared and left tantalisingly at the end, and was claimed the next morning. However, it was actually a cockroach cunningly covered in chocolate that the boy took. It is no surprise that the chocolates never disappeared after that.
The partnership with Matti and Tissot was dissolved in 1923 when they opened their famous tea shops in Southport. Hermann moved to Blackpool where he first opened a shop on Bond Street, and then a small one on Church Street a few doors away from the Grand Theatre. This one soon closed and he emerged on Corporation Street, before opening his most famous shop ten years later at 48 Whitegate Drive. Clottu’s also supplied the Savoy Hotel and had a stand in the Winter Gardens where theatre-goers could purchase their chocolates.
Only the best Lindt chocolate was used to create Clottu’s, and huge slabs were sent over from Switzerland. Everyone knew when it was tempering day, as the smell of the warm chocolate filled Whitegate Drive. There were numerous schools on the drive and the children would press their noses at the big bow windows in the afternoon and drool over the hand-made and hand-decorated chocolates. It was possible to buy sixpenny bags of broken pieces and honeycomb, which was worth saving your pocket money for.
Hermann was renowned for his window displays at Christmas and Easter. The Christmas window produced baubles and mini decorated trees and candy sticks. The Easter eggs ranged in size from one a child could hold in their hand, to a magnificent centre piece that was the size of a small child. One young lady whose sixth birthday was after Easter was thrilled when her father came home with one, which opened to reveal a rabbit warren with doors, windows, steps and numerous small bunnies. She remembers that it was almost the same size as she was, and it took until Christmas to eat it all.
There was also a tradition to place items inside the eggs, as they were hollow inside. Gentlemen and husbands would come into the shop with their items to be enclosed in their eggs including little gifts, dozens of pairs of knickers and bras and packets of condoms. One customer would have had a surprise gift inside, as one of the assistants lost her diamond ring whilst making the chocolate and it was believed to have ended up in an Easter egg. The ring was never returned.
As so many eggs were needed for Easter they would begin making them just after Christmas when the shops were quiet, and store them until they were needed. This went very well until disaster struck one year when they were taken from the store, and it was discovered that mice had found their way in and spent the spring months nibbling their way through them. Every item had to be thrown away and they had to start all over again.
Both of Hermann’s daughters Marie and Violette sang in the local choir, and sometimes at the end of the rehearsal Violette would produce a little box of chocolates for her friends. This was the only time some people ever ate them. His grandchildren loved to visit grandpa in the basement where the chocolates were made, until the fateful day the twins John and Jane came both very well dressed in little white fur jackets and John managed to fall into the chocolate. Whilst it was a disaster for the jacket, many bits of fur had also come loose and the whole mix had to be thrown away.
I have been trying to discover the favourite flavours of those who were lucky enough to try Clottu’s. High on the list are the rose creams, violet creams, coffee creams and orange creams. These are followed by butterscotch, marzipan, walnut, Alexandra, nougat, truffle, vanilla, honeycomb and caramel.
Two of the more favoured chocolates cannot be named, as one in particular is a naughty French word. As French was Hermann’s native language, he knew exactly what it meant and I’m sure he would have a little giggle when the chocolates were asked for. I have been told that he could be quite naughty at times.
Sadly Hermann died in 1968 aged 87. He was still making chocolates up until a week before his death, an artist to the end. The family carried on the shops until the 1970s.