Star Rock Shop is a Kirriemuir institution that shows no signs of fizzling out after a mere 188 years.
Established on The Roods in 1833 by David Ferguson, it is the oldest producing and continuously trading sweet shop in Scotland.
For the past three years it has been in the hands of Elizabeth Crossley-Davies, who is continuing the special town tradition.
“I am a custodian of the shop,” she says. “It’s been around a long time and it’s my job to look after it for the community so it continues.”
Star Rock Shop remains a regular staple for locals while continuing to attract tourists from far and wide.
Here we discover why it has such incredible staying power.
Recipe taught to each shop owner
Originally a mason from Brechin, David Ferguson created the sweet ‘Star Rock’ after an accident that left him near blinded.
This unchanged recipe was then handed down the generations and is taught to each new owner of the shop. It is still being made in the same small kitchen at the back of the shop as it was originally.
JM Barrie, best remembered as the creator of Peter Pan, was born in 1860 and would have called into the shop on the way home from school for a sweet treat. Kirrie youngsters continue to do the same to this present day.
During both World Wars men received boxes of Star Rock as a reminder of home. In 1919 Queen Mary and her daughter were presented with a gift of Star Rock while staying at Airlie Castle with the Dowager Countess.
‘Part of their history and their memories’
Elizabeth Crossley-Davies has lived in the Kirriemuir area since 2002 so knew the importance of Star Rock Shop when she took it over 16 years later.
Elizabeth, 49, was brought up in Warrington and is a trained chef and has a business degree.
“The longevity and growth of the shop is my main priority,” she says.
“All Star rock recipes are passed on with each new owner, I make them today in the kitchen at the back of the shop as they have always been done.
“The large gas rings are put to use every few days as fresh 4.3kg batches are made and pulled by hand then rolled and shaped.
“The traditional flavours are original lemon, butterscotch, cinnamon, clove, ginger, mint and horehound – our ‘medicinal’ wonder humbug.
“We also make tablet, treacle toffee and fudge – with a few more new additions on the way in time.
“We welcome everyone through our door, and love meeting new faces along with the regulars who have grown up with the shop.
“Many contact us who have known the Star Rock Shop of old, heard about it or visited on holiday.”
One of Elizabeth’s popular new additions has been ice cream from Stanley-based Stewart Tower Dairy.
During lockdown her team also delivered boxes of sweets through local letterboxes.
“I really enjoyed doing those deliveries,” she says. “It was lovely to see people at that time.
“After the most recent lockdown ended on April 26 people came in that week and said they were so pleased that we were open again.
“People are so supportive. This shop is a part of their history and their memories.”
Trip back in time
One of the reasons for Star Rock Shop’s enduring popularity is that it sells old-fashioned sweets that few of its rivals stock anymore.
Those wanting a trip down memory lane can purchase:
- Granny sookers (peppermint drops)
- Acid drops
- Toffee doodles (hard boiled sweets)
- Malaco watermelon slices (these are no longer made in the UK so have to be imported)
- Salted liquorice (imported from Europe)
- Pontefract cakes (type of liquorice sweets made in the UK)
- Iron Brew sweets (Star Rock has 14 different types including straws, humbugs, fizz, pastilles, lollipops, cubes, bonbons and chews. The name is spelt different to the AG Barr version due to copyright)
- Lucky tatties (cinnamon flavour fondant that used to occasionally contain small charms or toys)
The best sellers
‘Cornerstone of Kirriemuir’
Jonathan Smith, 45, has lived in Kirriemuir all of his life and works for local electrical retailer Colin M Smith.
Apple bonbons are his Star Rock favourite.
“I have known this shop all my life,” he says. “It’s magnificent and Liz is doing a great job.
“The range of different sweets you get is amazing and is one of those places you remember as a kid and also go in as an adult.
“This is a cornerstone of Kirriemuir and part of its heritage.”
The youngest member of the Jackson family can enjoy a weekly sweetie treat despite not eating dairy products.
Star Rock Shop has plenty of options for vegans and caters for those who desire or need a diet free of sugar or dairy.
It means that a trip to the shop is a real family occasion for Danny Jackson, 3, and his parents Alex, 33, and Penny, 38.
“It’s nicer to go into a sweetie shop than just a Co-op,” says Alex, who has been a Kirriemuir resident for the past four years.
“There is a great selection of sweets and ice cream, including dairy-free for our son.
“I grew up in Plymouth and lived in London and can’t remember anywhere that sells sweets like here. We come here once a week.
“When we got married in Piperdam in 2019 the shop did a couple of favours for us and they do sweetie boxes at Christmas that I send down to my family.
“A shop like this is almost unique to Kirriemuir and you couldn’t imagine it in bigger places.”
Learning as well as eating
Star Rock Shop is an educational resource as well as a gorging destination.
Pupils from Northmuir Primary School have enjoyed trips to the shop to see how rock and fudge are produced.
“It’s brilliant that they are so good with the kids,” says school teacher and Kirriemuir resident Rebecca Findlay, 28, who regularly takes her friend’s child Quinn Phillips, 4, to the shop.
“It reminds me of when I was a little girl when there were individual sweet shops where I grew up in Forfar.
“We get lollipops for Quinn as well as fizzy cola bottles. My favourite are the Iron Brew bottles.”
Sugar-free treats for diabetic George
Diabetes doesn’t stop George Mann from enjoying the sweet delights of the Star Rock Shop.
The Glenrothes man, 67, and his wife Annette are regular visitors to the Drumshademuir Caravan Park, on the A928 between Kirriemuir and Glamis.
Sugar-free options mean that trips to the caravan are intertwined with journeys to the sweet shop.
“The quality of the sweets is absolutely brilliant and you get so much variety,” says George, who is originally from Rutherglen, Glasgow. “I am diabetic but can get sugar-free aniseed and fruit salad.
“This traditional sweet shop reminds me of being a young lad, though what we used to get for threepence is more than we can get now!”
“Every time we come up to the caravan we go here,” says Annette, 65, who grew up in Inverness. “We also take sweets home for George’s friends.
“It takes me ages to pick something but I do like the chocolate crispies. I also like Oddfellows, which is a hard aromatic sweetie.
“I could be here all day spending a fortune!”
‘We go here for the experience’
Dionne Cruickshank ensures that Friday is treat day for her children – which means a trip to Star Rock Shop.
This is the day her daughter Lily, 3, laps up some sugar mice and her son Leo, 5, tucks into gummy pizza.
“We don’t have many sweetie shops like this left that you can get pick and mix,” says Dionne, 32, who lives near Forfar.
“It’s nice to support it. If not, you will lose it.
“They also have ice cream, which the children love, and I quite like the tablet.
“We go here for the experience and to give the children a memory they will always remember.”