Martin Wainwright 

Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls find literary fame

Novelist who made the Costa award shortlist brings the 'fiendish northern sweets' into her plot
  
  

After yesterday's news in the Guardian Northerner of the Bowes museum inspiring Booker prizewinner Peter Carey, here is a similar literary accolade for Wigan.

Not quite so exalted, maybe, but tonight the novelist Louisa Young whose My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You was shortlisted for last year's Costa awards, gives a talk at the Leigh and Wigan Words literary festival.

Wigan has an undying claim to fame via its place in the title of George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, and it also attracted the best-selling American thriller writer Martin Cruz Smith to shift from Russia – Gorky Park et al – to Lancashire for his 1995 novel Rose.

Young's tribute to it is smaller but more specific: the First World War scenes of her story include Gunner Jack Ainsworth cheering up frightened younger colleagues by handing round Wigan's most famous sweets. "Uncle Joe's Mint Balls - they keep you all aglow," he says, quoting the company's never-changing slogan. "You just keep sucking on Uncle Joe's balls lads and you'll be alright."

Gunner Ainsworth was a real-life serviceman, great-grandfather to Young's late partner Robert Lockhart, the composer born in Wigan who died in January. The book draws on many other local strands of history as well as a genuine fondness by its author for what are described in the text as 'fiendish northern sweets.' Young's visit today includes a tour of the small but highly productive factory in the town centre which keeps pumping the little round balls of minty energy out.

She says:

I am really looking forward to it. I absolutely love Uncle Joe's Mint Balls and have done for years.

John Winnard, joint managing director of Uncle Joe's family firm William Santus which started production in 1898, says:

There is so much history to our company. We know supplies of sweets were sent to the Front during the War by my great-great uncle, as well as by local Wigan families. The mint balls were initially produced in the back kitchen at home but during the Great War would have been made in the original lock-up the family had at Swinley.

You can watch a Guardian Northerner slideshow about Uncle Joe's here.

 

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