Wigan’s Willy Wonka

Wigan has been famous for years for its rather special confectionary delights, Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls, celebrated in song, music hall jokes, and found on shelves in stores the length and breadth of the country, often presented to VIPs visiting the borough.

Andy (second left) with fellow confectioners on the programme.

Andy (second left) with fellow confectioners on the programme.

Now there is a new star on the Wigan confectionary scene, not Uncle Joe, or the Roald Dhal fictional character Willy Wonka, but Andy Baxendale, given that well known nickname by a Northwest Tonight presenter when he appeared on the programme showing off his prowess in making sweets.

Andy is a member of Ancient and Loyal Lodge of Installed Masters No 9762 and Ashton Trinity Chapter No 8821 in the Wigan group and also a member of Hardshaw Lodge No 8722 in St Helens. Andy is a prominent force behind transforming Skelmersdale Waterloo Chapter No 1380, which has been adopted into the Wigan Group, into a new bikers’ chapter, which will meet at Bryn Masonic Hall on two Saturday mornings in September and May. Andy is also the President of the Northwest Chapter of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association.

All well and good, but how does Andy come to get such fame as to be newsworthy enough to appear on prime-time television news? Well it all started some 23 years ago when he started to work at the Chewits factory in Southport and developed a passion for confectionary. Having worked for various manufacturers and built up his skills, he set up on my own in 2008. Originally manufacturing his own products, his skills were so in demand that consultancy eventually took over and became his core business.

Andy's further passion as President of the Northwest Chapter of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association.

Andy’s further passion as President of the Northwest Chapter of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association.

Hearing that the BBC were planning a programme looking at the history of confectionary, Andy applied to go on the show last October and after several interviews and auditions against some stiff competition he was successful.

Following the filming in January, The Sweet Makers was aired on BBC2 for three weeks, the final episode going out at the beginning of August. Andy and three other modern-day confectioners got to use original recipes to recreate Tudor and Georgian delicacies as well a Victorian sweet shop in the final episode.

The programme was a big hit, and since appearing Andy has been invited to give talks on radio shows on a number of radio stations including Lancashire, Manchester twice, Merseyside, Wish FM and Radio 4 on Saturday Live as one of the guests. There was also the BBC Northwest Tonight appearance that once again put Wigan on the confectionary map.

Andy, ever enthusiastic, reflects on an amazing experience. Such sweet success. He hopes the new Bikers Chapter at Bryn provides another sweet success that again puts Wigan on the map.

Andy (far left) with members of the new bikers’ chapter.

Andy (far left) with members of the new bikers’ chapter.