​Corona fizzy pop

​Corona fizzy pop

Until 2019, the name of this Welsh carbonated drink evoked only childhood innocence.

Older readers may recall that there was a time when we looked forward to a visit from Corona with relish rather than fear. When I was a kid, growing up in the 1950s, the crate-laden yellow-and-orange Corona pop lorry was a much-anticipated visitor to my West London suburban street. My Welsh parents shared in my enthusiasm, as they had spent their childhoods dashing out of their houses in South Wales to swap their empties for a fresh bottle of Dandelion and Burdock or American Cream Soda. Corona was one of the few exports from Wales that didn’t sing or disappear up the chimney in smoke.

The temperance movement, wishing to limit the consumption of alcohol, had grown ever more vocal in Wales during the 19th Century. Much of the country sat on Britain’s largest continuous deposit of coal and, since mining was thirsty work, drunkenness and alcoholism were major problems. Eventually, in 1881, the temperance campaigners won a major victory, forcing pubs to close on Sundays.

The following year William Evans started working for William Thomas in his butcher’s shop in the Monmouthshire village of Aberbeeg. Within a few years the pair had become business partners, opening a chain of grocery stores that included one in Porth, a village known as the gateway to the Rhondda. The appearance of a mysterious American proved to be a turning point for the Thomas and Evans grocery business. Described as ‘a seedy quack-doctor type’, he was apparently run out of Galveston, Texas, at gunpoint by an angry business partner and washed up in the Rhondda Valley claiming to ‘have the knowhow for making soft drinks’. Evans was impressed and sensed an opportunity to offer an alternative and less potent refresher to beer.

Evans convinced Thomas to lend him the money to set up a bottling plant in Porth and, after extensive research into production methods for carbonated beverages, opened The Welsh Hills Mineral Water Factory. Their hope that fizzy water and ginger beer might lure miners away from the real stuff failed, not surprisingly. Seeking a new market, they introduced more child-friendly flavours and started to tour the valleys, selling from horsedrawn wagons with great success. By 1900 they had more than 200 salesmen delivering Thomas & Evans’ Welsh Hills Soft Drinks across Wales, with each man working a 13-hour day and expected to make 250 deliveries.

The pop was originally sold in so-called Codd-neck bottles, patented by Hiram Codd in the early 1870s, in which a glass marble trapped in indentations in the bottle’s neck was forced against a rubber washer by the pressure of the carbon dioxide underneath. My dad and countless other kids enjoyed smashing these bottles to liberate the marble within and expand their collections. The marbles were superseded by swing-top stoppers, with a wire frame to lever a ceramic stopper with rubber gasket into the neck, presumably much to the disappointment of young marble fans.

By the 1920s Welsh Hills pop had become a national phenomenon and, having thought of a catchier title, Evans renamed the company Corona. Delivery lorries replaced horses and, by the outbreak of World War Two, with a further five Welsh factories up and running, the company was producing 170million bottles of pop a year, while also expanding sales and production into England.

The company’s success continued post-war but, as for so many other products, the rise of supermarkets saw the gradual end of home deliveries and the much-loved Corona man disappeared from the nation’s streets.

It didn’t spell the end for the drinks, though. A memorable TV ad campaign of the late ’70s and early ’80s featured animated bubbles in various escapades voiced over by a Sergeant Bilko sound-alike assuring us that ‘Every bubble’s passed its FIZZical’.

Then Corona was taken over by Britvic in 1987, and it closed the Porth factory. The fizz was seeping out of Corona and it finally went flat in the late 1990s.

The factory remains, however, and in 2000 was converted into a recording studio and music venue, which, in recognition of its history and an irresistible play on words, was named the Pop Factory. Appropriately, Tom Jones opened it by smashing a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock against a wall.

Until 2019, the name of this Welsh carbonated drink evoked only childhood innocence.

Left Corona delivery men were once a frequent sight, but supermarkets ended that.

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