They were once a lunchbox favourite for adults and kids alike. The chocolatey, sticky, loveliness of Wagon Wheels, which turn 70 this year, are now considered a retro classic.

The Wild West-themed treat is bound to bring back some memories when the Great British Bake Off contestants are tasked with making them for their first technical challenge.

But before cries of “they’re not very British” drown out Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, you might be interested to know that Wagon Wheels have a multi-cultural history.

‘Biggest chocolate biscuit bar’

Canadian-born business man Garry Weston, son of prominent businessman and former British MP Willard Garfield Weston, launched Wagon Wheels at the Olympia Food Fair in 1948 as the “biggest chocolate biscuit bar”.

His invention allegedly followed complaints from his factory staff that Associated British Foods – the company founded by his father – was not innovating enough. The bakers had been supplying soldiers during the war but after the conflict ended, demand was down.

So voila. Weston had the idea of sandwiching marshmallow between two biscuits and covering the whole thing in chocolate – crumbly, chewy and sweet, all in the right measures.

The treats also launched in Australia and Canada – where the Weston family business also operated – and are now sold around the world.

The Wild West

The biscuits’ name pertained to their spherical shape and sought to capitalise on the Wild West theme – as well as John Wayne’s Western films – which was popular at that time, according to reports.

John Wayne was known for his Westerns Picture: Hutton/Getty

Wagon Wheels were originally produced in a factory in Slough before the operation was moved to Llantarnam in south Wales. They are now produced by Burton’s Foods, which has parted ways with the Weston family.

The original recipe has evolved to branch off into a jammy version while some countries have newfangled concoctions including toffee, orange and caramel.

Some have strong opinions about the flavours. For much-loved presenter Eammon Holmes, only the jam-filled version can be considered proper Wagon Wheels.

He recently lamented being given the “cheap ones” – no jam – to try on This Morning.

Just this year, Burton’s launched a jammy teacake version of Wagon Wheels. Marketing director Mandy Bobrowski said the company was “introducing a modern twist to a traditional teacake, targeting value conscious consumers looking for a great-tasting, but slightly less filling treat that is ideal for sharing with friends and family”.

Controversy

Of course, like most well-loved treats, Wagon Wheels have been subject to controversy through the years. Concerns that they were shrinking in circumference while also getting fatter were raised by eagle-eyed fans in 2013.

Burtons’s Food has denied any size-related allegations. “They’ve never got smaller!! EVER – Our hands have just got bigger,” said a spokesperson.

Still, consumers seem to be able to put size issues to one side and wolf down 125 million Wagon Wheels in the UK every year.

And it seems that people will do anything they can to get their hands on Wagon Wheels. In June 2015, five men stole a trailer containing more than £12,000 worth of biscuits from Burton’s Foods, which also makes Jammie Dodgers.

We’re not exactly sure which biscuits were in the trailer but they were never to be seen again. All five men were jailed.

Maybe they can learn to make their own Wagon Wheels by watching GBBO?

• This article originally appeared on our sister site the inews

Let us know what you think

comments