An English Confection
"I don't really get fed up of the jokes because one has to be entertained. Some women are very frank, they say things like: "can I have a stick-on-a-cock". There's lots of double meanings." - Ray Whitehead¹
What is sticky when sucked, shaped like a cock, and keeps people happy for hours?
A: A cock-on-a-stick!
In Nottingham, the cock-on-a-stick is part of that group of confectionery known as a "sucker", as in a thing you suck, a lollipop. No-one quite knows how or when they originated, but there is some evidence that suggests they began as geese on sticks, in line with their popularity at the Goose Fair. Of course, the name, and the fact that it's is sucked upon, leads to many double entendres and ribald comments of a sexual nature, and that may be one of the reasons behind their continued popularity at the Fair.
The traditional way of making them is similar to that used to make rock, by boiling sugar and glucose together and then pulling the resulting mass out into ropes. Different colours are added and blended together, before the sweet is shaped and cut. Ray Whitehead (whose family has been making them since the end of the 19th century), creates quite elaborate hand-made cocks, which are recognisable as Roosters with heads, wattles and feathery tails, but other manufacturers make more simplistic "S" shapes, and in recent years, simpler moulded hard candy cocks have become more popular (possibly because they are easier and cheaper to make).
The end result is, however, the same. A large multicoloured lollipop, sold at stalls that advertise "Cocks on Sticks", to the delight of fairgoers throughout the ages. Searching on Google will show the range of sweets available, as well as many photos of the signs taken by tourists, of the "WTF‽" variety. Clearly, this makes a delightful impact on the unsuspecting. Doubtless the signs advertising "Small, Medium and Large Cocks" also adds to the smutty fun.
Alongside mushy peas, toffee apples, Bonfire toffee, brandy snaps and the ubiquitous chip cob, they have become a staple of Goose Fair, though I have been unable to determine if this is a local phenomenon, or widespread amongst the fairground community.
Of course, the more vulgar in our society have cursed the sweetmeat through crude references. A search turned up the inevitable Urban Dictionary definitions, which treat the phrase as a crude and base insult, equivalent to "dickhead", but coming from simpler and more innocent times, to me it will always be the sweet and sticky delight enjoyed on October nights in fair Nottingham. So, why not try cock yourself? You never know, you may become a convert.
¹ Interview with a manufacturer
More cocks on sticks