The History of Bettys

The story of Bettys begins in Switzerland in 1885, when Fritz Bützer, son of a miller and master baker was born near Bern. His mother died when he was just a baby and a few years Fritz and his older sister Ida were orphaned. While Ida was raised by relatives, Fritz was fostered to a local farmer who pledged to provide food and shelter and send him to school. In practice, he spent much of his childhood working as an unpaid farm labourer.

As soon as he was old enough, Fritz left his foster home. He trained as an assistant baker and then travelled around Switzerland and France learning to be a confectioner and chocolatier.

Then, in 1907 he decided to seek his fortune in England. By the time he arrived, he’d changed his name to Frederick Belmont and was a skilled chocolatier. He eventually settled in the spa town of Harrogate and in July 1919 the first Bettys opened for business.

This illustration of 'Lady Betty' dates from 1924 and became the inspiration for the Lady Betty Peppermint Creams chocolate box. It was not long before Bettys became well known in Yorkshire for its excellent service, elegant surroundings and delicate continental cakes.

During the 1920s Bettys expanded, opening a purpose-built bakery to supply new cafés in Bradford and Leeds. Bettys boasted ‘royal and distinguished patronage’, tempting customers with lavish window displays, live music from violin virtuosos, chic function rooms and catering services much in demand for wedding receptions and private parties. During the 19th century York had become the confectionary capital of Britain, as the home of Terry’s, Rowntree’s and Craven’s. Frederick decided to join them, opening premises directly opposite the long-established Terry’s café in St Helen’s Square.

Visitors to Bettys York today may be surprised to discover that during the Second World War it was famous for something other than tea and cake – its bar. A few years before war broke out, Frederick had managed to secure a liquor licence, opening a cocktail bar on the ground floor and a further bar in the basement. It was to prove a smart move and during the war years the bar – affectionately referred to as ‘The Dive’ – became popular among servicemen, many of them Canadian bomber boys, stationed at the airbases surrounding York.

In 1952 Frederick died and Victor Wild, his nephew, became Managing Director at just 29 years old. Over the next decade Victor stabilised the business and helped it adapt to the more experimental mood and changing tastes of the era.

Then, in 1962, an overheard conversation changed the business forever. Miss May Carter, the café manager in Harrogate, heard some businessmen discussing the fact that C. E. Taylors & Co – a Yorkshire based café chain and local tea and coffee merchants – was being put up for sale. Victor was tipped off, and very soon he made an offer of the asking price. Bettys became Bettys & Taylors.

The purchase enabled Bettys to open a new café in Ilkley, and in 1976 Taylors’ Café Imperial on Parliament Street in Harrogate became a Bettys Tea Rooms – a much needed larger premises for the business and the prized corner location that Frederick Belmont himself had coveted for many years.

If the founder, Frederick Belmont, walked into Bettys today, what would he think? The dainty fancies, smart interiors and continental-inspired menus should reassure him that the Swiss history continues to inform the present. In the Craft Bakery in Harrogate – a little corner of Switzerland in Yorkshire, he’d recognise the skills of the craftspeople who work there, who use the finest ingredients to create handcrafted treats. A visit to Bettys Cookery School would show him how Bettys share their skills and passion for cooking beyond with the rest of the world.

Always a man ahead of his time, he’d be delighted to discover that the mail order service he established in the 1920s is now sending treats to all four corners of the world.

More information on the history of Bettys and their mail order service can found online. 

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