Christmas Crackers

Finsbury Square showing Tom Smith Statue
Tom Smith Statue Finsbury Square, Geograph David Hallam-Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0

Crackers invented in Finsbury

As Christmas approaches and we start to prepare for the festival season, putting up the tree and decorations, buying the presents and starting to think just how big that turkey will be!  Have you ever thought about those essential Christmas Crackers – where for a few days a year we laugh and the silliest of jokes, whilst wearing silly hats, and marvel at that little gift inside?

The idea started in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell and was the brainchild of a local confectioner called Thomas Smith.  This is commemorated today with a water fountain located in a quiet corner of Finsbury Square.  The fountain was erected by Toms son, Walter Smith in memory of his mother, Mary, and to commemorate the life of the man who invented the great British Cracker. If you do get chance to visit take a look at the top of the fountain you see what appears to be a possible Christmas Cracker.

When the Cracker was first invented it was not just for Christmas, but also to celebrate every major occasion from The Paris Exhibition in 1900 to War Heroes in 1918 and The World Tour in 1926 of Prince Edward, The Prince of Wales, Charlie Chaplin, The Wireless, Motoring, The Coronation and even the Channel Tunnel in 1914. Exclusive crackers were made for members of the Royal Family and are to this day.


  • 1823 Thomas Smith was born in Newington, then in Surrey, the son of Thomas Bruce Smith a grocer.
  • 1830 Tom Smith started work as a boy in a bakers and confectioners shop in London. His main interest was in the wedding cake decorations
  • 1840 he started his own business in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell
  • 1847 Tom Smith invented the cracker. In it’s simple form a cracker is a small cardboard tube covered in a brightly coloured twist of paper, containing a ‘bon bon’ or sugar wrapped almost
  • Early 1850’s mottos were added – these were in those days really just love poems
  • 1869 Tom Smith died at his home at 320 City Road aged 46 from stomach cancer and is buried in Highgate Cemetery
  • 1911: On March 23rd, Tom Smith was granted Queen Mary’s Royal Warrant as manufacturers of Christmas Crackers.
  • 1938 This warrant was renewed and held by Tom Smith until her death in 1953.
  • 1964: On January 1st, the Queen Elizabeth II was granted and this is still held today.
  • 1975: On March 10th, the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother warrant was granted and was held until the Queen Mother passed away in 2002.
  • 1987: On January 1st. The Prince of Wales Warrant was granted. Tom Smith still proudly hold the honour of producing special crackers each year for the Royal Household although designs and contents are a closely guarded secret.

·         I am sure it will receive the Warrant by our now King Charles III


  • Tom Smith opened a confectionary shop in Goswell Rd around 1840. During a trip to Paris, he was inspired by the French-style bon-bons, little sweets with twisted ends – decided to use to market his ‘bon bons’ as sales falling
  • Smith decided to scale up the packaging, fill the cavity with mottos, love messages, jokes and novelty gifts, and eventually to evict the sweet. The enclosure of a fun-sized explosive completed the appeal, and Smith took out a patent in 1847. Marketed as cossaques, the public soon dubbed them crackers.
  • Tom died in 1869, the business was carried on by his sons Walter, Martin and Tom. It is Walter you can blame for those flimsy paper crowns we still enjoy to this day
  • The company moved to near Finsbury Square until 1953.
  • In March 1889 when a fire broke out in the factory. Two buildings were gutted. Damage was estimated in the thousands of pounds. Can you imagine all those bangs from the crackers!
  • Employed 2,000 people, including 400 female hands. Claimed that its staff were happy and contented, unlike their compatriots in the East End match factories, who had recently gone on strike over working conditions.
  • The factory was producing 112,000 boxes of crackers in a year-round operation to build up stock for Christmas, but also to make crackers for other occasions.
  • As the dedication shows, it was commissioned by the cracker scions Tom and Walter to commemorate their mother Martha, wife of the original Tom Smith who gave the world its seasonal bang.
  •  In 1927 there is a great story of an order for a six foot cracker to decorate Euston Station. A gentleman wrote to the Company enclosing a diamond engagement ring and 10 shilling note as payment for the ring to be put in a special cracker for his fiancee. Unfortunately he did not enclose an address and never contacted the Company again; the ring, letter and 10 shilling note are still in the safe today.
  • The company is still trading today, abandoned the Finsbury in the 1950s. The fountain is a last, reminder of the area’s links to Christmas.
  • As the demand for crackers increased, Tom Smith merged with Caley Crackers in 1953 taking over their headquarters and factory in Norwich, East Anglia.

Quirky facts and World ‘Cracker’ records

  • The longest Christmas cracker pulling chain consists of 1081 people and was achieved by Harrodian School (UK) in Barnes on 10 December 2015
  • World Record for the most Christmas crackers pulled by an individual in 30 seconds is 41 and was achieved by Joel Corry (UK), at Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball on 12 December 2021.
    The record was achieved behind the scenes of the Jingle Bell Ball at the o2 Arena, London.
  • The world’s longest Christmas cracker measured 63.1 m (207 ft) long and 4 m (13 ft) in diameter and was made by the parents of children at Ley Hill School and Pre-School, Chesham, Buckinghamshire, on 20 December 2001
  • Airlines and packing Christmas Crackers.  Another ‘quirky fact’ is that not all airlines will allow you to take Christmas Crackers away with you.  If you are thinking of taking packing some, first check the airline and do make sure they are sealed!


I will leave you with 10 of the top 50 Christmas Cracker jokes (according to the Telegraph) and wish you a very Merry Christmas and New Year

1. What do angry mice send to each other at Christmas? Cross Mouse Cards

2. What do they sing at a snowman’s birthday party?  Freeze a jolly good fellow

3. Why does Santa have three gardens?  So he can ‘ho ho ho’

4. What does Miley Cyrus have at Christmas? Twerky

5. Knock, knock Who’s there?  Arthur…  Arthur who?  Arthur any mince pies left?

6. What do vampires sing on New Year’s Eve?  Auld Fang Syne

7. Why did Santa’s helper see the doctor? Because he had low elf esteem

8. What happened to the man who stole an Advent Calendar? He got 25 days

9. What kind of motorbike does Santa ride?  A Holly Davidson

10. What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? A Christmas quacker

Recommended websites

For more information, and tours of the area, contact Chris Burton of First and Quirky London Walks  [email protected]. You can also join her mailing list at  First and Quirky London Walks (