Ceramic moulds like this were used in processing sugar to form solid cones of sugar. Thousands of these pottery fragments have been discovered during excavations in Exeter and show the city’s role in transatlantic trade.
In the 1500s sugar was only available to very rich people. Sugar cane was grown in Mediterranean countries and the islands off West Africa, where enslaved Africans were used as labour. When Europeans began new plantations in the Americas and Caribbean they continued to use enslaved people and were able to produce much more sugar. This meant the cost went down, and by the 1600s ordinary people were enjoying sweet treats.
After 1700, sugar was in great demand as a sweetener for the new, fashionable drinks of tea and coffee. Booming sales and the use of enslaved labour allowed some sugar planters to become very rich and powerful. Plantation owners who returned to Britain could afford grand homes and promoted their commercial interests in Parliament.
Sugar was commonly sold in large blocks known as sugar loaves. But it could also be ground finely enough to be ‘cast’ over drinks and foodstuffs. Only the wealthy could afford this. These sugar casters show that some Exeter people had become very rich by the early 1700s.