MARY Hughes’ home is a special one.
She has lived at her Victorian semi on Fitzwalter Road in Norfolk Park for 36 years. Its walls have witnessed her children grow up and have children of their own and she’s still there, with her husband and their dogs.
But there’s another reason why it’s a special house – it was home to the Thorntons family, Britain’s most famous chocolatiers.
To mark its confectionary heritage the house has been awarded a blue plaque, the unveiling of which was attended by members of the Thorntons family and the Lord Mayor of Sheffield.
“Peter Thornton has been here twice and we get a lot of people coming as part of the heritage trail,” said Mary.
She had no idea about her home’s legacy until she received a visit from the Hallamshire Historic Building Society earlier this year.
“A man came to the door and said, ‘Can I talk to you about your house?’. I didn’t know what to expect!” said Mary.
That man was Tony Goff, chairman of the Hallamshire Historic Building Society.
“She had no idea her house was the Thornton House,” he told The Star. “She was surprised indeed.”
The Thorntons lived at Fitzwalter Street at the time of the 1911 census.
Records show there were five people living there at the time – Joseph Thornton, his wife Kate Elizabeth, his daughter Constance Kate Adelaide, a man named Frank Douglas and a servant girl called Bertha Bridges, aged 18.
“The house had servants’ quarters upstairs,” said Peter. “And when Mary and Howard Hughes were doing up the attic Mary found the servants’ names were still on the walls.”
It’s clear even today that the house was the home of a wealthy family.
Its wide hall opens onto a sizeable front room, a large square dining room and a huge kitchen. The cellars are complete with a range, sinks and even their own separate, entrance.
When the Thorntons lived there the Fitzwalter and Norfolk Park Road area was a very influential and wealthy neighbourhood.
“It was the Fulwood of its time,” said Peter. “And Joseph Thornton was a shrewd man – he knew he would do well to mix with these people.” Indeed, only a few yards away from the Thorntons’ home, lived the architect responsible for Midland Station, the Cholera monument and St Paul’s Church in Sheffield – now the site of the Peace Gardens.
And while 100 years have passed since the king of chocolate resided at Fitzwalter Road, Mary has worked hard to retain the original features of her home.
“These are original,” she says, pointing to the carefully crafted shutters, still intact as if they were made only yesterday.
“We do love this house. We have the original marble fireplace too – which we only discovered after spending hours stripping awful paint off it when we moved in.”
Occasionally, Mary stops to think about the intriguing history of her home.
“When I first found out I did think about it quite a lot – it is part of the history of the home. Every now and again it still crosses my mind.”
Mary is not the only Sheffielder with a blue-plaque adorned abode.
Carol Keen’s house in Nether Edge also has a story to tell. The stunning Victorian property was the final home of choral master Sir Henry Coward, who lived there from 1931 to 1944.
“Sometimes people say to me, ‘Do you ever imagine what people were wearing in your home?’,” says Carol.
“And sometimes I do. We used to have an attic with really tight stairs and I presume they were the servants’ quarters. I imagine this was a gentleman’s home too – it’s too small for a family.”
And while Carol’s home’s heritage is probably more obscure than that of Mary’s Fitzwalter Road house, its history is no less important.
Sir Henry Coward was an inspiring man.
Born in Liverpool in 1849, he moved to Sheffield after taking up an apprenticeship to a cutler, but all the while he educated himself to become a teacher and, eventually, a headteacher.
With a passion for music, he founded the Sheffield Musical Union – the legacy of which is heard today in Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, with which Coward’s Music Union merged in 1837.
In 1894 Coward became a doctor of music from The University of Oxford and then, three years later, was invited to oversee 60,000 schoolchildren gathered in Norfolk Park to entertain Queen Victoria.
Today – like Mary – Carol has retained much of the original dignity of her home, with beautiful wood-panelled window frames and shutters and even some of the original glass.
“My husband and I always walked past here on the way to work and would comment on how much we loved this house.
“And then it came on the market and we had to go for it. I can see us living here for a very long time.”