ASKED to think of a British chocolate shop, only one name would spring to mind: Thorntons.
But if you were asked where the famous toffee makers were from, you may be scratching your head.
In fact it was here, in the middle of Sheffield, on Norfolk Street, that Thorntons was founded.
And this year, the confectioners celebrate 100 years since the first shop was set up in the city centre.
Named the Chocolate Kabin, the shop was the brainchild of commercial traveller Joseph William Thornton, who worked for Sheffield’s Don Confectionary Company.
The original shop was a visual delight – shelf upon shelf of glass ‘knob-stoppered’ jars, reflected in mirrored walls, with neatly-bundled sweets and female shop assistants of a ‘very superior type’.
Joseph continued to work in his day job for the Don Confectionery Company while his 14-year-old son, Norman, took the reins at the shop.
And the store was a big success, raking in takings of £20 a week.
It was the ‘theatre’ of a visit to Thorntons which set the shop aside from its competitors.
Long-serving Thorntons employee Sue Stone said: “It was Joseph Thornton’s dream to set up a shop that was special, and he put his 14-year-old son in there to realise that dream for him.”
By 1913 the Thorntons empire had started to grow, and the family opened another store on The Moor.
Upstairs, above the shop, the family lived and, below stairs in the basement they made their own hard-boiled sweets.
Joseph Thornton died in 1919 but the firm survived.
Son Norman teamed up with his brother Stanley and the pair set up a limited company. Stanley took care of the technical side of chocolate, having been awarded a scholarship in food technology from The University of Sheffield, while Norman ran the business.
Stanley’s studying paid off – he developed Thorntons Special Toffee which became the firm’s best-selling product, accounting for more than a third of all sales.
The company soon branched out, opening a factory on Archer Lane and stores across the North and the Midlands.
By 1937 the Archer Road manufacturing was increased to double the size but a fter the war the council refused permission for the factory to extend further so the company relocated to Belper, Derbyshire.
Now, that same factory produces 380,000kg of sweet stuff each week at peak times.
The factory will have already produced around 25,000 kilos of chocolate in the last 12 hours.
Though it was Special Toffee which led to the rapid expansion of Thorntons – the reason the company shifted its HQ to Belper – staff are still aware of Thorntons’ Sheffield roots.
“When I started in 1984 we would have visits from Stanley Thornton himself – he’d come and talk to us all,” said Sue.
“And Sheffield is only down the road. When the plant transferred from Archer Road to Belper a lot of the staff went with it.
“Thorntons would run special buses to take staff from Sheffield to Belper, so they wouldn’t be out of pocket travelling the extra distance.”
Even today, the company has more shops in Sheffield – a total of six – than in any other UK city outside London. Thorntons also uses its Sheffield stores to test new chocolates on the public.
Sadly, as many of the former Sheffield workers have retired, the bus service runs no longer.
But Thorntons does arrange a weekly keep-fit class for all its staff, who acknowledge that in their line of work they do probably need it.
“We always have chocolate – that’s part of our job!” says Sue.