Thorntons shop closures like 'death of a childhood friend'

To many Sheffielders, 110-year-old chocolate maker Thorntons is like a family friend.

By David Walsh
Monday, 15th March 2021, 4:46 pm

​So news that it plans to permanently close all 61 stores - including on Fargate - putting 603 jobs at risk, feels like a personal blow to many.

Star reader LizzyBee summed it up well: “Sad news. Feels like losing a childhood friend.”

At its height, the firm employed 4,500 at more than 370 high street shops and 229 franchise counters across the country.

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Thorntons Chocolate Kabin, Arundel Gate, Sheffield in December 1968.

But one of Sheffield’s best known brands ​is now set to ​disappear from the High Street and exist online only.

Pat Waistnidge said: “I remember taking my kids to the chocolate factory when it was in Sheffield. I had written to ask if we could meet the Oompa Loompas at the factory.

“It was a great experience. Thornton's toffee is the best. The cherry nougat was my craving 51 years ago during pregnancy.”

Paul Whitehouse added: “This is very sad for all affected, but also because Thorntons allowed for a whiff of the exotic when 1970s Mother’s Days would have otherwise been dominated by Milk Tray​.​”

Thorntons began in Sheffield in 1911; a business started by Joseph William Thornton who opened the company’s first shop at 159 Norfolk St in Sheffield with Peter’s father Norman Thornton as the manager at the age of 15.

​The company ​was founded by Joseph Thornton in 1911, selling homemade sweets from a shop, the Chocolate Kabin, at 159 Norfolk Street, Sheffield.

He carried on with his day job and entrusted his 14‐year‐old son Norman, who was taken out of school in Ab​b​eydale​, ​to manage the shop.

Norman brought in brother Stanley and they came up with sweet treats including ‘Violet Cachous’, ‘Sweet Lips’ and ‘Phul-Nanas’.

By the 1920s they were making chocolate truffles, crystallised fondants and their famous Thorntons special toffee.

Chocolate shoes pictured with Sharon Morley, Thorntons Store Manager, Meadowhall as part of the Fit Feet campaign

The company expanded across the country but remained in family ownership, with grandson Anthony (Tony) and then Peter serving as chairman.

Peter wrote a book, ​'​Thorntons: My Life In The Family Business​'​ which described how Joseph, a confectionary travelling salesman, had the idea on a visit to Sheffield.

He wrote: ‘Everywhere, the city displayed its new prosperity. A traveller from out of town would be dazzled by the riot of color at the annual Sheffield Fair, swept up by the noise and mingling crowds of the shoppers and proliferation of goods on the High Street.’

Joseph rightly judged that high-class confectionary would go down well with this clientele.

Jackie Fletcher worked in the Thorntons shop inside the Frenchgate centre, Doncaster, in 2000.

A second store on The Moor quickly followed. Chocolates were made in a back room. Production was moved to Archer Road in Sheffield and then to a converted former Rolls-Royce warehouse in Belper to cope with demand and by 1939 they had 35 shops.

Tony Thornton joined his father and uncle in the family company shortly after completing National Service in 1950.

He developed the boiled sweets department at the new factory. Later, he took over responsibility for retail and marketing from his father. He became known for his remarkable moving window displays using concealed motors and magnets to move massive chocolate rabbits, Easter eggs and Father Christmases to catch the attention of the passing public.

He became chairman of Thorntons in the 1970s. By the time he retired in 1984, the company had more than 150 shops and 70 franchise outlets.

Tony Thornton died last month, aged 91.

Peter Thornton joined the company in 1953 and had a long and distinguished career lasting nearly 40 years.

JW Thornton Ltd became Thorntons PLC with its stock market flotation in 1988 and Peter left to pursue alternative business interests.

By 2011 the company had 370 high street shops and 229 franchise counters - but business was in decline and it announced plans to close up to 180 stores.

Ferrero International bought the company in 2015 for £110m and invested £40m in manufacturing, retail, e-commerce. Today there are 61 stores ​but all​ are​ set to go.

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.