Sheffield chocolate brand Thornton's was a sweet idea that grew and grew

The Chocolate Kabin on Rockingham Street
The Chocolate Kabin on Rockingham Street
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The death of a Sheffielder who was once the head of world-famous chocolate firm Thornton’s prompted some memories of the city’s famous Chocolate Kabin.

Peter Thornton, the grandson of Thornton’s founder Joseph William Thornton, died earlier this month from cancer.

Youngsters pressing their noses to the window of the Chocolate Kabin on Arundel Gate in December 1968

Youngsters pressing their noses to the window of the Chocolate Kabin on Arundel Gate in December 1968

Peter’s father Norman and uncle Stanley inherited the confectionery business, founded in 1911, when Joseph died in 1919.

The family’s interest in the company that became a massive brand ended with a bitter boardroom battle in the 1980s. The firm was eventually sold to the Italian makers of Ferrero Rocher three years ago.

Confectionery travelling salesman Joseph Thornton came up for the idea of the Chocolate Kabin that stood on the corner of Norfolk Street and Howard Street and within two years it became a big success.

Peter Thornton wrote a book, Thorntons: My Life In The Family Business, that described the firm’s beginnings.

“Everywhere, the city displayed its new prosperity. A traveller from out of town would be dazzled by the riot of colour at the annual Sheffield Fair, swept up by the noise and mingling crowds of the shoppers at Smithfield Market or tempted by the proliferation of goods on the High Street.

“Our traveller might then pass along Fargate with its small business and local grocery chains and be tempted by the rich aroma of roasting coffee from the machine in the window of Field’s, the tea and coffee merchants.

“After the large Yorkshire Penny Bank building and newspaper offices, he or she would come to the imposing Town Hall, built in 1890 at the top of Pinstone Street, with the Church of St Paul beyond it.”

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

Peter described the new store: “The walls were covered in fashionable cream anaglypta wallpaper. There was a beautifully-shaped glass case from which Kunzle cakes were served individually with tongs.

“These were small chocolate cakes manufactured by the Birmingham firm of Mr Christian Kunzle, a Swiss chef who had originally worked at the House of Commons in London.

“Trays of Mackintosh’s Toffee Deluxe were broken into pieces by assistants using toffee hammers and pincers and put into waxed bags on the brass weighing scales.”

Behind the counter there were mirrors from floor to ceiling, giving the shop a classy air and making it seem much bigger than it actually was.

A second store on The Moor quickly followed. Chocolates were made in a back room.

Peter’s dad Norman was taken out of school in Abbeydale aged 14 to run the new shop.

Production was eventually moved to a factory in Belper to cope with demand. By 1939 they had 35 shops.