Thornton family home, Sheffield


Who hasn’t eaten a piece of Thornton’s Special Toffee or had a Thornton’s Continental chocolate or Cappuccino Egg melt on their tongue? All stories start somewhere and the Thornton’s story started in Sheffield in 1911 when travelling confectioner Joseph Thornton opened up a sweet shop. Could he know how successful it would be? No, not really as he carried on with his job and entrusted his 14-year-old son Norman with the running of the corner shop. He told him to “make this the best sweet shop in town” - and that’s what he did. Here I am at the home where Norman and his brother Stanley lived with their mum and dad.


Thanks to the inviting shop window displays and quality products it wasn’t long before Norman was opening a second shop and a small manufacturing base. After Joseph's death in 1919 the business was passed to the two sons. Norman ran the front end of the business while Stanley (who studied food science at Sheffield University) dealt with the manufacturing. They didn’t get on, argued regularly but both accepted the other was effective in their role. J. W. Thornton Limited was formed in 1921 and by the end of the Second World War the Thornton lads had 40 shops.


In 1988 the business was floated on the stock market and nowadays there are 500 retail shops (400 owned, the rest are franchises.) In 2015 it was bought by Italian chocolate company Ferroro for £112 million and has an annual turnover of approximately £200 million.


It all started here at 64, Fitzwalker Road, a suburban area south east of the city centre. I’m not sure how long the Thornton’s lived here as when they opened their second shop they moved there. They lived “overth’ shop” and worked in the basement, testing recipes, hand-dipping violet creams, hand-rolling sweets, boiling mint rock over a gas fire in the basement. Good to see where the empire started. I did a salute and left.