Is there anyone in the UK who hasn’t eaten chocolate made by Terry’s Of York (Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Terry’s All Gold.) You would think this real Willy Wonka master of a chocolate empire would have a bold well-kept grave wouldn’t you? I was sad to find it being unloved and unvisited.
Here I am in a maze-like graveyard just outside of the centre of York. I had gone in there to find the grave of a war hero but made the fortuitous mistake of going for a wee in some smelly ramshackle toilets. Exiting quickly I inhaled clean air and I saw an old man with a lawnmower. This was good luck - he was a volunteer who looked after the place and knew cemetery thoroughly. For fifteen minutes he led me around the place with a running commentary.
“Have you got enough time to do this?” I asked a few times.
“Yes I’ve nothing else to do,” he repeated a few times.
He led me to the war grave and I said I would return to it later to say a little prayer for the hero and asked if there were any other notable graves nearby. He took me two about three and almost missed the one of Sir Joseph Terry shown here. This man was the engine that took Terry’s Of York from a shop to a global colossus.
It all started from a sweet shop. His dad (Joseph senior) was an ordinary chap who set up a small chemist in York. Love lead him to chocolate - he married a lass whose uncle ran a sweet shop. He closed the chemist and set up business called Terry's of York. His education to become a chemist was not wasted though and he used his skills to develop new types of chocolate, sweets and marmalade. When Joseph senior retired in 1850 (and died soon after) control of the business to his three sons - Joseph junior, Robert and John. It was Joseph Jnr who is buried here and was the firebox that set the business aflame and expanded it hugely. He foresaw use of the rapidly-expanding railways system so he could get the company’s products across the whole country quickly. He set up 75 retail agencies to sell the chocolate in 75 settlements,
The York’s invested in a new site, a real Willy Wonka-style chocolate factory (known as “The Chocolate Works”): in 1926 they opened a sprawling art deco factory which employed thousands of people to satisfy the sweet tooth of the world’s population. Business boomed. In the World War II the factory was claimed by the government who needed big spaces to help the war effort. Chocolate production stopped and the manufacture of propellors began.
After the war it was back to business and Joseph was soon making the company a household name. Thousands of people in Yorkshire lived on the back of the chocolate business. Only York’s glass works had a bigger factory. The factory imported huge quantities of coco on boats from across the world to elbow Fry's, Cadbury's and Rowntree's out of the way.
Joseph married twice in his life, producing seven children, three sons from his first marriage and a son and three daughters from the second marriage. The latter become "Lady Terry" after Joseph was knighted aged 59 (they’re buried together.)
As his life orbited York it was fitting that he died there of a heart attack at the Royal Station Hotel five days after this seventieth birthday. He died of over exertion while trying to win a by-election to become Member of Parliament for the City of York.
As the York family died out so did their reins on the chocolate production. In 1975 the Terry’s Of York was bought by United Biscuits. They ran into financial troubles and sold to Kraft Foods. The Chocolate Works was closed by them in 2005 when production was moved to factories in Poland, Sweden, Belgium, and Slovakia.
As I walked round York cemetery I saw some graves were spruce, free of foliage and the surrounding grass mowed. The volunteer said people pay £40 a year for this maintenance service. This made me even more forlorn to see the grave of someone who had gifted so much to the city was neglected. You’d think the York family would have a sprawling plot for their dead clan, perhaps a mausoleum. It as though Joseph and the York’s never existed – his grave is forgotten and the site where the huge chocolate factory stood is now a bland residential and commercial development – whoopee.
Joseph took business from this…………………………………….to this…
If I hadn’t had lots of coffee and needed the toilet I may never have bumped into the volunteer who showed me Sir Terry’s grave.