Stanley Thornton grave (5th September 1903 to 27th February 1992)


The Thornton's chocolate empire started as a small sweet shop in Sheffield in 1911. Travelling confectioner Joseph Thornton opened up a sweet shop and asked his sons Stanley and Norman to “make this the best sweet shop in town.” It became a multi-million pound giant thanks to his sons. Here I am at the grave where Stanley's ashes are interred (I've haven't found out where Norman is yet.)


Joseph died in 1919 (Stanley was just 16) and never witnessed the real-life Willy Wonka Chocolate empire his sons built up over the next few decades. It was a glittering success story despite the friction created by their two personalities. Stanley was the younger one who studied food science at Sheffield University and went onto look after the manufacturing side of the company. Norman ran the glossier sales/front end of the business. Rather than split up they tolerated the other's strengths and rubbed along. By the end of World War Two the small company they'd created in their dad's name - J. W. Thornton Limited - had 40 profitable shops around the country.


As we all know the company profited profusely over the decades and was a glittering success. Stanley died aged 88 in Derby's Royal Infirmary hospital having lived in Derbyshire for decades. Life had been as happy as it had been successful - he married Jeanette and they had six children. The city of Derby thought this real-life Willy Wonka important enough to allow his funeral service to be carried out at the cathedral. His ashes are interred where I'm stood in Winster, an old village hidden in limestone hills and glorious countryside.


That Sunday evening I had the churchyard to myself. Centrally I found three decaying Thornton headstones. Stanley is between his wife and one of their daughters. Do the Winster natives know he's here? I'm not sure but there wasn't a single flower on the graves. The stones were tired and unadorned. He lived in the village so they must have known him (his home Thornton House is now 'luxury apartments' - oh no.) He did astoundingly well: four years before he died the company was floated on the stock market and exploded into the 500 retail shops we now know. In 2015 it was bought by Ferroro for £112 million. Blimey.


Time to go. I'd been walking and grave-hunting over Derbyshire that day and the flask and belly were almost empty. I looked at the grave one last time. It's a humble one bearing in mind the giant chocolate-drenched empire Stanley helped create. He was probably a humble man. I did a salute and left.