Belper memorial service to honour former Thorntons chocolate magnate

Peter Thornton, a member of the family who established the Thorntons chocolate empire, has died at the age of 85.
Peter Thornton, a member of the family who established the Thorntons chocolate empire, has died at the age of 85.

Friends and family said farewell to a scion of the Thorntons chocolate empire this week, after decades of contributing to life in Belper via the confectioner’s Derwent Street factory.

The funeral for Peter Thornton was held in Woodbury, Devon, on Tuesday, June 26, following his death at the age of 85 earlier this month after a short spell with cancer.

The former Thorntons factory on Derwent Street, Belper.

The former Thorntons factory on Derwent Street, Belper.

His cousin, Michael Thornton, said: “We have lost a great man - husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend. We will all miss him.”

Peter and his siblings, Tony, John and sister Gill, were born in Sheffield.

His father Norman and uncle Stanley worked in the family confectionary business started by their father Joseph William Thornton in 1911.

In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, Stanley moved his young family to Winster, between Matlock and Bakewell, and Norman and his wife Muriel followed in the hope of protection from bombing raids.

Peter’s education began at Birkdale School in Sheffield, where he received frequent praise as being particularly bright boy, then continued at Repton, south of Derby.

University was not the norm for most young people, and Peter enjoyed two years National Service instead, leading to a call-up into the Royal Signals then service with the Gurkha Signal Regiment in the jungle trenches of the conflict in Malaya.

He returned home on the Empire Windrush, and served in the Territorial Army for many years, eventually earning promotion to the rank of major.

Peter was formally taken on to the staff of the family business on £5 per week in 1953, having first completed a course in chocolate and sugar confectionary at the Borough Polytechnic in London.

It was the start of a long and distinguished career with the company, lasting nearly 40 years.

While at Thorntons, in 1985, Peter was invited to be president of the Confectioners Benevolent Fund — affectionately known as the ‘sweet charity’ —which was established in 1918 to help past and present confectionery industry workers in need of financial support or advice.

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

His entrepreneurial spirit never waned and, almost up to the time of his death, Peter worked on his business producing special medical stockings to prevent skin tears from which he himself suffered.

He also found time to pursue his hobbies and passions such as opera and sailing.

Peter’s joined the board of directors of Buxton Opera Festival in 1986, and made a significant personal contribution to the festival in 1991, becoming an honorary life patron the following year.

He and his siblings enjoyed summers in the Welsh village of Abersoch, where their parents had a holiday home, and the family spent much of their time on the Irish Sea. Peter and his brothers graduated from basic dinghies to become expert in 505s.

In the early 1990s, Peter also fulfilled a long-held ambition to qualify as a helicopter pilot flying a Robinson R22 and later a Jet Ranger, venturing off on exciting trips flying around the UK and Europe.

He is survived by three children from his first wife – Sarah, Sam and Miles – and two from his third marriage to Julia – Rebecca and William.

A public memorial service is to be held at Christ Church, on Bridge Street, Belper, on Wednesday, July 4, starting at 11am followed by refreshments at The Lion Hotel.

Peter’s family request no floral tributes. Donations can instead by directed to the Force Cancer Charity, which supports patients at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital. See forcecancercharity.co.uk for more information.