The name Thorntons is now generally associated with chocolates, but for over a century in Oakham at least it was associated with plumbing and decoration.
The origins of this business can be traced back to the late 18th century when John Dain, a plumber, was operating his business in Oakham. After three generations of the Dain family at the helm the family no longer had a natural successor, so from January 1859 the business was operated by Thomas Thornton.
Thornton was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire in 1816, the son of a grocer. By 1841 he had settled in Oakham, with his new wife Sarah, and was employed as a glazier, probably by George Dain, eventually becoming foreman and then running the business.
Thomas died suddenly in 1877 and his widow Sarah continued to control it with the aid of her eldest sons who were both plumbers and glaziers. However, two years later she relinquished the business to Thomas Edward and Charles Thornton and it was at this point that the business became Thornton Bros.
Thornton Bros carried out all types of domestic and commercial plumbing, glazing and decorating work. They even undertook complete building projects. One such was the demolition and erection of the new garage for the Oakham fire engine in 1893. The new building, with workshops above, was located in Mill Street, (subsequently being the Salvation Army building and currently Elizabeth Stanhope interior design). In 1873 the Oakham fire engine (hand pump) was under the superintendence of Mr Thornton and later many of the firemen were plumbers employed by Thornton Bros.
Other projects included the renovation of the Wesleyan Chapel and schoolroom (1890); installing and maintaining street lighting; The new Post Office in Oakham High Street (1893- built by Hollis of Cottesmore with plumbing, glazing and decorating by Thornton Bros.); relaying the water supply pipes in the west end of Oakham (1895); painting of street names in Oakham (1898); laying water pipes to provide water supply to Cottesmore (1913); a new village pump for Langham (1899) and in 1900 they won the contract for painting the “infectious hospital” at the Oakham Union Workhouse.
Thorntons were also contracted on a regular basis by All Saints church. They installed the new heating system in 1922 and restored the leadwork on the church roof in 1929
They seem to have been continuously busy and regularly advertising for staff in the Stamford Mercury. However, during WW1, following the introduction of conscription they struggled to retain and recruit employees. There are several instances of their presence at the Oakham Urban Tribunals where they defended the right to retain employees who had been called up.
Thomas Edward and Charles Thornton continued to run the family firm for many decades after they inherited it in 1877. Thomas passed away in 1909 but his sons Charles Henry and John E Thornton had already been groomed to fill the void. Their uncle Charles lived until 1937 but had no sons. When these two Thornton Brothers died in 1929 (John E) and 1932 ( Charles Henry) their sons Henry Russ Thornton and John T Thornton took control of the business.
In later years – post WW2 – they started to sell DIY supplies for plumbing and decorating.
Henry Russ Thornton, who usually went by the name of Russ Thornton (not short for Russell but his mother’s maiden name) lived at 15 Mill Street. Russ Thornton did various jobs for the Museum, including re-gilding and re-lettering of some of the Castle horseshoes as part of the work in 1980 on the Great Hall and its horseshoes for its 800th anniversary. After his death in 1989 the property and land behind was bought and developed as The Maltings shopping area. Number 15 had been the Thornton family home for many generations.
After the business closed in the 1980s the Rutland County Museum purchased a considerable amount of Thornton’s items when they were auctioned in 1987.
Thornton’s information provided by Jayne Williams. Additional information by Tim Clough (RLHRS)