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THORNE, Edwin (1837-1914) - Quaker and Confectioner

Edwin Thorne appears in the Wickhamford records in the census of 1911 when he lived on Pitchers Hill. He was then 73 years of age, but still working, as a ‘Life insurance Agent’, and his wife Maria was 71. Also living with them was a son, Arthur Edwin, aged 34, who was a ‘Market Gardener and Fruit Grower’. The house they lived in is now numbered 97 Pitchers Hill, towards the village boundary with Broadway. A long obituary for Edwin Thorne was written for the Quaker Published Memorial 1818-1919 and the information given there together with references to him and his family in the censuses of 1841-1911 form the basis for this article.

Early Life

Edwin Thorne was born in Leeds in late 1837, a son of James and Mary Thorne. James had been born in Broomfield, Essex on 18th June 1806, to Samuel and Mary Thorne. In the 1841 census, James Thorne was a grocer who lived with his wife, Mary, in North Street, Leeds. The only other resident in the household was an Elizabeth Nunns. Young , aged 3, together with his elder siblings, Henry aged 5 and Eliza aged 7 were living in a Nunns household in Bardsey, Tadcaster, 5 miles from Leeds. More details of the Thorne family are revealed in the 1851 census. James Thorne (44) was a ‘Tea Dealer and Grocer’ and he lived at 111 North Street, Leeds together with his wife Mary Ann (46) and children, Eliza (16), James Henry (15) and Mary Jane (10). Edwin Thorne was not present at home and was living at his school, the Quaker run Ackworth School, Hemsworth, a few miles South-East of Leeds. According to his obituary, it was here that some friendships were formed that lasted throughout his life.

On leaving school, he entered into the business of cocoa manufacture, at Leeds, carried on by his uncle, and at a very early age had much responsibility thrown upon his shoulders. In the 1861 census, the Thorne family were still in North Street but at number 28. Edwin was living with his parents and three siblings and, aged 23, was a ‘Clerk to Cocoa Manufactory’. He was actively interested in the work of the Quakers, or Friends, in Leeds and connected with the Friends’ First Day Schools from their start.

Henry Thorne & Co factory in Leeds


Edwin Thorne married Maria Bleckley Dell in Esher, Surrey, in 1867, and continued to live in Leeds until 1876.  Edwin's parents both died in Leeds in 1867 - Mary Ann Thorne on 14th October and James Thorne soon afterwards, on 21st December. At the 1871 census, Edwin and Maria were living in Grove Terrace, Leeds – he was 33 and she 31 and they had an eleven-month-old son, Alfred Bleckley Thorne. (The 1911 census in Wickhamford shows that they had six children, but one had died by that time. A son, William Edwin, had been born in Leeds in mid-1868 but had died before the end of that year.) The occupation of Edwin in the 1871 census was given as ‘Cocoa, Chicory and mustard manufacturer employing 10 men, 4 women, 5 boys and 8 girls’. There was a long-established confectionery business in Leeds at this time called Henry Thorne & Co. and this may be where Edwin was working in 1861, but it seems that he was running his own small business by 1871. (A ‘Leeds General and Commercial Directory’ in 1839 had listed this company but also listed James Thorne, Grocer and tea dealer (Edwin’s father) and Charles Thorne, also a grocer and tea dealer.)

The London Gazette of 17th February 1874 referred to Henry Thorne & Co Ltd of Leeds with an announcement that the partnership between Edwin Thorne, Henry Marshall Thorne, Peter Pearson, Francis Joseph Thorne and Edwin Rowley was dissolved on 1st January 1874. company was then immediately reformed with the same people, apart from Peter Pearson.

Move to London

In 1876 the family moved to London for business reasons, by which time the couple had another son, Theodore Herbert, who had been born in 1873. It was at this time that Edwin Thorne became involved with the Friends’ Monthly Meeting at Southwark and was recorded as a minister in about 1895. Adult School work had always appealed to him and he was instrumental in starting and maintaining schools at Stratford, East London and Deptford. At the 1881 census the Thorne family lived at Woodland Villa, Church End, Woodford, Essex, but Edwin was away on census night. Maria was there with four children, Alfred (10), Theodore (8), Arthur (4) and Edith (3). The latter two had been born in Islington in 1876 and 1877. For the night of this census, Edwin was staying with relative in Guernsey. He was at the house of Francis J. Thorne and his wife Emily – Normanville Cottage, 23 Fosse Andry, St Peter Port. Francis Thorne’s occupation was given as ‘Chicory & Coffee Manufacturer’ and he had been born in Leeds. Edwin’s occupation was originally entered on the census form as ‘Cocoa Manufacturer’, but a different hand has entered ‘Chocolate’ between those words.

For the 1891 census, the Thornes were living at Burnham Villa, East Combe, Greenwich, with two servants. Edwin’s occupation was given as ‘Commercial Traveller, Flour’, so it may be that he has severed his links with the family business. Ten years later, in 1901, the family were at 161 Westcombe Hill, Greenwich, with one servant and Edwin had the same occupation.

Move to Wickhamford

Edwin and Maria Thorne moved to Wickhamford in 1908 and soon became involved with the local Friends. The reason for his move to Worcestershire is uncertain, but it was probably to be near to his son, Arthur Thorne. In 1901, his son was already living in the village, lodging with Edward Pethard’s family on Pitchers Hill and market gardening on his own account. (The census return records his name erroneously as Arthur ‘Edward’ Thorne.)

Although living two miles from the Meeting House at Badsey he would walk to it from Wickhamford twice every Sunday to be present at the Meeting for Worship in the morning and the Adult School in the afternoon. During the last year of his life, due to failing health, he only made the journey once every Sunday. He would also visit the Meeting Houses in Evesham and Littleton. Edwin was also greatly devoted to weekday Bible Class, but his attendance must have been in trying circumstances, as he had defective eyesight by this time. In 1910, Badsey was made into a ‘Preparative Meeting’ and Edwin accepted the difficult position of Clerk. This involved business arrangements and giving encouragement of the Friends. He bore his eye trouble very patiently in his later years and entered the Cottage Hospital in Evesham where it was found necessary to remove an eye. This was done at the London Hospital and Edwin returned to Wickhamford in November 1913. He appeared to recuperate and he paid a visit to his son, Theodore, in Duffield, Derbyshire at Christmas. However, the extremely cold weather in January 1914 seemed to put to much strain on his heart and he passed away on 2nd February 1914.


Edwin Thorne’s son, Arthur Edwin, continued to live and work in Wickhamford, but by 1939 was living in Evesham. During the Great War, he was a conscientious objector, due to his Quaker beliefs and was granted exemption from all military service by a Military Service Tribunal in 1916. He told the panel that he had resigned from the South Worcestershire Liberal Association in protest against Lord Derby’s recruiting campaign. Edwin Thorne’s wife, Maria, died in the Banbury area in 1934, aged 94.  Arthur Edwin Thorne died locally in 1950 and is buried in Evesham's Waterside Cemetery.

Tom Locke, January 2018