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A Christmas Trip Down Quality Street

We’ve reached the time of year when we become not only serious lawyerly types doing serious lawyerly things, but also serious connoisseurs of festive snacks. There are a whole range of tasty delicacies we enjoy sampling in the office, but large tins of Quality Street are high on our list.

This month – as we take a little dip in the tin every time we pass it – we’ve been asking ourselves just how these iconic chocolates got their name.

As it happens, Quality Street and Newport Land and Law have something major in common. Not only are both delightfully cheerfully dressed and impossibly moreish… both also hail from good old Yorkshire.

Quality Street were first manufactured by Mackintosh’s, a chocolate maker based in Halifax. John and Violet Mackintosh established Mackintosh’s after their marriage in 1890, when they bought a pastry shop for a grand total of £100. (As conveyancing solicitors, we can assure you that you can no longer buy pastry shops for £100, not even in West Yorkshire). Violet got things going by developing a specially formulated toffee to tempt in the customers. This proved so popular that they were able to expand Mackintosh’s beyond the original shop, eventually landing in a brand spanking new manufacturing plant that had been renovated from a disused carpet factory.

John and Violet’s son Harold inherited the business, and in the 1930s he got the wheels in motion on developing what would become the company’s most famous creation. At that time, boxed chocolates were still considered exotic and relatively expensive, so were available only to the well off. Harold wanted to create a treat that would be accessible to the masses. He also wanted to present them in a way that felt special but was less expensive than the fancy chocolate boxes that were available at the time.

Harold took the Mackintosh range of toffees and covered them with chocolate. Next, he set about designing a system where each toffee chocolate would be wrapped individually and placed together in a tin. The wrappings would save the need for expensive packaging to hold the sweets separately from each other, and the tin would hold in the scent of the chocolate, meaning it would feel all the more luxurious when the tin was opened.

Finally, the new chocolates needed a name, and our friend Harold took inspiration from the theatre. Quality Street was a popular play by J.M. Barrie (written before his now significantly-more-well-known book Peter Pan). The play is a comedy about two sisters who open a school ‘for genteel children’ in Napoleonic times. There’s a lot of back and forth about marriage proposals and hidden identities and the righting of wrongs, which, though no doubt fun, doesn’t have very much to do with chocolate.

Between you and us, we assume Harold’s choice of name had less to do with any actual relevance and more to do with his marketing plan. The play Quality Street really was very popular at the time, and presumably Harold’s aim was to ride along on its coattails. The original advertising and packaging for the chocolates featured characters inspired by the play dressed in Regency era dress. The two characters were known as Miss Sweetly and Major Quality, and they appeared on Quality Street tins and boxes until 2000.

Whatever the reason for Harold’s name choice, he clearly did something right, as the chocolates quickly became a firm favourite with the British public. Many types of confectionary stopped being produced during the war, but Quality Street production continued all the way through, though they did have to cut down on the number of sweets. They also had to switch out the Brazil nut in the purple sweet and replace it with a hazelnut due to wartime shortages. Though the Brazil nut never returned, this explains why the purple sweet is shaped the way it is!

Quality Street remained popular through the decades, even after Mackintosh merged with fellow Yorkshire confectioners Rowntree in 1969, and then merged again with Nestle in 1988. Over the past eighty-five years, there have been numerous tin and box designs and many different varieties of sweets. Despite all these changes, and despite the absence of Miss Sweetly and Major Quality, we reckon Harold would still recognise his chocolately legacy if he stopped by our office. We might even offer him a couple.

Speaking of stopping by our office, we’ll be busying away like festive bees until noon on Tuesday 20th December 2022, when we’ll be downing tools and upending chocolate boxes until our return on Wednesday 4th January 2023.

If you have a legal conundrum you’d like to speak to us about before then, you know where to find us. (Although, fair warning, if you’re thinking of asking us whether you can complete on a property before Christmas, we cannot be held responsible for our actions).

In the meantime, we wish you a wonderful Christmas and happy New Year. May it be filled with chocolate, perfectly roasted potatoes, and the tipple of your choice!

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