Unwrapping the sweet story of Quality Street

20 Apr 2023


From tin to stage – how are the chocolates and the play connected?

Once upon a time, everyone’s nan had a tin of Quality Street. It didn’t necessarily contain chocolates – in fact, it was more likely to house her sewing kit or grandad’s boot polish – but there was still something very special about the tin with the dancing couple on the lid. Something comforting and homely.

But what has that special tin of jewel-wrapped treats got to do with a Regency rom-com by Peter Pan author JM Barrie? And in a chicken and egg-style conundrum, which came first?

In the 1890s, John and Violet Mackintosh used their £100 savings to open a pastry shop at 53 King Cross Lane in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Their tarts, pastries and cakes kept the business ticking along, but they wanted to make the most of the Saturday trade from local workers, creating a product that would last them the whole week.

Violet blended traditional English butterscotch with gooey American caramel, which they christened Mackintosh’s Celebrated Toffee and wrapped each flavour in a different coloured wrapper.

Customers loved the new chocolate-toffee sensations so much that the couple opened an additional stall on Halifax market. In the years that followed, they sold their toffees in Spain, Italy and China, where ‘the good stuff of Halifax’ was dished out to children by Mackintosh missionaries.

When he entered the business, their son Harold, oversaw the introduction of more chocolate items and, insisting their trail-blazing treats should be more decadent, launched the iconic tins. And what better name to give this new product than Quality Street? Named after the play by JM Barrie that had recently taken the world by storm, the tins featured two characters dressed in Regency clothing – Captain Valentine Brown and Phoebe Throssel in the play, but better known to chocolate fans as Major Quality and Miss Sweetly.

Quality Street chocolates are still made in Halifax to this day. And now the play is back in West Yorkshire too, in our Courtyard theatre from 10-13 May.

Tasty treat-sized facts about the play

  • Quality Street opened at the Knickerbocker Theatre on Broadway on 11 November 1901
  • JM Barrie had yet to write Peter Pan when his ‘Comedy in Four Acts’ opened to great acclaim
  • The play ran for 64 performances on Broadway and, according to the New York Times, ‘there was no doubt of the pleasure of the audience in the performance’
  • Quality Street opened at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, in September 1902 and ran for a very successful 459 performances, starring Ellaline Terriss, Seymour Hicks and Marion Terry
  • The show was frequently revived and toured extensively until the Second World War
  • In 2010, London’s 50-seat Finborough Theatre mounted the first professional production of the piece in more than six decades
  • Quality Street has been adapted twice for film: in 1927, starring Marion Davies; and in 1937, starring Katharine Hepburn.
  • A musical theatre adaptation, Dear Miss Phoebe, written by Christopher Hassall and Harry Parr Davies premiered in 1950

    Arts Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • LTB Foundation
  • Principal Partner

    Caddick Group
  • Principal Access Partner

    Irwin Mitchell