From page, to wrapper, to stage! How are the play and chocolates linked?
This is the story of Quality Street.

From the Classic Literature Library

Our story begins at the Knickerbocker Theater on 11 November 1901 on Broadway.

It is the grand opening of the play Quality Street by J.M. Barrie (who is yet to write his famous Peter Pan). The publicity material enigmatically promises ‘A Comedy in Four Acts’.

The story, we learn, follows the glamorous Phoebe Throssel and the charming Valentine Brown, who are the talk of the town. Any day now, the townsfolk are CONVINCED that Brown will fall down on one knee and ask for her hand in marriage. Instead, he announces that he is going off to fight in the Napoleonic war and disappears for ten years. (Ouch).

Upon his return, Captain Valentine Brown finds that Phoebe is now a bedraggled school teacher, who has ‘lost her looks’ and is struggling to keep control of the chaotic children. Phoebe decides to create an alter-ego, Miss Livvy, who soon enchants the clueless Captain. A hilarious farce soon ensues. 

The show was an ‘immediate and immense success…with a handsome profit for all concerned’ (Barrie: The Story of J.M.B. by Denis Mackail 1941)

The play ran for 64 performances.

“There was no doubt of the pleasure of the audience in the performance. There were plenty of opportunities for laughter, and of these the auditors took every advantage. And there were many pretty moments of gentle pathos, and to these was paid the tribute of sympathy and warm applause.”

New York Times, Nov. 12, 1901

Quality Street later 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. It was frequently revived and toured extensively until World War II.

In short, the show was a hit!


Now let’s go back to the 1890s. John and Violet Mackintosh are gathering their savings of £100 to open a pastry shop at 53 King Cross Lane, Halifax.

Their tarts, pastries and cakes keep the business ticking along, but having noticed that Saturday trade from local workers was their most profitable, they decided to create a product that would last their customers the whole week.

And so, Violet gets to work on a new recipe. Little did she know that she would redefine chocolate history forever!

Violet blended traditional, English butterscotch with soft, gooey American caramel, which they christened ‘Mackintosh’s Celebrated Toffee’. Each flavour was wrapped in different coloured wrappers (see where this is going?). 

Demand for the chocolate-toffee sensations grew, and before long they opened a stall on Halifax market, began selling to wholesalers and opened a warehouse. Over the years, this led to international trade in Spain, Italy and China, where ‘the good stuff of Halifax’ was dished out to children by Mackintosh missionaries.

The brand later expanded into the production of chocolate covered products. Harold, the son of John and Violet, was heavily involved, setting out an ‘eight point plan’ for the new product.

He thought the product should be decadent, contained in a practical tin that customers would use long after the chocolates had been munched. 

And what better name to give this new product, than Quality Street? Named after the play that had recently taken the world by storm. As for the packaging, two characters dressed in regency clothing were proudly printed on the tins, to show luxury and of course, quality! 

We know them as Captain Valentine Brown and Phoebe Throssel, but they called them Major Quality and Miss Sweetly. 



J.M Barrie's Quality Street Major Quality and Miss Sweetly

So there you have it, the success of J.M. Barrie’s Quality Street play led to the branding of the famous chocolates, which are still made in Halifax to this day.

And now the play is back for a new tour in 2023, performed in Northern accents and created with 5 retired workers from the Quality Street factory in Halifax!