'Charlie Thornton', York's Newspaper Extraordinaire & My Recent Antique Find


Welcome once again to 'Blog Post Monday'!  Thanks for joining me!

This week I've been busy doing some research into a recent find.  In fact, my mind is blown at just how much I've managed to find out about this rather fascinating piece, made all the more exciting as it's a piece of York's social history, so I've decided to dedicate this week's blog post to it.

So, as always, get that kettle on, hop on your bike and balance those newspapers high, as we take a look at the life of local York legend and newspaper extraordinaire, Charlie Thornton...


Image:  my Charlie Thornton doll - buy here


Now, I'm not normally one for buying dolls, mainly because I don't really know an awful lot about them.  However, I do love a bit of local social history, so when I spotted this piece at York Antiques Home & Vintage Fair a couple of weeks back, it set off my tingles...


dollImage:  my Charlie Thornton doll - buy here


It's a vintage homemade doll made by someone to seemingly commemorate the passing of a popular local York man named 'Charlie Thornton'.  There were references to the Yorkshire Evening Press and a newspaper cutting attached to the rear of the doll which announced dear Charlie's passing.  But who was Charlie Thornton, I thought...  So, I bought the doll and this week I've dedicated a lot of time to trying to find out more about this man, in particular what made him so popular as to have a doll made in his memory.  This is what I found out...


Image:  my Charlie Thornton doll - buy here


The first thing that became clear was that Charlie was a very well known and a popular face in the York circuit during the 1940's and 50's.  It would seem that he was most well known for selling the Yorkshire Evening Press newspaper, along with other printed materials such as magazines and the Saturday evening sports paper.  Apparently, wherever Charlie went he'd have a merry quip ready and waiting for his customers.


Image:  the man himself, Charlie Thornton 


In fact, many of the stories I found were of a similar nature.  Charlie would carry an enormous pile of newspapers while riding his bike one-handed, with some describing it as being like a circus act.  On a Saturday night he'd go round the pubs of York selling the papers, stopping for a half pint of ale in each, and if you know York, ol' Charlie will have been well oiled by the end of his deliveries...!


Image:  York's old Scala Cinema 


But it wasn't just the pubs Charlie would sell in, he'd also do a fair trade with queuing cinema audiences and he'd even board the buses on Rougier Street to make a sale while using one of his merry quips, "If you can't read, don't worry, there are plenty of pictures...!"


Image:  the car and coach park corner of Rougier Street


However, Charlie wasn't just an extraordinary seller of newspapers.  He had been in the RAF during World War Two and with some merit. He was a rear gunner and towards the back end of the war, he was shot down and crash landed.


Image:  Charlie's boarding house - courtesy of Dale Townend


As I understand it, Charlie also owned a building on Mickelgate, which he ran as a boarding house (pictured above) during the 1940’s and 50's.  Apparently, if you were "hard up" you could have a bed in exchange for selling the Evening Press the following day.


Image:  the Bishophill area of York


Charlie lived in Bishophill Senior in York all of his life and sadly passed away on 14th December 1960, aged just 53 years of age.  Charlie left such an impression on the people of York that there is a plaque outside his house in his memory.  He also has a headstone in York Cemetery with the legend 'Newspaper seller extraordinaire'.

I will update this blog with some photos of both the plaque outside his home and his headstone at York Cemetery if or when I find them.


Image:  The Adams House (antiques) - courtesy of Christine Hornsby


The other interesting coincidence is that the antiques trade seemed to run deep in the Thornton family, with one brother, Charles Thornton, along with his daughter, Penelope, having an antiques shop called 'The Adams House' (pictured above) located near the top of the Shambles (I think), while another brother, John .D. Thornton, also dealt in antiques.  In fact, if you look close enough at the photo above, you might just see who I believe to be Charles Thornton sat in a rather relaxed manner outside his antiques shop.


Image:  the man himself, Charlie Thornton


I thought I'd finish this blog post by sharing with you a few of the quotes I found about Charlie Thornton from York locals during my research:


  • "I remember Charlie Thornton selling the Sunday Empire News late on a Saturday evening. Travelled around the City Centre on a carrier bike. Great character who sold many papers to queuing cinema audiences."

  • "I remember him, on a Saturday night he went around the pubs in Walmgate selling Sunday news papers and out of date magazine, I was told he had a half in every pub, I am talking about 1945, I was 10 year old at that time."

  • "Well known and well liked ! A very familiar character in all the city pubs, not just Walmgate!"

  • "Like a circus act, the number of papers he carried on his bike and under his arm , while steering one handed. Always a cheerful smile on his face."

  • "Every city centre pub back then would be visited by a chap called Charlie Thornton, who biked round with a great bundle of newspapers and comics under his left arm while steering the bike with his right ! Saturday evenings he sold early editions of the Sunday Empire News, out in York by 8pm."



Anyway, that's it for this week folks!  I hope you've enjoyed this rather lovely insight into local York legend, Charlie Thornton.  As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, particularly if you knew Charlie or have any fond memories of him.

You'll be pleased to hear that the vintage Charlie Thornton commemorative doll is currently available to buy HERE

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So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




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  • Mrs SANDRA GIBB on

    I am a niece of Charlie and just like to tell you a couple of things that are wrong. 1 Charles and Penelope did trade from The Adam House but it was in Peter gate not Kings court. Kings Court was owned and traded by my Grandfather and grandmother Joseph Bacon Thornton and Mabel Thornton. Charlie was a wonderful chap always happy and yes he did have out of date papers as a child he would give me the comic section out of the Scottish newspaper. Thank you for this it brings back great memories

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