Celebrating 90 years of British institution

  • 09/11/2012
  • Press Release

It was just over a month after a consortium of British and American electrical companies set up the British Broadcasting Company (or BBC as it later became) in a small office in London that Mr Nathan Thornton and Mr Phillip Ross incorporated themselves as manufacturing chemists in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. The year was 1922, beer was 7d (3.5p) a pint and Al Jolson was topping the charts with “Toot, Toot Tootsie Goodbye.”

Ninety years on and Thornton & Ross is not only still going strong but has recently been identified in research for a report by accountancy firm Deloitte as one of their “Future 1000” businesses. Only 0.2 per cent of UK companies met the criteria for inclusion (based on growth over the last three years) and Thornton & Ross was one of those leading the way.

Thornton & Ross is best known for brands such as Covonia cough medicine, Zoflora disinfectant, Hedrin head lice treatment and the Care range of medicines.

The business started rented premises in an old dye-house in Colne Vale Road, Milnsbridge, Huddersfield. Nathan Thornton had been Works Manager of a Tar Distillery and Ammonia Works, manufacturing disinfectants and soaps from coal tar by-products. This enabled him to make particular study of disinfectants and antiseptics and led to his development of the Zoflora brand. Phillip Ross, a native of Beverley in East Yorkshire, served with a Hull firm of manufacturing chemists before coming to Huddersfield.

From the start, the founders were quite literally hands on in the business and Mr Thornton and Mr Ross apparently even made their own desks. The trade depression in the '20s made for a tough commercial climate in which to establish a new company, but by 1926 Thornton & Ross had 10 employees and had purchased its first car for a company representative.

An improvement and expansion programme started with the acquisition of the company's first commercial vehicle in 1934. Such was the level of growth that new premises were necessary and in 1937 the company moved to its present location in Linthwaite, to a factory which had originally housed a manufacturer of motor vehicles.

During the Second World War the company was engaged in war work producing medicines - and had government contracts for the manufacture of large quantities of disinfectants.

In 1968, the Medicines Act brought the first comprehensive licensing system for medicines in the UK and products such as Covonia (a local pharmacy nostrum which the company had acquired) were further developed and licensed under the new regulations. That same year the sons of the founders, Ralph Thornton and Vernon Ross, became Joint Managing Directors and took the lead in the next phase of growth for the company. The 1960s and 70s saw the rise of the supermarkets and Thornton & Ross eventually expanding distribution for Zoflora outside pharmacies.

In 1998 Thornton & Ross celebrated its 75th anniversary and the Covonia Bull made his first appearance in the press before going on to TV the following year with his now familiar roar of Covooonia.

The last ten years have seen the company develop its Linthwaite manufacturing site extensively and invest in both its core brands and new acquisitions under its CEO Dieno George. The first major acquisition was in 2002 when the company purchased a total of 24 brands, mostly OTC medicines, including Mycota, Transvasin and Acriflex. The following year Thornton & Ross acquired the Setlers brand, and then in 2006, following a successful Stage III Clinical Trial, the company launched the first licensed non-pesticide treatment for Head Lice in the UK – Hedrin. This product became brand leader in the UK within its first 6 months and is now the leading head lice treatment in Europe.

Further acquisitions have brought brands into the Thornton & Ross range including Radian B, Cerumol, Metanium and Allens and the company is now a major supplier of healthcare products to pharmacies, retailers and the NHS.

Thornton & Ross employ 450 people in the Colne Valley in Huddersfield, led by its Chairman Jonathan Thornton, the third generation of the Thornton family to work in the business. Expansion continues apace both at home and overseas.