Toffee Turner’s Titanic escape

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A TWIST of fate saved one Brighouse family from almost certain disaster in the Titanic tragedy.

Sunday sees the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, at the time the largest ship afloat, in the icy waters of the Atlantic on the passenger liner’s maiden voyage.

Booked onto the ‘unsinkable’ ship were successful businessman John Henry Turner, later to become Mayor of Brighouse, his wife Mary Ann and son George.

Mr Turner had made his money, in partnership with George Wainwright, producing toffees, cream caramels and other confectionery.

In 1908 the company, formerly in River Street, moved to Brookfoot Mill, increasing production to around 60 tons of toffee per week and reaching a turnover of £100,000 a year. It was Turnwright’s Toffee that was sent out in slabs by the thousand to the troops on the front line during the First World War.

But by 1915 John Henry Turner had become involved in a complicated court case – and that saved his life.

Keen to enjoy the fruits of his hard work in building up the company and no doubt aware of the Titanic’s formidable reputation for grandeur and luxury, ‘Toffee Turner’ booked a trip on the maiden voyage from Southampton. As the news of the disaster began to reach England, the Turner family was at first reported missing – causing acute distress for relatives waiting for news at home.

It was soon realised, however, that the Turner family had not in fact boarded the great ship. At the last minute John Henry was summoned to attend the High Court in London where he was involved in a piece of litigation involving a ‘secret’ recipe for his toffee and a former employee who was alleged to have stolen it. He tried to persuade his wife and son to continue the voyage without him but they refused.

The ‘Sliding Doors’ moment undoubtedly saved their lives. John Henry, who died in 1939, and his son George both became Mayors of Brighouse and were involved in the civic life of the town.

George Turner had a worsted-spinning business at Albion Mills and later at Owler Ings Mill which burned down some time after 1970.

He died in 1979 but a charitable trust was set up to benefit charities in a 10-mile radius of Brighouse.

When the trust was wound up in 2004, the proceeds went to Calderdale Talking Newspaper and Overgate Hospice. His son was Brighouse GP Dr Derek Turner.

How the Turner family coped with their narrow escape is not recorded. They made the trip across the Atlantic on a later sailing, no doubt with the congratulations of those who knew of ‘their fortunate change of arrangements’ still ringing in their ears.