End of an era – and the beginning of a new one – for Cliftonville’s Thornton Bobby building

Thornton Bobby store in Northdown Road Photo Frank Leppard

Photos Frank Leppard/Thanet Hidden History

A new era is to begin for the Thornton Bobby site in Cliftonville.

The Northdown Road store has closed after decades of serving customers with everything from radios to TVs and all things electrical and musical, including records.

Thornton Bobby was originally a music shop with branches in Cliftonville and Margate and has been trading for over 100 years.  The main branch in Cliftonville sold a wide range of musical instruments. The original property was understood to have been owned by a local doctor, whose stables for his horses can still be seen at the rear of the shop.

The post war boom in radio receivers saw Thornton Bobby become the local agent for Murphy radiograms and ultimately led on to television sales.

A second branch in Margate was on the site now occupied by Lloyds TSB.

Sadly, the store announced its closure this month but promised to fulfil outstanding orders and repairs.

A planning application to convert part of the ground floor and upper floors of existing building to two small shops, seven self contained flats and two homes was granted in 2017 but now the site has been bought by Bright Start Nurseries owner Marc Rattigan.

The dad-of-four plans to restore the building back to its former glory and will eventually move a nursery to the building although this may not be for another two years yet as the interior needs stripping back and the roof needs replacing.

Marc, who lives in Cliftonville, said: “I’m going to restore it to its former original glory.

“As a child I used to go in there most weekends with my ‘Mum Mum’ -we used to call my Nan that- to look at the records.

“When I saw the plans to break it up into houses I thought it would be so sad, it reminds me of the good times with my Mum Mum at weekends.

“It needs a huge amount of work but it’s a privilege to be able to take over an iconic Cliftonville building that the Strange family have had for over 100 years, in memory of my Mum Mum.

“I want to restore and breathe new life into it and preserve that history so it stays in my family for many years to come.”

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To record the interior for posterity photographer Frank Leppard, who runs Thanet Hidden History, has taken these amazing pictures showing how some parts have not changed since the 1970s.


  1. I’m sure going to miss that store they were helpful people always went there for my cooker parts but now yet again have to purchase online.

  2. It would be great if the new owner would keep the store open when he has done his restoration of the building. Cliftonville and Margate does not have that kind of store selling electrical products. Henry’s closed at the end of an era.good luck to the new owner.

    • If you want to buy pretty much anything you have to go to Westwood Cross-since Padgets & James Decor closed if you want to do DIY or buy fittings for the house then you are out of luck in Margate. They can spend all of that 190 odd grand they like to entice people here, but what is there for them or us exactly? Empty shops, dirty streets, tiny stores with a minimal range.

  3. Thank you Marc. I’m sure whatever you do, it will look brilliant, I’m grateful to you for keeping our heritage alive. I remember TB’s well, like you. As my mum worked in Jack Dodwell’s up the road, I spent a lot of time in the shop as a child too.

  4. Sad but will be nice to see it how it was in the glory days, I remember back in the late sixties early seventies going in there once a month with grandad he would only use certain shops for his stuff batteries was Thornton Bobby he was chatting to the boss while I was looking at everything, but electrical shops cannot compete with the online giants and curry’s for price but for service and trust Thornton’s or Henry’s couldn’t be bettered, good luck Marc with your restoration work and hope it will be good for the kids.

  5. Just what we all need, some really good news. Best wishes for a successful renovation, while staying at Mr Smart’s Guest House, near the Lido but opposite end by Northdown Road we were always taken into the store.Just as the new owner says as a child with my twin and older Sister who was into buying the latest music discs it was just so enjoyable and huge – lovely to know a true admirer of the beauty of the building will own it. Lovely to reminisce and the photos are superb, just like we remember it. Hope many more respond favourably with memories.

  6. Something which surprises me in Margate/Cliftonville is the lack of musical instruments shops these days (as far as I know it’s impossible to even buy guitar strings in the area). When I lived in Garlinge in 1987-1990 there was a fantastic music shop in Westbrook… then I left the area for 9 years and so much had gone.

    • I bought my Marlin Sidewinder in the music shop in Westbrook in about 1986. It was £89 I think and I still have it!!

  7. Thornton Bobby’s, Henry’s, Martell Press, Riccos (cafè), Jack Dodwell, Munro Cobb, all great names from the past. Such a shame.

  8. We fitted the (current) shopfront in C1969.
    The architects (Leslie Dale & Partners, Cecil Square, specified the “Hopsack” fascia tiles, which proved virtually undrillable for us to fix the Langton Products, Westgate, fascia letters, that have only just recently been removed.
    We fitted out 18 shops in Northdown Road, over 3 years. Most of them are still there.

  9. Sad news indeed. I used to buy records there as a teenager in the 60s right up to a few years ago when I bought my current range cooker from them, and many things in between those times. A great store, always good service.

  10. Peter – there is Luke’s Guitars shop in St Lukes Avenue, Ramgate

    Like others, fond memories of going into Thornton Bobby’s back in the late 60s and 70s to buy records. And since then a cooker, fridge-freezer, to have keys cut. It will be missed but many, but obviously not enough for it to continue as a viable business. But good to know that it has been taken over by a local and that it will be restored. Good luck Marc.

    Going back to records – there was a shop above what was Rooks in Northdown Road, opposite books. Spent many hours in there with headphones listening to records in the 70s. Can’t remember name of it. Does anyone else?

  11. I am so sorry to hear that this wonderful store and the helpful staff have gone I purchased all my electrical and gas appliances there and never had a single problem and the prices were always very competitive,it’s another sad day for Northdown Road. still it will be interesting to see what the outcome of the new plans.

  12. Pleased it’s going to be restored and wish every success for that.But spare a thought for the staff who worked at Thornton Bobby who now find them selves among the thousands now looking for a new job.

  13. What will happen to Mike, best tv aerial man and boy good luck Mike hope you continue to do business

  14. Excellent Marc. A nice change to see something being restored and looked after rather than ruined. Just the outside of that iconic Cliftonville building will bring back memories for hundreds of people once its all decorated back. Good luck with your venture.

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