One of the  now forgotten, long term chocolate makers  of Sydney was Hilda Gurr (nee Bell) and her husband Arthur. The couple’s enterprise began in the 1930s,  when Arthur was seriously injured in a car accident and had to  find a way of making a living without hard physical effort.  Hilda, who had a reputation as a good cook, turned to a formula for Swiss chocolate a friend had sent her.

At the time the pair were living in a tiny flat at Kirribilli, and it was here they spent months experimenting with the formula and producing their own specialty chocolates. There were many failures, but one of their enduring successes was truffles with a filling of fresh dairy cream. The truffles could only be sold outside the summer months and even then had a shelf life of a mere 24 hours. This was never actually a problem, because they sold the minute they were offered for sale. However, the difficulties of coping in such a confined space brought them to the brink of giving up.

It was at this point that the generosity of friends changed everything.   Mr and Mrs   John Hart owned  a grand, Georgian home called Cleveland in the Eastern Suburbs. They  were going overseas, and invited the young entrepreneurs to ‘house sit’   Better still, they allowed them to use the property’s nine room basement as their laboratory and factory.

Hilda making her chocolate.


Cleveland, where the Gurrs experimented with chocolate in the vast basement.


The precious time spent at Cleveland  allowed the Gurrs to establish their own factory at Minton House, 14  Bayswater Road, Kings Cross. In later years local children would recall being allowed in to scrape the fudge pots.

The chocolates were always handmade, on slabs of marble. There were 30 varieties.

Trading as  Personality Chocolates the Gurrs rented retail space in the same suburb; one half of a florist’s shop.  It was the perfect combination.  Hilda loved flowers almost as much as chocolate and she  incorporated  floral art into her work . Of course flowers and chocolate also provide the perfect romantic gift.


The business flourished and by 1941 the couple were employing five shop assistants. On one occasion the staff were so busy that a thief mingled with customers then walked to a counter, removed  £400 from the till, and left before anyone  noticed.

Hilda and Arthur’s  reputation spread and another shop opened in Elizabeth Street.  In December 1943 this success  led to an unprecedented closure of both shops over the festive season. Australian servicemen in New Guinea  completely overwhelmed Personality Chocolates with orders for flowers and boxes of  confectionary for their loved ones.    The shops closed for two weeks, to allow staff to fill  and deliver the orders to all parts of the city and beyond.

One of the biggest challenges for the couple in the early post war years were black-outs resulting from prolonged coal mining strikes. A great deal of chocolate had to be thrown out and Arthur called for shorter, albeit more frequent  breaks in the power supply.

Source – Daily Mirror, 1950

Personality confectionary was  sold in distinctive boxes; pale pink, blue and almond coloured with a gold fleur-de-lis emblem. Hilda once  single handedly produced 400 tiny boxes of sugared almonds for a Greek wedding, rising at 4.00am to get the job done. In this case the packaging matched the dresses of the bridesmaids. (Information from The Women’s Weekly, Dec. 25 1974)

Eventually dedication and hard work allowed Hilda and Arthur  to purchase  their own lovely home, called  ‘Deepdene’. It was located (and still stands) at 63 Ocean Grove in exclusive  Double Bay.


Sadly, Arthur died  suddenly at Deepdeene in 1951, aged only 52. It must have been devastating for Hilda to lose  the man  who had shared her life and work for over twenty years.


Two years later Hilda set off on a trip around the world. She was in UK for The Coronation, but also   pursued her passion for the manufacture of chocolate.

While in London she visited John Renshaw’s chocolate and marzipan  factory at Mitcham.


Renshaw's chocolate and marzipan factory.

Renshaw’s Factory.

Oddly enough, Renshaw’s staff were busy with another royal event; Princess Anne’s third birthday party to be held at Balmoral. They were modelling marzipan animals, including what was said to be Prince Charles’ favourite. This was a chocolate covered marzipan seal, balancing a red and white striped ball on its nose. 😍 🦭 Hilda intended to sculpt her own  little animals when she returned home. She also purchased moulds from Belgium to produce other  novelty items. (Information from The Sunday Herald, Sept, 6 1953.)

In 1956 Hilda married Judge Charles ‘Mick’ Rooney.  Irish born Rooney was quite a character. During WWI he was in constant trouble with the ‘top brass’, but on the battlefield in France he performed an act of great bravery and was awarded the Military Cross.  His first wife divorced him. She said the marriage failed  because  Rooney (then a barrister) led the life of a single man and stayed out until all hours  indulging his passion of bridge.  Hopefully he had calmed down by the time he met Hilda.

It’s possible that  the Judge’s retirement in 1964 may have prompted  Hilda to  take things more easily. However,  ‘Mick’ Rooney died suddenly just  a few months later. Hilda’s chocolate business then became her reason to carry on.

People ask me why, at my age, I keep working at this place…They don’t realise it’s my life. Without it what would there be to  keep me so alive and on the ball?’

Our queen of chocolate opened another outlet, a little booth in Castlereagh Street where she worked alone, serving long time customers well into her seventies.



Hilda’s married daughter  Marie lived in New Zealand and that is where Hilda  spent her final years. She died in Aukland in 1992, aged 93. Her life had been  spent working hard at something she had a great passion for. She followed her dream long  after  she was financially secure and that is  surely the secret of a good life.






  1. What a bizarre link Pauline! We moved from Chelsea to Mitcham when my father’s job took us there. Mitcham was the place where I did my Senior Schooling. When old enough, I started doing an early morning Paper Round Monday to Saturday, and on my route was Renshaw’s marzipan factory. The smell of marzipan hung over the local streets, and I still love marzipan to this day. I delivered the daily newspapers to the Night Watchman on duty who was a lovely man. As Christmas approached he gave me a present of a necklace from himself and his wife, and I have that necklace to this day, just one of many treasured memories!

    • Pauline

      That really is a co-incidence Marcia. I did love the bit about Prince Charles and the marzipan seal!

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