The Quakers and the English chocolate industry

Both the Fry and Cadbury families were of course Quakers and, like the Rowntrees in York, one of their priorities was to provide their workers with as good working conditions as possible. As well as that, Cadbury and Rowntree provided sanitary and comfortable housing, educational, social and recreational facilities. Joseph Fry employed a nurse and a doctor to attend to the medical problems of his staff; ran ‘continuation classes’, or further education, for the girls, provided a gym with instructors, facilities and pitches for football, tennis, cricket and bowls and organised the Operatic Society, the Camera Club, the Debating and Dramatic Societies. Girls leaving to get married received a copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

Fry epitomises the inextricable association of English chocolate manufacturing with the Society of Friends, or Quakerism. Friends were excluded from the only teaching universities in England at the time, Oxford and Cambridge, because of their non-conformism and the universities’ association with Anglicanism; they were debarred from Parliament and the guilds; they were restricted in what they could and could not do as lawyers because they refused to take oaths; the arts were considered frivolous and they were disqualified from the armed services because they were pacifists. One of the few alternatives left to privileged and well to do young Quakers was to pursue a life in industry or business, and this is what many did. They often brought with them a tradition of high quality management and fair trading practices, rigorous scientific research and innovative technical development as well as an obsessive preoccupation with quality and a breathtakingly detailed attention to business administration.

One of the legacies of the frequent Meetings routinely held by the Society of Friends and the travelling required to get to these Meetings and to spread the word was the building up of a strong network of dependable friends and contacts ; this in turn, along with intermarriage amongst Quaker families, led to a tradition of mutual assistance in business and industry, and to strong industrial partnerships, all underpinned by unfaltering service to the community at large.

It is often asked why it was that the chocolate industry in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century and in the early years of the twentieth prospered largely under Quaker ownership: the answer seems to be mere coincidence. Quakers went into business and industry and one of the emerging industries at the time was cocoa and chocolate – this was partly a result of increased affordability amongst the working classes who had more disposable income, lower taxes on imports which reduced prices in the shops, and improvements in quality, a better taste and less adulteration. What had been a luxury was fast becoming an affordable indulgence for many.

Early concerns over the intrinsic insincerity of advertising were overcome to a greater or lesser degree, except in the case of Rowntree who harboured a long term suspicion of what he called ‘puffery’. Nevertheless, this allowed each of the companies to get on with building businesses each with a largely contented workforce, enlightened industrial relations and fair dealing on both sides of the boardroom door – all ,eventually at least, in pleasant factories imbued with an air of domesticity provided by potted plants and homely pictures on the factory walls. Workers’ Christian names were routinely used by managers to staff and the offer of provision of housing, entertainment, sport and education to the workforce was truly enlightened. In terms of industrial welfare generally, Fry and the other chocolate Quakers were years ahead of their time: they were providing terms of employment and working conditions which were provided much later in other industries and only after legislation made them mandatory.

Rules and guidelines were laid down as to how Quakers should conduct themselves in business: the 1738 Advices promoted fair dealing and absolute honesty; the 1783 Book of Extracts unequivocally banned paper credit; the 1833 Rules of Discipline reminded adherents that the root of all evil was money and the 1861 Doctrine, Practice and Discipline summarised the whole code covering debt, seeking advice from other Friends, inappropriate speculation and much more.   An early company booklet, Into the Open Country, gives Fry’s mission statement and a flavour of the corporate ethos back then: ‘Fry’s have kept before them two guiding principles; one, giving the public the best possible value in cocoa and chocolate manufactured under the best possible conditions; the other, of giving the workpeople the best facilities for recreation and happiness.’

At Cadbury, to add to the Bournville factory development, George Cadbury bought more land in 1893 on which to build a model village to ‘alleviate the evils of more modern cramped living conditions.’ This dream was inspired by and converted into reality by what George saw all around him: ‘It is not easy to describe or imagine the dreary desolation which acre after acre of the very heart of the town presents…hundreds of leaky, damp, wretched houses, wholly unfit for human habitation’. He realised that there was little point in allowing private interest to be involved in his scheme as this would inevitably lead to the creation of a suburban slum – the like of which the Cadbury’s wanted their workers to escape from in the city centre. George Cadbury, therefore, created a garden village next to his factory. Within seven years the new village comprised 313 sound, clean and sanitary houses, complete with front and back gardens, on 330 acres of land.

Only in the very early days were the houses provided just for Cadbury employees: the objective was to provide a village of mixed housing for a range of householders and thereby establish a mixed community. Residents were given a booklet laying down rules for keeping houses and gardens in good order, abstaining from alcohol on the Sabbath and the advantages of single beds for married couples. Although alcohol was not prohibited – there was provision for public houses but they were subject to strict conditions – the area was alcohol-free with no pubs and no alcohol sold in local shops until a licensed members bar opened in the Rowheath Pavilion in 1940. This abstinence reflected John Cadbury’s strict temperance beliefs and was a manifestation of his tireless work in social reform; this also included campaigns for workhouse reform and against industrial pollution, child labour, particularly climbing boys, or child chimney sweeps, and animal cruelty. He founded the Animals Friend Society which led to the RSPCA.   Cadbury’s own research showed that one in every thirty houses in Birmingham was given over to the sale of alcohol and that ten per cent of the city’s 6,593 alcoholics died of alcohol related diseases each year. The many ale houses, inns, gin shops and gin palaces unfortunately provided a ready supply of mortalities but John and Candia, his wife, successfully persisted with their Total Abstinence Plan, counting even the moderate Moderation Society amongst their conquests.

Bournville was truly pioneering in all sorts of ways: socially, environmentally and architecturally in particular, but it also had great influence throughout Europe in areas as diverse as housing, urban planning, community health and local education. Visitors included architects from Krupp’s in Germany, Dame Henrietta Barnett who went on to inspire the development of Hampstead Garden Suburb, William Hesketh Lever who founded Port Sunlight in 1888 and the Rowntrees who, as we shall see, established New Earswick garden village near their factory between Haxby and York.

Religion was, of course, very important. As we have seen, Joseph Fry held a morning prayer meeting for all workers; George Cadbury took his advice on the matter with the result that the Cadbury morning service lasted for thirty years (until sheer numbers of staff brought it to an end) and was always led by either George, Richard or Barrow Cadbury, George’s nephew.

Cadbury was one of the first companies in the UK to introduce a half day on Saturday. Philanthropy and paternalism were in evidence everywhere in the workplace with ground-breaking pension schemes, a sick club, medical services, outings, in-service education, staff committees (the Works Councils) and reasonable wages. Like the Rowntrees, George and Richard Cadbury were fervent believers in the value of education – they both taught at the Birmingham Adult Schools – and this was maintained at Bournville where Continuation Classes were set up in 1913 to provide free further education (during working hours) for younger employees from when they left school and joined Cadbury aged fourteen until they were sixteen, later extended to eighteen. A wide range of apprenticeships was established for the boys and a sewing club for the girls. Employees were, as a matter of course, treated with respect. The Works Councils, segregated until 1964, worked in concert with the trades unions which had also always been encouraged; the councils were made up of management and shop floor representatives and were primarily responsible for the company’s welfare schemes. Free breakfast was given to all workers and the industrious kitchens supplying the segregated dining rooms could, for example, produce eighty chops simultaneously within ten minutes. A worker’s hostel, Bournville Hall, was set up to accommodate sixty or so girl workers who lived some distance away from their workplace. 038

In common with other factories of the time, male and female workers were largely segregated with separate entrances, working, rest and dining areas and Works Councils. Technicians going in to women’s areas of the factory were obliged to wear armbands showing that they had permission to be there. Married women were not employed and girls had to leave on marriage: but not before they were presented with a bible, a carnation and a talk from one of the directors – a laudable attempt to promote sound family practice and attitudes. It wasn’t until the shortage of male workers caused by World War Two that married women began to be recruited.

Physical and spiritual wellbeing in the shape of social and recreational facilities were a vital part of the Cadbury community: land was bought at Rowheath for football and hockey pitches and a running track; the pavilion opened in 1924 not just as a clubhouse and changing facility for the sportsmen and women but also as a social venue for dinners and dances. In addition there were bowling greens, a fishing lake and an outdoor lido. An indoor swimming pool was built in Bournville Lane; a boating lake and the cricket pitch followed – all the sports facilities were free of charge. The Bournville Village Trust was set up in 1900 looked after, amongst other things, the primary and junior school, the School of Art and the Day Continuation School.

We have already seen how John Cadbury typified the Quakers’ support of temperance and, in some cases, abstinence. The temperance movement took to chocolate with gusto, establishing British Workman houses to compete with alcohol-serving public houses; they even published a guide instructing how to set up and run these establishments. So began the association of temperance-promoting Quakers with chocolate. They emulated the sweet makers with their conversation lozenges and dragees carrying patriotic and romantic messages such as: ‘Do you love me ?’; ‘No, I won’t ask Mama’;   But the Quakers poured sobering cold water on it all: their sweets carried unequivocal and uncompromising messages such as ‘Misery, sickness and poverty are the effect of drunkenness.’ 039

The eighteenth century had seen a massive increase in the consumption of spirits, mainly gin, rising from half a million gallons in 1684 to five and half millions in 1735. Excessive drinking continued to be rife in England in the nineteenth century particularly amongst the less well off, not least because alcohol was the only really safe and easily obtainable means of quenching thirst. Water was often contaminated and tea and coffee were expensive, cocoa prohibitively so and still hard to come by. Moreover, alcohol was thought to provide strength and stamina to set you up for hard physical work – be it harvesting, mining or factory work; its numbing effect worked well, not just with physical pain but also with the mundane grind of daily life. Inns and taverns and market squares were sociable places where news was exchanged, travellers conversed, women were solicited and locals argued and discussed the matters of the day. It was the norm, as it still is to some extent, rather than the exception, to mark all kinds of celebration – be they family or national – with a drink. The medical profession even endorsed, indeed prescribed, beer as a pick-me-up while stouts and porters gained such a reputation for being a healthy, nourishing drink that it was consumed by sportsmen and nursing mothers.

It was in this context that the temperance movement was established in the 1820s to curb chronic drinking and alcoholism; it failed, and so turned its efforts to total abstinence or teetotalism. The prohibition-focussed United Kingdom Alliance was founded in 1853 ‘to procure the Total and Immediate Legislative Suppression of the Traffic in all Intoxicating Liquors’. Temperance societies sprang up everywhere; for example, in York, Joseph Rowntree was very active as Secretary in the Temperance Society set up in 1830 with forty subscribers growing to nearly 1,000 subscribers by 1936 – a huge number when you consider the city population at this time was 30,000. From 1836 there was a rival society promoting total abstinence and variously called New Temperance, Total Abstinence or Teetotal; an Association of Abstainers started in 1874.

The York Temperance Society actively protested on such issues as the extension of licensing hours to 11.00pm, Sunday closing, prohibiting the sale of alcohol to children, and grocers’ licences. They were also instrumental in stopping license renewals at The Golden Slipper Inn in Goodramgate and The Corporation Arms in Friargate. In Walmgate alone there were twenty inns, according to White’s 1830 Trade Directory, so it was nothing if not an upward battle; it has also been calculated that across the city there was an inn for every twenty-eight families. Towards the end of the century Joseph Rowntree, along with Arthur Sherwell, began work on their The Temperance Problem and Social Reform, although even as late as 1874 records show that Rowntree may not have favoured total abstinence if an order for a case of champagne sent to his home was anything to go by. The book was immensely popular and went on to sell 90,000 copies in nine editions. In 1841 a Temperance Coffee House opened in Colliergate; this transformed into The Commercial Temperance Hotel when it changed hands and moved to Low Ousegate in 1843. York’s Temperance Hall opened in Goodramgate in 1845 at a cost of £2,500.

By 1850 the Society of Friends was relatively well established in York with a Meeting House in Castlegate, later in 1886 in Clifford Street, a burial ground in Bishophill and two schools – Bootham for boys and The Mount for girls.   There was also a network of Adult Schools throughout the city at which John and Joseph Rowntree I were the first teachers and, of course, regular Monthly and Quarterly Meetings. Membership in York was 200 in 1855 rising to 543 in 1915.   Their social welfare activities extended beyond care of the poor and the promotion of tolerance to the humane and civilized treatment of the mentally ill at The Retreat. In the usual way of Quakers, the Rowntrees and before them the Tuke’s would have networked and interceded with other Friends in business in the city.   Socially, they would have engaged with other Quakers at the many clubs that were established, for example: the Book Society, the Rowing Club, the Cycling Club and a Young Women’s Friends Christian Union.

These are all factors which must have influenced the Rowntrees in the very early days and encouraged them in their manufacture and sale of the socially and clinically harmless drink that was cocoa, and its derivatives, the chocolate assortment and the chocolate bar. The association forged with the Tukes with their shared Quakerism, the shining precedents set by Cadbury and Fry in the confectionery industry and by Huntley and Palmers in Reading , the success of Cravens, their neighbours in the field of toffee and sugar confectionery – all of these things must have combined to a greater or lesser extent to propel Rowntree into the industrial production first of cocoa and then chocolate in the city of York in the mid nineteenth century.


© 2015 Paul Chrystal