I have read three books on the Cadbury family – including the official company line and most recently “The Chocolate Wars” by Deborah Cadbury. In my mind, the authors of these books either carefully ignored the Quaker background or treated it only superficially. So I was pleasantly surprised with the completeness of this work.
While Chris Titley does not seem to be a Friend, he does seem to understand that Joseph Rowntree’s religious background influenced his schooling, business training, how he conducted his business and how he interacted with the wider community. I suggest it is worthwhile playing the game of spotting the Quaker connection – the way business and faith and family were connected. These are subtleties that non-Quakers will probably miss.
Joseph Senior brings along his cousin James Backhouse when he goes to buy the first Rowntree shop in York. James Backhouse (of Backhouse and Walker Australian fame) was of course an astute businessman in his own right. He was also heavily involved with the Bootham School, with its advanced educational attitudes and practice.
Joseph Senior and John Ford (Bootham Principal) took the 14-year-old Joseph Junior and his older brother to Ireland in 1850. The report from this visit was important in mobilising the Quaker relief effort on the Irish Famine – and had a great influence on the young Joseph.
At 15 Joseph was apprenticed to his father’s shop – and joined a number of other mainly Quaker apprentices – including George Cadbury and Lewis Fry. Watch the details of the apprenticeship – the training in the world of business by some of the best businessmen of the era.
Joseph of course marries Within the Faith – to Julia Seebohm . While her family was of German Quaker origin, she was also a grand-daughter of William Tuke. (And if you don’t know who WT was in Quaker history – look him up.) Julia, however, died the year after their marriage, after the birth of a daughter. In 1867 Joseph married Julia’s cousin, Emma Antoinette Seebohm, with whom he had six children.
Their son Seebohm Rowntree’s writing of Poverty: A Study of Town Life expanded on and statically supported many of Joseph’s views, and had an important influence on the development of British political thought.
Though not specifically mentioned, son Joseph Wilhelm would of course play a pivotal role in the Manchester Conference of 1892 and the modernisation of Quaker practice and thought.
Rowntree’s under Joseph’s management was progressive – working conditions were improved and healthy and useful after-work activities were encouraged. And more revolutionary concepts, including a company pension scheme, were introduced.
Perhaps JR had a proportionately greater and more lasting influence on the development of York than the Cadburys and Frys on their home community.
I commend the book to you – firstly as a story of a man who made a major contribution to the well-being of the citizens of York – and secondly as a story of a Quaker who let his Faith be seen in the way he lived his life.
Robin Walpole, Tasmania Regional Meeting
Joseph Rowntree, by Chris Titley, published by Shire Publications, 2013. (ISBN 978-0-74781-321-7). It was commissioned by the Rowntree Society and is available from Bridget Morris, Director, The Rowntree Society, Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, York YO23 1BW, United Kingdom; firstname.lastname@example.org or from http://www.shirebooks.co.uk/ £6.99 (+£3.10 postage).