Rowntree A-Z

Cadbury/Fry, Rowntree and

The fortunes of the three major British confectionery companies started in the 19th century intersected for much of their history. Their commercial relationships were underpinned by a strong family unity and inter-marriage, linked by their Quaker faith that united them in national affairs. During the later years of the First World War, and the years immediately following, there had been discussions (in the event abortive) about a possible amalgamation between Cadburys, Frys and Rowntrees. It is idle to speculate on what would have happened had they been successful; but, because they failed, the energies of both Cadburys and Rowntrees were increasingly concentrated on competition with one another, at the expense of keeping sufficient watch on the activities of their competitors overseas.

Apprentices at the Rowntree shop

At 28 Pavement, the grocery business run by Joseph Rowntree (Senior), George Cadbury came to train in 1857. The records state that George worked specifically under Joseph Rowntree in the 1850s, and that most likely he served not as an apprentice but as an assistant.  George Cadbury went on to develop the great chocolate manufacturing business in Birmingham with his elder brother Richard. Their cousin, Richard Cadbury Barrow, whose mother was a Cadbury, also served an apprenticeship in 1848, before going on to become a tea and coffee merchant in Birmingham – the shop later well-known as Barrows.

Although it is sometimes stated that Lewis Fry from the Bristol firm served an apprenticeship at the shop, there is no evidence that this was so. A man named Lewis Fry is shown in contemporary photographs but he was from a different family altogether.

Lewis Fry ‘grocer and accountant’ (1835-1908)

Lewis Fry, grocer and accountant, was born in Culmstock, Devon.  His father was Robert Fry, a seed merchant and yeoman from Plymouth. He was educated at the Quaker School of Sidcot (Avon), and apprenticed first to the grocery business of Josiah Newman in Cirencester and then in Leominster.

He joined the Rowntree household in 1856.  He married Mary Cruickshank from Aberdeen and Glasgow, but they had no children. They moved from their home to take charge of the Rowntree apprentices and assistants, but the strain proved too much for his health and in 1870 they moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, where he was an accountant to J & F Richardson, a leather manufacturers. A Quaker all his life, he is said to have given vocal ministry frequently in Newcastle Quaker meetings, and a teacher in the adult school. He retired to Wensleydale in 1876, and died of pneumonia in 1908.

The ‘chocolate’ Lewis Fry (1832-1921)

This Lewis Fry was a Quaker, lawyer, philanthropist, Liberal, later Liberal Unionist, who sat in the House of Commons between 1878 and 1900. He was the son of Joseph Fry, and part of the Fry chocolate manufacturing family of Bristol. He was articled to a Quaker solicitor and practised in Bristol before he entered parliament. Fry was an important figure in the founding of the University of Bristol.


Edward H. Milligan, The Biographical Dictionary of British Quakers in Commerce and Industry 1775-1920 (Sessions Book Trust, York, 2007)

Deborah Cadbury, Chocolate Wars (Public Affairs, 2010)

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