Rowntree A-Z

Cocoa Works Magazine

The Cocoa Works Magazine – known affectionately as the ‘CWM’ – is one of the first magazines produced in England that was written just for factory staff. Issue number 1 was printed in March 1902 – slightly ahead of Cadbury’s staff magazine, which came out 9 months later.  Described as ‘A Journal in the interests of employees of Rowntree & Co Ltd, York’, it was conceived by Joseph Rowntree as a means of maintaining communication between workforce and management at a time of rapid expansion.

From 1902 to 1986, the CWM chronicled the progress of Rowntree & Co. and its staff. The journal focused on the lives of ordinary people, regardless of rank or role. The first Editor spoke of the difficulty of producing ‘at regular intervals a magazine which must touch so many interests and be read by such a diversity of readers.’ He concluded that “The CWM is a social affair, a matter of the fireside, the newsletter sent round the family circle…”

A professional style

The magazine was professionally printed, initially in cream and brown but eventually in colour, in a distinctive house style. Over time, the number of photographs and illustrations grew, many provided by increasingly expert amateur photographers from among Rowntree staff. The CWM’s consistent quality and regular publication indicate unwavering support from the Board.

Respect for the staff

The paragraphs written about each employee as they retired are often detailed and always respectful of the individual and the service given, regardless of what position they held. The departments they worked in, their contributions to work, sport and leisure within the company are all reported.

Many editions also featured the plans and ambitions of those who left the company to start their own businesses and encouraged current employees to support them. In the Autumn 1929 edition, we learn of individuals becoming, chimney sweeps, travelling greengrocery tradesmen and one who opens a pie business in York.


The CWM’s value became especially clear during the ‘Great’ War. The magazine offered a forum for people to stay in touch with ‘Our Men with the Colours’, printing letters from staff at the front. (The tactful description aimed to include all those who were serving, whether in the military, as members of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, or as part of the Voluntary Aid Detachment.)

The Second World War saw the only diminution in physical quality that the CWM experienced – paper rationing meant that illustrations disappeared; the paper became thinner and typeface smaller, to fit more onto less paper.

Life at the factory and beyond

The CWM charted the lives of staff at the Rowntree factories. Through good and bad times, the CWM included jokes, recipes and match reports for the many Rowntree sports clubs. Reviews of the Rowntree Players and descriptions of social outings appeared alongside reports of new books held at the Joseph Rowntree Library. Over time, celebrations of educational successes for Rowntree staff filled the pages, ranging from qualifications like ‘Intermediate Examination of the Corporation of Accountants’ to the ‘Higher National Certificate (Mechanical Engineering)’.

The CWM also offered the Directors a chance to explain their decisions. Most marked was Seebohm’s regrets about cutting staff numbers, and putting many remaining workers on ‘short time’ during the Depression, which hit some parts of the UK confectionary industry hard.

Reports of the Central Works Council meetings were always included in later editions. They detailed management decision-making and included debates such as the difference between ‘control’ and ‘consultation’, why people pilfered bicycles (December,1921) and what had led to ‘grievances in the cake department’.

Sections entitled Youth Club News, ‘Welcoming boys and girls into the service of the company’ and items about holiday plans ensured that younger employees saw the publication as relevant to them too. Weddings were often celebrated with photographs and warm good wishes.

The CWM was rarely just inward looking. Advice on new innovations such as gas in the home (June 1920), and how a wireless works (Christmas 1924) sat alongside articles about the company. Articles on the law, and health matters were frequent.

 Factory news far and wide

The CWM detailed information about the development of new products such as Black Magic, even including a sample box wrapper stapled to the middle of the magazine, (Easter 1933). There were regular informative features such as ‘Our Overseas Companies’, and ‘Our raw materials’. Each edition included details of some of the many visitors to the factory each month and the Christmas1925 edition reported that there were about 30,000 visitors annually.

The state of the world

Directors and Chairmen feature in every edition. Needless to say, Joseph Rowntree himself frequently wrote for the magazine sharing personal reflections on Scarborough, and the development of the railway in York as well as commenting on company progress.  As Chairman, his ‘Christmas Letters’ expressed as much, if not more, concern about the state of the world as they did about the state of Rowntree & Co. In the 1921 edition, for instance, he refers to the settlement of the Irish Question, a Conference in Washington, and comments on the USA’s intention to bring about a reduction in armaments.

The CWM provides a unique insight into the lives of the ‘ordinary’ staff at the Cocoa Works. It shows us something important about how these people lived, what they valued and how greatly they contributed to the ongoing success of Rowntree & Co.

Cocoa Works Cataloguing Project

Copies of the Cocoa Works Magazine survive in the Rowntree Archives at the Borthwick Institute, University of York.

You can read about our current volunteer project focused on people who appear in the pages of the Cocoa Works Magazine.

Support Us

Our work is enabled by grant funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. If you would like to make a financial donation to further support our work, it is easy to pay online (with or without Gift Aid) by clicking the link below. You can get in touch with us about other ways of giving via