Rowntree A-Z

Joshua Rowntree

Joshua Rowntree (1844-1915) was a solicitor, practising largely in Scarborough. He was deeply concerned in the reform and revival of the Quaker faith.

In 1866, he decided to apply his experiences of Adult School work in York and set up a Friends Adult School in Scarborough. With the help of his cousin William Stickney Rowntree, a new school building was opened in 1872 in the garden of the old Friends Meeting House, known as Spring Gardens.

The school undertook temperance work and by 1875 had established the Scarborough Coffee Cart Company, as well as a British Workman’s Reading Room. Women’s classes began in 1871. By 1886, the school had 268 members, declining to 176 by 1901. The school had a library, established a Sick Society and a Savings Fund for members, and held an annual tea.

When Joshua Rowntree travelled to South Africa during the Boer War, he sent letters home to his Adult School scholars about his experiences.

In 1880 he married fellow Scarborian, Isabella Ann Tindall: they had one son, Maurice.

In 1885, Joshua Rowntree became Mayor of Scarborough and was elected Member of Parliament for Scarborough in 1886, serving as a Gladstonian Liberal until 1892, when the Conservative candidate was returned to power.

Joshua Rowntree worked closely with his cousin John Wilhelm Rowntree in creating the Woodbrooke Settlement School in Birmingham. It opened in 1903 and Joshua was closely involved in the development of its early curriculum. The School went on to develop into a Quaker research and learning organisation (see here).

Joshua had a particular concern about the misuse of opium, and its trade. This was not a popular position to take. English society was deeply ambivalent towards opium. It was one of the few truly effective analgesics then available and it was possible to walk into a chemist and buy not only opium but also cocaine. Britain had fought two wars in favour of the opium trade in the 19th Century, crushing Chinese efforts to restrict its importation.

All major British ports in the 18th or 19th Century, saw opium arriving alongside ordinary cargo and no doubt Joshua was aware that opium came into the port of Scarborough. It could be said that Joshua Rowntree foresaw the explosion of the market for recreational drugs that has become such an issue in 21st Century Britain.

Some of his work about the dangers of opium use can be seen here:

The archive for Scarborough Friends Adult School is held at Leeds University Library.

S. Elizabeth Robson: Joshua Rowntree. George Allen & Unwin, 1916, reprinted by Elibron Classics 2007.

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