Rowntree A-Z

Scarborough, the Rowntrees of

There have been records of Rowntrees living in North Yorkshire for centuries. One particular Rowntree – Peter (who was a yeoman, in Easby during the reign of James 1) seems to be the common ancestor of many distinguished people.

Some of his descendants settled in and around Scarborough. Many of them joined the Society of Friends in the aftermath of the English Civil War.

Throughout the 19th century, the North Yorkshire town of Scarborough grew rapidly, firstly as a centre of the fishing industry with a small, though fashionable Spa and then with the coming of the railway in 1845, as the hugely successful ‘Queen of Watering Places’, catering for a much wider public. These developments were ripe ground for hard-working and entrepreneurial families to establish flourishing businesses and to invest both their time and money in local communities.

John Rowntree (1757 – 1827) set up a grocer’s shop in Blands Cliff, Scarborough. He married Elizabeth Lotherington & they had a large family, including 3 sons. The youngest son was Joseph (1801- 1859), who moved to York, set up a grocer and tea dealer’s shop at 28 Pavement and who subsequently founded the hugely successful York branch of the Rowntree family.

Joseph’s oldest brother William (1786 – 1849) moved to Gateshead where he established a business as ‘Miller and Maltster’ on Windmill Hill. He married Rachel Watson (1788 – 1845). They had many children, one of whom – their son John (1821 – 1894) – was sent back home to Scarborough, as an apprentice to his uncle John (1785 – 1845): the older John was already an established grocer & draper in the town.

This younger John Rowntree married firstly Ann Webster (1828 – 1864) and later Elizabeth Walker (1841 – 1913). When his uncle died, John took over the business.

In due course, John & Ann’s first son, John Watson Rowntree, became a partner in the grocery business. The grocery store in Westborough was extended and developed: (See: )

As a long-standing Liberal Councillor, John Watson Rowntree became Mayor of Scarborough in 1906. He was appointed a JP in 1908. He joined the Labour party after WW1 and, during the 1918 General Election, was the Independent Labour party candidate for the Scarborough seat.

On his death in 1935, local newspapers described him as a ‘prominent Quaker’ and ‘the head of the well-known Scarborough firm of grocers’. The Hull Daily Mail reported on 14th September that John Watson Rowntree left over £14000 in his will. (A substantial sum for the time. By way of comparison, a parliamentary report shows the Prime Minister being paid a salary of £5000 in 1930.)

John & Ann Rowntree’s second son, George, also became a grocer, extending his business to include an elegant cafe. In addition to this, in 1928 he was elected to the County Council, of which he soon became an alderman. He was elected chairman of the Scarborough Board of Guardians.

He married fellow Scarborian Priscilla Gray Wallis (1856–1933), and they had one son, Malcolm.

George wrote a short series of “Reminiscences” in 1935/6 for his grandchildren. These include a fascinating description of the “Schreiner Riots” which took place in Scarborough in 1900, and which resulted in serious damage to Rowntree businesses and homes. The ‘Reminiscences’ also describe the Bombardment of Scarborough in 1914 – amongst many other events.

Fred Rowntree born in 1860, the third son of John and Ann Rowntree. He was educated at Bootham School, York, and from 1876 to 1880 was articled to Charles Augustus Bury, a Scarborough architect (perhaps best known for his design of Scarborough Unitarian Church). In 1885 he was taken into partnership by Charles Edeson of Scarborough and in 1890 moved to London.

In 1886, he married Glaswegian Mary Anna Gray (1862–1933): they had two sons, Colin and Douglas, and a daughter, Judith.

Arthur Rowntree was born the year after Fred, and like his brother, was educated at Bootham School. Subsequently, he went onto both London and Heidelberg Universities, working concurrently as an assistant master at Oliver’s Mount and Bootham Schools. In 1891, Arthur Rowntree married Ellen Hurndall (1859–1950) and they had two daughters together – Joan and Alysoun. He was Headmaster of Bootham School from 1899 to 1927, guiding it through the difficulties of the First World War when many of its scholars faced the challenge of deciding whether or not to be combatants in the war.

Other notable Scarborian Rowntrees:


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