Timeline

1822. Joseph Rowntree Sr buys premises on Pavement

Pavement, York
Joseph Rowntree (Senior) comes to York from Scarborough, aged 21, to buy a grocery shop at 28 Pavement. The auctioneer is drunk, and Joseph has to dip his head in a bucket to sober him up.
Pavement, York

1823. Bootham School

Joseph Rowntree (Senior) and Samuel Tuke found the first private Quaker boys school in York (later known as Bootham School).

1824.

Building on his 10 years of experience, working for his grocer father in Scarborough, Joseph Rowntree (Senior)'s new business begins to flourish.

1825.

Expansion of the Quaker colony of Friedensthal, Germany, where the Seebohm family originates.

1826.

Joseph Rowntree (Senior) lives above the shop with his sister Elizabeth.

1827. Apprentices at Pavement

Long working hours for the apprentices at the Rowntree Grocery business on Pavement, 6 days a week, from 6.00 am to 8.00 pm.

1828.

Strict economy, fastidiousness, small expenditure on self, mark the first years of Joseph Rowntree (Senior’s) life as a master grocer.

1829. John Ford

John Ford becomes Superintendent of the ‘Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting Boys’ School’ (Bootham School).

1830.

York’s population expands rapidly, due to immigration from Ireland and the growth of the railway industry.

1831. The Mount School

The ‘York Friends’ Girls’ School’ - is founded in Castlegate. It relocates to its current location in Dalton Terrace in 1856 and is renamed "The Mount School".

1832. Life at the Pavement shop

Joseph marries Sarah Stephenson, and many of their five children are born in the family home above the Pavement shop. Life there is very busy and full of interest.

1833.

Thomas Craven arrives in York as a 16 year old apprentice to work with his brother-in-law Thomas Hide at his confectionery business.

1834. John Stephenson Rowntree is born.

John Stephenson Rowntree is born, eldest son to Joseph and Sarah.

1835.

Elizabeth Hotham is born. She later marries John Stephenson Rowntree, and becomes the mother of Arnold Rowntree.

1836. Joseph Rowntree is born

Joseph Rowntree is born at Pavement in York 24 May: he is the second of Joseph Rowntree Senior’s three sons.

1837.

George Hudson ‘The Railway King’ becomes Mayor of York.

1838. Henry Isaac Rowntree is born

Henry Isaac Rowntree is born – the youngest of Joseph Rowntree Senior’s sons, and founder of the confectionery company.

1839.

George Cadbury is born.

1840.

Charles Booth is born. Philanthropist and social researcher, he will advise Seebohm Rowntree on his study of Poverty in York.

1841. Julia Rowntree

Julia Seebohm is born. She will become Joseph Rowntree’s first wife.

1844. Joshua Rowntree

Joshua Rowntree is born, later to become mayor and Liberal MP for Scarborough.

1845. Hunger in York

Joseph Rowntree (Senior) takes the lead in establishing York’s soup kitchen, which opened every winter in premises near Black Horse Passage.

1846. Antoinette Rowntree

Antoinette (Tonie) Seebohm is born in Hamburg. She will become Joseph Rowntree's second wife.

1847. Banking crisis

The end of the 1840s railway boom leads to a banking crisis, known as the '1847 Panic'.

1848. First Day School founded

A 'First Day’ or Sunday morning school for boys aged between 8 and 15 is started in Hope Street.

1849. Famine in Ireland

The potato crop in Ireland fails again and compounds the problems of previous years of blight. There are serious outbreaks of typhus and other famine related diseases.

1850. Joseph witnesses the Irish Famine

The young Joseph Rowntree visits Ireland with his father, brother and John Ford. They see the starvation and destitution caused by the Famine. This trip makes a lasting impression on Joseph.

1851. The Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition held in London. New rail links enable York citizens for the first time to travel with comparative ease.

1852. Clifton Lodge House

Clifton Lodge is built. This is the house where Joseph Rowntree lives towards the end of his life.

1853. Tries hard but could do better…..

Henry Isaac Rowntree comes bottom of his class at Bootham School.

1854.

Henry Isaac is sent for a year to Grove House School, Tottenham (a school for ‘the sons of the Society of Friends’.)

1856. Apprentice at the Pavement Shop

Henry Isaac becomes an apprentice at his father’s Pavement shop.

1857. Love is in the air

Joseph meets Julia Seebohm at her family home in Hitchin.

1858.

John Stephenson Rowntree marries Elizabeth Hotham

1859. Joseph Rowntree Senior dies

Joseph Rowntree Senior dies at Top (Penn) House.

1860. Public bathing encouraged in York

The ‘Old Yearsley Bathing Place’ is constructed in 1860 on the River Foss, a short distance below Yearsley Bridge. The bed of the river is cemented for a space of 100 yards, and Dressing Sheds erected. The total cost is about £300 and admission is free. In due course, this will be redesigned by Fred Rowntree to become the Yearsley Swimming Pool still much-used in York.

1861. Fred Rowntree is born

Fred Rowntree, who will become a prolific architect in the Arts & Crafts School, is born in Scarborough.

1862. The Rowntrees get involved in cocoa

Henry Isaac Rowntree acquires a cocoa business from the Quaker Tuke family.

1863. Tragedy for young Joseph

Julia Elizabeth Rowntree dies – probably of meningitis - a few months after the birth of her first child, 'Lilley'. Lilley doesn't thrive and dies soon after her mother, leaving Joseph a grieving widower and father.

1864. H. I. Rowntree moves to a larger site

Henry Isaac moves the firm of ‘H. I. Rowntree’ to Tanner’s Moat. The site Henry Isacc buys is next to York's River Ouse. It consists of an old iron foundry, with several cottages and a tavern.

1866. Prizewinning cocoa

Henry Isaac’s ‘rock cocoa’ wins one of the 113 medals awarded at the Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition, held in York. Thereafter, it is sold as ‘Prize Medal Rock Cocoa’. It becomes a staple at the Cocoa Works in its early years.

1867. Henry Isaac becomes a city councillor of York

Henry Isaac becomes chairman of the Micklegate Liberal Association and a city councillor in York, a position he holds from 1867-70. In 1868, he starts a weekly newspaper, The Yorkshire Express. It is intended to further the cause of radical Liberalism and is printed at the Tanners Moat factory.

1868. Henry Isaac marries

Henry Isaac Rowntree marries Harriet Selina Osborn in February, at Scarborough Registry Office. At this point she is neither a Member of, nor an Attender at, a Meeting for Worship of the Society of Friends, but she becomes a Quaker in due course.

1869. Joseph to the rescue

Joseph Rowntree Jnr hands the thriving Pavement business to his elder brother, John. This allows him to bring his much-needed capital to shore up his younger brother, Henry Isaac's, small cocoa business. The name is changed to H. I. Rowntree and Co Ltd. Joseph later describes the financial state of the company in 1869 as “hopelessly embarrassed.”  

1870. Joseph’s family grows

Agnes Julia Rowntree (2nd child of Joseph and Toni Rowntree) is born and in 1871, Benjamin Seebohm follows. The family grows rapidly with the birth of Stephen in 1875,  Oscar in 1879 and is complete with the birth of Winifred in 1884.

1873. Early struggles

Despite all the hard work, H.I. Rowntree & Co Ltd makes a loss of £544 - a substantial amount in 1873. The business is not unsound but the partnership continues to be burdened by a significant bank overdraft and several mortgages.

1879. The secret of gum manufacture is cracked

A Frenchman, Claude Gaget, introduces Henry Isaac and brother Joseph to the technique of manufacturing Crystalized Gum Pastilles. This opens the way to the development of  Fruit Pastilles and Fruit Gums which are to become bulwarks of the company's future prosperity.

1881. Pastilles prove popular

Crystallised Gum Pastilles are successfully brought to market. These new sweets prove to be very popular and their success introduces a period of financial stability for the company.

1882. Beans means success

‘Chocolate beans’ are invented – and will be developed into Smarties in 1937. Along with Crystal gums, these new sweets offer customers a choice of easy-to-eat items at an affordable price.

1883. Henry Isaac dies young

Henry Isaac Rowntree
Henry Isaac dies of peritonitis, aged 45, leaving his elder brother Joseph to develop the firm and ensure its fortunes.
Henry Isaac Rowntree

1884. Debts defeated

H.I. Rowntree & Co Ltd begins to move into profit. After a trading loss of £329 in 1883, the situation improves steadily thereafter.

1885. Success is shared

Joseph Rowntree starts a library for employees in 1885 by donating £10 of his own money, raising £10 from another source, and docking a penny a week from workers’ pay. JR - as he prefers to be known by staff at the Cocoa Works -  believes it to be important for people to use their leisure time in a positive and creative way. The development of a staff library is a first step in the creation of an array of clubs and societies to support staff in their education and general well-being.  

1886. A family business

John Wilhelm on his 21st birthday enters the Cocoa Works as a partner at a time of rapid expansion for the company. All four of Joseph Rowntree's sons will become directors of the company in due course, as will their cousins Arnold and Frank.

1887. Technical innovation encourages growth

Needing to keep up with his Birmingham rival, George Cadbury, Joseph acquires the technology for pressing the fat out of the cocoa bean. This leads to the creation of Rowntree’s Elect Cocoa. The number of employees between 1883 and 1894 rises from 200 to 894.

1889. Seebohm joins the company

Seebohm joins the firm as a partner on his 18th birthday. Building on the commitment to scientific principles learnt at Owen's College, he lays the foundations for the first chemistry department at the Cocoa Works.

1890. Full steam ahead

The first of many locomotives used on Rowntree’s private railway is bought on 20th December from Hudswell Clarke.The locomotive is second hand and is called ‘Marshall”.

1891. Reaching out to a wider market

Arnold Rowntree begins his career at the Cocoa Works. His bold imaginative flair leads to startling experiments, such as on Boat Race day when a huge mechanical swan draws a barge up the Thames with an outsize tin promoting Rowntree's Elect Cocoa. Arnold's attachment to the company extends to its products - he is affectionately known by the family as 'Chocolate Jumbo'.

1892. Data about poverty published

Charles Booth’s ‘Life and Labour of the People of London’ in 9 volumes is published between 1892 and 1897. Booth's evidence makes plain that poverty is wider-spread than has been generally accepted. Not all British citizens have enjoyed the fruits of economic success. His books' impact is immediate and debate about the causes of poverty intensifies.

1893. Frank Rowntree joins the company

Frank Rowntree joins Rowntrees in the Engineering Department, following technical training at Joseph Baker and sons. Like his father, Henry Isaac Rowntree, Frank thrives on mechanical and practical challenges on the factory floor.

1895. Quaker Renaissance

John Wilhelm Rowntree plays a major part in the ‘Quaker Renaissance’ and travels to Jerusalem, via Italy. He meets Rufus M. Jones two years later, in Switzerland. Jones is a towering figure in the history of Quakerism, professor of philosophy and editor of the American Friend. He and John Wilhelm establish a deep and long lasting friendship.

1896. Growing their own

John Wilhelm fears that rivals like Cadbury and other companies from America or Germany will gain too much control over supplies of cocoa. Frank Rowntree and J. Bowes Morrell make a long trip to the West Indies, to investigate the possibility of establishing cocoa plantations.  

1898. Rapid expansion

The Rowntree business has become a limited company and opens an export department. John Wilhelm envisions the company becoming a multinational enterprise with its own plantations and branches overseas.  Soon, it is selling its products in Australia and New Zealand.

1899. Is alcohol evil?

Joseph Rowntree writes “The Temperance Problem and Social Reform.” With other Quakers, he is deeply concerned about the difficulties that dependence on alcohol can cause. His book goes into 9 editions and draws on his talent for collecting and explaining data about social issues.

1901. Seebohm Rowntree’s book on poverty makes an impression

Seebohm Rowntree, Joseph’s son, follows his father’s footsteps with his interest in poverty, public health and social questions. This is at a time well before the modern welfare state had been created. His book ‘Poverty: a Study of Town Life’, is a milestone in early sociology and statistical analysis. He calculates a standard minimum income for people to be able to live a decent comfortable life, and shows that many people who live in poverty can’t easily help their situation.

1902. Work begins on New Earswick model village

Building begins on New Earswick model village to improve workers' living conditions. A whole village is created on the outskirts of York, not far from the new factory complex.

1904. Joseph Rowntree sets up three trusts

Joseph Rowntree puts much of his entire wealth into three trusts, intended to enhance different aspects of his thinking - and capacity to act - on social problems, such as the alleviation of poverty, changes in housing conditions, education and political reform. These trusts still exist today, and they still apply the ideas of their founder to problems of society today.

1906. A new factory is built

A state-of-the-art factory is completed at Haxby Road to accommodate 4000 employees. It has Fruit and Gum blocks, a Cake Moulding block, and Store and Packing Rooms. It will be served by a special railway line. There are also extensive dining and welfare facilities, and a gymnasium.

1907. The Nation newspaper is founded.

The Nation – weekly newspaper is founded by a group of Liberals - of which Arnold was one. They are concerned that the media predominately expresses Conservative, and conservative, ideas.

1908. York’s branch of the Fabian Society is founded

Frank Rowntree founds the York branch of the Fabian Society - which continues to flourish.

1909. Yearsley swimming pool opens

The New Yearsley Baths  are opened on May 4th. Originally the company baths, Joseph Rowntree made it a condition of his gift that admission should be free. The new baths were designed by Fred Rowntree.

1910. Arnold Rowntree becomes MP for York

Arnold Rowntree is elected Liberal MP for York and remains in this position until the general election of December 1918. Although a deeply committed constituency MP, Arnold's support of Conscientious Objectors during the War is not popular and he loses his seat in the 1918 "khaki election".

1912. New Earswick School opens

New Earswick School is formally opened in 1912 by Walter Runciman, a Minister in David Lloyd George’s government.The school's pioneering design is spacious, light and airy. Its curriculum is based on the belief that reading at an early age offers the best opportunity for children to learn for themselves. Perhaps most innovatively,  boys and girls are taught the same subjects.  

1914. The Cocoa Works welcomes fighting men

1000 men of 8th Battalion the West Yorkshire Regiment is quartered in the Dining Block of the Cocoa Works. When they leave in 1915, Joseph Rowntree writes to their commanding officer to say that “very pleasant and cordial” relations had existed between all concerned. Rowntree's make tins of chocolate for the Mayor of York, John Bowes Morell, and the Sheriff, Oscar Rowntree - to send to all serving soldiers from York.

1915. Lloyd George seeks Seebohm’s help

Seebohm serves as Director of the newly-established Welfare Department at the Ministry of Munitions, and works on the implementation of the principles of ‘scientific management’ in the munitions factories. He is appointed to the Reconstruction Committee in 1916 where Beatrice Webb describes him ‘invaluable'.

1916. Works Councils are established.

Works Councils (with both staff & management representatives) are set up at the Cocoa Works. A branch of the National Union of General Workers is formally established at the Cocoa Works in 1917.

1917. Death at Passchendaele

Lawrence Rowntree, having recovered from wounds received during the Battle of the Somme, is killed in action in November. He is 22 years old.

1919. Michael Rowntree born

Arnold and May Rowntree welcome the birth of Michael, who will go on to become a successful journalist, director of the Friends Provident Life office, and vice chair of the Oxfordshire Area Health Authority. He also becomes Chair of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. 

1921. Rowntree park is opened

Rowntree Park is presented to the people of York by the Rowntree company.

1922. Seebohm continues to publish

Industrial Unrest is published and in 1923, The Human Factor in Business goes into its 3rd edition. Seebohm's reputation as an expert in the new 'science' of management is established.

1923. Seebohm Rowntree becomes Chairman

Having been with the company for over 30 years, Seebohm becomes Chairman of Rowntree and Co Ltd.  Trading conditions are difficult. Rowntree is losing market share, primarily to Cadbury. Rising costs and falling profits lead to the company seeking economies in many of its of its departments, including cuts in staff numbers.

1925. Joseph Rowntree dies

The death of Joseph Rowntree. 2,000 people line the streets of York and fill the Cocoa Works on the day of his funeral.

1926. The General Strike

As Chairman, Seebohm writes in the Cocoa Works Magazine that “.... labour and management can never co-operate wholeheartedly unless each has a sympathetic understanding of the other’s .. problems.” In 1923, he makes his recognition of the need for cooperation clear in the same journal. He says, “…we appreciate the open-minded.. attitude of the National Union of General Workers..with which we are chiefly concerned..” Rowntree and Co Ltd avoid the worst aspects of the widespread industrial unrest of the late 1920s.

1927. The Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library opens

The Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library (planned after Joseph’s death) is opened on May 24. It will house over 10,000 books.

1929. The Wall Street Crash

Stock exchanges across the world collapse, taking economies with them. By 1930, 2 million men in Britain are registered unemployed. The Cocoa Works Magazine of December that year includes a letter from Seebohm Rowntree, in which he makes clear he understands how workers are being affected:  “I know how much there is to discourage..we face a 10th winter of unemployment..” Poor market conditions mean that even some Rowntrees' staff are put on short-time working.

1930. George Harris introduces the famous brands

A range of famous brands is introduced, under the direction of George Harris, including Black Magic, KitKat, Aero, Dairy Box, Smarties, and Polo Mints. They show how well brand marketing can contribute towards the growth of an enterprise.

1931. Seebohm becomes a Companion of Honour

Seebohm is made a Companion of Honour by George V in the latter's Birthday Honours. The honour is given in recognition of Seebohms contribution to 'social services.'

1933. Seebohm warns that peace is fragile

In the December edition of the Cocoa Works Magazine, Seebohm warns Rowntree staff, “If the nations drift into another great war,.. it will be just because the common people like ourselves have been too apathetic, self-absorbed, too indolent to veto .. all that makes for war.”

1935. The Joseph Rowntree Theatre opens

The Joseph Rowntree Theatre opens in November. At first it is known as the Joseph Rowntree Hall, but this soon changes. Peter Rowntree becomes one of the Trustees of the firm responsible for the Theatre's construction and spends much time and care in making it one of the most up-to-date small theatres in the country. It remains a valuable part of York's cultural life to this day.  

1938. Jean Rowntree

Jean Rowntree - sister to Lawrence - works in Prague, to help Jews, social democrats and others in danger from the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland.

1939. World War 2 breaks out

The Joseph Rowntree Theatre is taken over by the military authorities as a billet for troops. By November 1939, 457 staff have left the Cocoa Works to become involved in various kinds of national service.

1940. Kenneth becomes a War Artist

Kenneth Rowntree becomes one of more than 60 British artists commissioned by the government (financed by the Pilgrim Trust) to record the face of England and Wales before wartime destruction changes it beyond recognition.

1941. Winston Churchill disapproves of sweet rationing

Factory output diminishes, as Uboat attacks on merchant shipping seriously limit the supply of imported goods. Sugar and cocoa become hard to access. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Churchill wants to avoid rationing sweets, as he feels it will lower citizen morale. Despite his best intentions, confectionery is  rationed from 1942, and will not finally come "off ration" until 1953.

1942. York is bombed.

29th April sees a 'Baedeker raid' over York. The Homestead is damaged, plus the Rowntree warehouse in North Street is hit by incendiary bombs and gutted. This building is the oldest part of the original Rowntree factory, having been bought by the company in 1882.

1944. The Cocoa Works becomes ‘County Industries’

As the tide of WW2 turns, the Cocoa Works is very much part of the war effort. The office block on Haxby Road has been requisitioned by the Royal Army Pay Corps & the Cream Department is reconfigured for the production of munitions, dried egg and Ryvita.  The Gum Department is converted into a secret fuse factory, named 'County Industries'. It employs over 900 staff, who work 12 hour shifts, filling fuses with TNT. This is dangerous work but fortunately there are relatively few accidents.

1945. Haverford House

Haverford House which had been the home of Frank Rowntree and his family, is leased to the YHA - & is subsequently sold to them.

1947. Dunollie House opens

Dunollie House opens officially in 1947, to provide a sanctuary for those suffering with stress and ill health. The respite offered by this comfortable house in Scarborough is remembered with great affection by many who stayed there, though over time the strict routines become less popular and some folk "got fed up with being told what to do".

1950. A changed world?

The last of Seebohm's investigations into poverty is published.   The introduction of family allowances in 1946, the NHS in 1948 - along with  the raft of other legislation introduced to fulfil the promises of the Beveridge Report - is transforming many aspects of life for people in the UK.

1951. The Aero girls are introduced

Another example of Rowntree's imaginative advertising is seen in the 1950s, when a series of pictures are commissioned, to advertise Aero, in print and on television.

1952. Michael Rowntree

Michael ‘Mike’ Rowntree (son to Arnold & May) becomes a member of the Executive Committee at Oxfam (and serves there most of the rest of his life.)

1954. Seebohm Rowntree dies

Seebohm Rowntree dies at his home in Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire, formerly the home of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

1955. Don’t forget the fruit gums, Mum!

Rowntrees commissions its first TV advert, whch goes out in November, advertising Fruit Gums. It is just one more innovation in marketing Rowntrees' products. Both Henry and Arnold have prepared the ground, but George Harris becomes the strongest advocate of the value of advertising the Rowntree brand. He is company Chairman from 1941 to 1952 and oversees the company's recovery after WW2.

1957. A new factory opens near Newcastle

Labour shortages in York lead to a subsidiary works being set up in Fawdon, 3 miles from Newcastle. Railway links allow goods to be transported efficiently and quickly between it and the Cocoa Works in York. By summer 1958 all fruit gum, pastille and jelly production has been transferred to Fawdon.

1959. Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust

The Joseph Rowntree Village Trust’s name is changed to the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust and its powers are widened to enable it to support research into housing and social questions.

1960. The Trusts contribute to the foundation of the University of York.

In 1960 the Rowntree trusts jointly made a grant of £100,000 towards the foundation of the University of York. John Bowes Morrell, a director of Rowntree and Co, was instrumental in founding both the University of York and the Borthwick Institute for Archives. Several other directors and trustees have over the years held positions of responsibility in the University, which has a building in Social Sciences named after Seebohm Rowntree.

1961. Rivalry between English confectioners

Rowntree sees rapid growth in demand and the development of new markets across the globe. The largest confectionery companies in England had a tradition of close trade cooperation - the 'Five Firms' and 'Three Firms' Conferences had included Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry since their inception. However, new legislation to prevent restrictive practices leads Rowntree to reassess their value. Economies of scale enable larger firms to see sustained growth as mass consumption increases during the 1950s, whereas smaller confectionery companies struggle.

1962. After Eights

'After Eight Mint Chocolate Thins'- known more commonly as just 'After Eights' - are introduced and prove to be immediately successful.

1964. Powerful retailers change market conditions

The bargaining power of grocery supermarkets impacts Rowntree and distribution plans include new ideas, such as introducing multipacks of KitKat.

1969. A merger and the FTSE 100

The company merges with John Mackintosh & Sons (makers of Rolo, Munchies, Toffee Crips, Quality Street) to form Rowntree Mackintosh Ltd. For a period it became a constituent of the FTSE 100 index.

1988. Company sold to Nestle

Nestlé SA acquires Rowntree plc, and the company is renamed Nestlé Rowntree, to become a division of Nestlé UK Ltd. It continues to produce many of the original brand products.

2000. Joseph Rowntree man of the millennium

Joseph Rowntree is voted ‘Man of the Millennium’ by the citizens of York.

2012. Joseph Rowntree is still loved in York

Joseph Rowntree is the winner of the special ‘Community Pride’ awards, as the man who has done most for pride in York during the city’s 800th celebration since the granting of a royal charter in 1212.

2018. KitKat goes from strength to strength

Six million KitKats a day are produced at the York Nestlé factory. More than 1 billion KitKats are consumed in the UK each year. A year’s production would stretch around the London Underground 350 times.