Researching Rowntree

Researching Rowntree

Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York

The Borthwick Institute for Archives houses several collections of Rowntree archives in which there is considerable overlap (reflecting the close integration of the Rowntree & Co /Rowntree Macintosh company, the Joseph Rowntree Trusts, and the Rowntree family over the 19th and 20th centuries).

The main collections are:

The Rowntree Papers: the research papers of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree. Owned by the University of York. No online catalogue presently available, but there is a hard copy catalogue available at the Borthwick.

The Rowntree Mackintosh Company Archive. Owned by For an online listing (edited by J. Burg) see here.

The company archive also includes what survives of the Rowntree Company Technical Library, containing pamphlets, cuttings and books about management, business and the confectionery industry etc. A brief box listing is available at the Borthwick; no online catalogue presently available.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Archive. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (formerly called the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust, and the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust) is one of the three Trusts set up by Joseph Rowntree in 1904. The holdings at the Borthwick include archives created by the Foundation itself, including papers on housing, and New Earswick model village, as well as other Rowntree material which was formerly housed at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Library. This other material includes (1) Papers and correspondence of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (2) Rowntree Company papers  [which complement the holdings in the Rowntree Mackintosh Company Archive itself]  (3) Family correspondence and papers, including letters between Joseph Rowntree and his family.

Owned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. There are hard copy catalogues at the Borthwick; no online catalogue is presently available. The catalogues are currently being restructured and updated, so that the resources will in future become more searchable for external users

Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust; a small amount of material (mixed into the Joseph Rowntree Foundation archive).

Rowntree Family Letters. This is a separate collection of letters, including letters by Joseph Rowntree and his family, in particular to and from his first wife Julia: this complements the holdings of letters within the Joseph Rowntree Foundation archive.

The very rich photographic and film archives reflect factory scenes, products, marketing, production, cocoa plantations and social welfare.  Much of this material is held by the Borthwick Institute for Archives. About 10% can be seen online at Heritage Images: (go to ‘partners’ and ‘Borthwick Institute’).

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BIA also holds a collection of original paintings made for the Aero Girls advertising campaign in the 1950s. See Areo girls exhibition

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Brotherton Library, Special Collections, The University Library, University of Leeds

The Quaker Archive at the University of Leeds holds the Clifford Street (York) collection of Quaker meeting minute books and business records (such as lists of members and marriage certificates), covering mainly York and Thirsk, but also Yorkshire as a whole. There are maps showing the extent of the relevant Yorkshire monthly meetings before 1853, 1854-1923 and since 1924. The Rowntrees played a major part in the Clifford Street Meeting and their involvement in its daily business and spiritual development is reflected in these papers.

Leeds University Special Collections – Quaker Society of Friends archives


British Newspapers Archive

An online collection of up to 40 million newspaper pages from the British Library’s collection; contains very many entries on Rowntree.

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Bruno Lasker papers

Bruno Lasker’s (1880-1965) papers are held by the Columbia University Libraries Archival Collections.

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Castle Museum York (York Museums Trust)

York Castle Museum has a large collection of items on social history, built up by the museum’s founder, Dr John L Kirk, in 1938. The ‘Kirkgate’ reconstructed street is based on real York businesses, and it includes a Temperance Cocoa House and a Rowntree snicket reconstructing working class homes based on Seebohm Rowntree’s poverty study. The education materials on the website include some Rowntree-related materials for schools.

Charles Booth online archive

The original record, held at the London School of Economics, of Booth’s investigation into life and labour in London, between 1886 and 1903.

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City of York Archives & Libraries

York City Council’s holdings at Explore relate mostly to the civic aspects of the city’s history and the Rowntrees’ part in that history, including pamphlets and historic newspapers, and the ‘Cocoa Letters’ (a collection of letters sent back from the front to thank the Lord Mayor and sheriff for their generosity in sending consignments of chocolate out to the serving troops).

Friends House Library, London

One of the largest libraries in the world for Quaker collections, including many Quaker journals. Some Rowntree family material, especially in relation to their Quaker work nationally, is housed here.

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Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust archive

The papers of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust are held by the trust.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation archive

The papers of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation are mostly held by the Borthwick Institute for Archives (see above).

Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust archive

The papers of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust are held by the trust.

Nestlé plc archive

The written documents and company history of the original Rowntree company (later Rowntree Mackintosh) collections, owned by Nestlé plc, are today housed in the Borthwick Institute for Archives (see above). A company archive (not open to the public) of artefacts and other related material exists at the York factory.

The highlights of this collection include more than 300 films that were recently uncovered at the company’s base in Croydon, the original pre-war artwork for the classic Black Magic advertising campaigns, a rare collection of  1920s chocolate moulds as well as magazines, catalogues and other documents. The collection also houses the stained-glass window from the Haxby Road site’s oldest office, as well as the famous Mr York robot that dates back to an advertising campaign from the 1920s for Plain York, York Milk and York Motoring Chocolate (currently on loan and on display at York’s Chocolate Story).


Alex Hutchinson, 
Nestlé UK Archive
 PO Box 203
 YO91 1XY

Quaker archives in Yorkshire

A research bibliography ‘Researching Quaker Yorkshire History’ was compiled by Helen E. Roberts in 2003 (updated in 2007);

Quaker Schools in the UK

For an overview of the archives of some of the Quaker schools in the UK:

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An overview of the global History of Philanthropy.

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 A site run from the Netherlands and including useful information about several of the pioneers of social reform.

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A site that contains several Victorian tracts on the subject of social conditions among the poor, that help to place the Rowntree studies into a wider context.

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A trail of Bristol’s chocolate heritage, exploring the impact of sugar and slavery on the built environment:

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The Cadbury story

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York Civic Trust. A useful guide to a number of local archives resources.

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A Guide through the History of York. From its pre-history to the present day.

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Port Sunlight Model Village

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Letchworth Garden City

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Bournville Model Village

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Saltaire Village

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Evelyn collection, York Minster Library

During his career as a medical practitioner William Evelyn (d. 1935) built up a collection of 3000 glass slides that captured the built environment in York. He bequeathed it to Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society and it is housed in the York Minster Library. It is a unique documentation of some of York’s lost buildings.

Yorkshire Film Archive

The Yorkshire Film Archive holds 128 films of Rowntree materials on deposit; some sample materials are available online.

York Images

York Images is an online photographic collection of 6000 historic images of York, many of them digitised. It is an excellent integrated resource for finding information about the Victorian and Edwardian city.

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The York Press

The Press (formerly the Yorkshire Evening Press) has an archive of photographic prints dating back to the early 1900s.

 It is not indexed, but is organised alphabetically.

 Since 1997, all Press photographs have been electronically archived.

Many of the photographs – both some early hard-copy prints which have been electronically scanned, and some more recent photographs that were electronically archived – can be viewed online. To view these, or order copies, visit

A ‘Rowntree’ Novel

Fiona Shaw’s novel, The Sweetest Thing, is a love story set against the background of the York chocolate factories. She has created a character who was a Quaker, a philanthropist and an industrialist who used industrial espionage – strong echoes of Joseph and his times, and highly recommended reading.

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