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Rowntree's (Hardback)

The Early History

Yorkshire and Humberside P&S History Social History 19th Century

By Paul Chrystal
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526778895
Published: 30th April 2021

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The Rowntree family, especially Henry and the younger Joseph Rowntree are, along with the Fry’s, Cadbury’s, Mars and Terry’s, synonymous with the birth and growth of the chocolate industry in Britain. Between them, they were the chocolate industry in Britain.

This book charts the fascinating story behind the birth and development of the chocolate empire that was Rowntrees. Background information to this astonishing business comes by way of chapters on the early history of the Rowntrees, contemporary York, the relationship between Quakers and chocolate, and the Tuke family – without whom there would have been no Rowntrees, and no Kit Kats.

Henry, it is usually forgotten, was the founder of Rowntree’s – he made the momentous decision to sign the deal with the Tukes and we join him in those very early days of the fledgling company and watch how he helped it through some very dark, and sometimes humorous, times in what was then a very shambolic set up – cash strapped and making it up as the company lurched from crisis to crisis. Joseph, his elder brother, it was, who became the driving force to eventual global success, mixing his hectic business life with acts of compassion and a benevolent management model, all of which paved the way for decent wages, pensions, insurance and mutual respect in the workplace. Charity work extended beyond the factories to lift workers and others out of the slums of York to a life in a healthy model village, to provide a good social life, an extensive park, swimming pool and education for children and adults. More context is given with chapters on Joseph’s relentless industrial espionage, the advancements in chocolate production and 20th century rivals in the domestic and export markets, and mergers and acquisitions.

Rowntree’s role in the two world wars is also covered along with the struggle Joseph Rowntree had accepting the importance of advertising. Altogether this book gives two fascinating biographies of two exceptional and driven brothers who came together to form one of our greatest companies - producing some of our best loved confectionery products.

This is a solid and interesting book that is obviously written by an experienced writer of historical nonfiction. There is a massive amount of information and I learnt so much including about subjects I had not expected like chicory. The most interesting and important part for me was learning about the treatment of workers and worker relations, a fascinating part of the company's history and legacy. The book also explores the interesting intersection between running such a global company and having such a strong Quaker belief. I recommend this book for anone interested in this era of history and as a study of a complex man in Joseph Rowntree.

NetGalley, Lorna Vianna

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There is more to just eating confections than meets the eye! This is delectable book for history and confectionery lovers the world over!
This book, as much as it looks into the very being of Rowntrees and other companies, with them at the centre, it has more to it than meets the eye!
Thanks to Pen & Sword for accepting my request to review this wonderfully interesting book, which goes into little known corners of the confectionary world with its very interesting insights.

Full review
Rowntrees is about that famous family, especially Henry and Joseph who are synonymous with the birth of chocolate and in how it has grown.

It charts how Henry is the founder of Rowntrees and it details about his younger brother Joseph. It's one for the reader with a sweet-tooth and with an interest in how these companies came about, as it has other confectionery companies mentioned too. The pace is excellent for such a historical non-fiction book. It's interesting as Henry and Joseph Rowntree weren't just pioneering chocolate, but also in treating their staff well. It demonstrates their philanthropy and human interest and industrial relations, influenced by them being Quakers. The book has lots of context to it and mentions Lewis Fry and George Cadbury as well as The East India Tea Company and Nestle and how events influenced their ways of working and brought about meetings with Samuel Tuke, who is a key man.

There is plenty of history, even if you don't have a sweet-tooth as it isn't all chocolate related. It chronicles improvements to buildings and schooling and the contributions the Rowntrees made and how Joseph, especially, had been active in so many good causes.

There's a lot to learn about the Confectionery Industry from the Mid nineteenth century onwards. It's written in a manner as though studies have just been done and the information is unfolding for the first time. This style of writing brings some excitement to the book, especially when talking about what chocolate contains and how cacao can be consumed. The book shows differences in branding and advertising, which is a bit like an exclusive sneaky peak behind the scenes. It's interesting what is uncovered within the book, including competition and the concerns of industrial espionage.

As the book takes readers through the years, its pace builds up some excitement as chocolate emerges and becomes established in York, England. Although there are a lot of figures and dates, it adds to the context and doesn't detract from the rest of the facts, so even if figures aren't your thing, the rest of the book might well be and the pace is kept-up.

In the modern day, there seems to be more discoveries and it is exquisite that there are still old traditions that still survive today. It truly is all a delightful feast for the eyes and it may just make you want to buy some of Rowntree's confectionery as you read the rapid rise and rise of it all as it documents drinking chocolate, eating chocolate, sweets such as humbugs and pastilles, all of which still survive today.

The book nicely and respectfully concludes with The Last Will and Testament of Henry Isaac Rowntree and the heritage and suggests where to find further reading on the subject matters within the book. Beyond that, there are pictures of the Rowntrees and George Cadbury as well as some of the architecture, landscape and advertisement posters of their times, which is a delight to see.

NetGalley, Louise Cannon

As a KitKat lover, as well as most chocolates, Rowntree's by Paul Chrystal was a very interesting read. Learning about the Tuke family and the way the business was built was fascinating and gave a good history of Rowntree's.

NetGalley, Monica Collazo

I love chocolate, and am highly interested in history, so naturally when I saw this book, I knew I had to read it! Having visited Cadbury world in Bournville twice, I was familiar with some of the history of that company, but not so much with Rowntree's, despite having also visited York. Although the focus of the book is on Rowntree's (as you'd expect), the author also gives us a brief history of some other companies, which provides a wider historical perspective. I thoroughly appreciated this (for example, one of the Cadbury's completed his apprenticeship in Rowntree's). You will also appreciate the honesty of this account, as it provides a "warts-and-all" perspective of the chocolate industry, and doesn't gloss over the implications it had on the slave trade. Overall, I enjoyed this, and if you have any interest in Britain's industrial age, I'm sure you will, too.

NetGalley, Monica Wilson
 Paul Chrystal

About Paul Chrystal

Paul Chrystal has classics degrees from the Universities of Hull and Southampton; he is the author of one hundred or so books, a number of which are about confectionery and beverages. 


He has written features on aspects of the history of food and drink for the Daily Express , and has featured on the BBC World Service, Radio 4’s PM programme and various BBC local radio stations talking on a wide range of subjects, but notably confectionery. In 2019 Paul contributed to a six-part series for BBC2 ‘celebrating the history of some of Britain’s most iconic craft industries’ – in this case chocolate in York. He has been history advisor for a number of York tourist attractions relating to chocolate. Paul is editor of York Historian, the journal of the Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society. In 2019 he was also guest speaker for the prestigious Vassar College New York-London programme.

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