Rowntree Family Papers

Scope and Content

Records of the Rowntree family, including correspondence, diaries, legal papers and other material, 1774-2007.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Rowntree family’s association with York began in 1822 when Joseph Rowntree (1801-1859) moved to the city from Scarborough to establish a grocery shop at 28 Pavement. In 1832 he married Sarah Stephenson (1807-1888) and the couple had five children together. Both the Rowntree and Stephenson family were members of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, and the Rowntrees went on to become one of the most prominent Quaker families in York.
It was Joseph and Sarah’s younger son, Henry Isaac (1838-1883), who in 1862 purchased the cocoa business of the Tuke family, founding what would eventually become the Rowntree confectionery company and brand. Joined by his brother Joseph (1836-1925) in 1869, the business was incorporated as Rowntree & Co in 1897 and moved to the Cocoa Works, a purpose built factory on Haxby Road, where it remains to this day.
The company became the second biggest employer in York under the leadership of Joseph Rowntree and his son Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (1871-1954), and successive generations of the Rowntree family worked there as managers and company directors. The company’s more famous products include the Kit Kat and Aero chocolate bars.
The Rowntree family were heavily involved in the civic, political and social life of York, not merely as a major employer but also as Members of Parliament, city councillors, committee members, newspaper proprietors and philanthropists. Motivated in part by their religious faith, they were politically liberal and interested in questions of economic, educational and social reform. The factory at Haxby Road became well known for its innovative schemes to improve the welfare of the workforce, including paid leave, pensions, on site healthcare, a profit sharing scheme and model housing.
The family also invested in educational and leisure facilities for the city, including the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Rowntree Park, York city library, and local schools for children and adults. A significant source of funding came from the four Joseph Rowntree Trusts established by Joseph Rowntree in 1904 to continue his social and charitable work.
His son Benjamin Seebohm in turn conducted pioneering research into poverty in York at the turn of the twentieth century, publishing his conclusions in ‘Poverty: a Study of Town Life’ in 1901. He later advised David Lloyd George and William Beveridge on areas of public policy relating to unemployment and living conditions.
The Rowntree company was sold to Swiss company Nestlé in 1988. Today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust are still based in York and continue the family’s support for social reform.

Arrangement

The Rowntree family papers have been brought together from a number of distinct deposits and gifts to the Borthwick Institute. The bulk of the family material was deposited by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. A further substantial gift of 19th century family correspondence and papers was acquired through the Rowntree Society. Other smaller deposits and gifts have been acquired from family members, the company, and other parties.
In order to create a useful catalogue whilst respecting the provenance of these deposits and gifts the catalogue has been arranged by family member, with the different gifts and deposits grouped within each subfonds. Provenance has been preserved through the use of acronyms in the archival reference.
/JRF = records originating with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
/RS = records originated with the Rowntree Society
/PD = records originated as a private gift or deposit (where permissible, the name of the donor or depositor is recorded in the 'immediate source of acquisition' field)

Access Information

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Acquisition Information

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Historical Archive and the Papers of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, which forms the bulk of this collection, were deposited at the Borthwick Institute by the Library of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2006. This included 4 boxes of 19th century family correspondence which had been transferred from the company offices at the Cocoa Works and which has therefore been treated as a separate deposit in this catalogue (described as 'Victorian Correspondence).
In 2011 a further substantial deposit of 19th century family correspondence was made by Michael Rowntree via the Rowntree Society (described in this catalogue as 'Rowntree Society Correspondence').
For smaller deposits and gifts please see the individual subsubfonds descriptions.

Note

The Rowntree family’s association with York began in 1822 when Joseph Rowntree (1801-1859) moved to the city from Scarborough to establish a grocery shop at 28 Pavement. In 1832 he married Sarah Stephenson (1807-1888) and the couple had five children together. Both the Rowntree and Stephenson family were members of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, and the Rowntrees went on to become one of the most prominent Quaker families in York.
It was Joseph and Sarah’s younger son, Henry Isaac (1838-1883), who in 1862 purchased the cocoa business of the Tuke family, founding what would eventually become the Rowntree confectionery company and brand. Joined by his brother Joseph (1836-1925) in 1869, the business was incorporated as Rowntree & Co in 1897 and moved to the Cocoa Works, a purpose built factory on Haxby Road, where it remains to this day.
The company became the second biggest employer in York under the leadership of Joseph Rowntree and his son Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (1871-1954), and successive generations of the Rowntree family worked there as managers and company directors. The company’s more famous products include the Kit Kat and Aero chocolate bars.
The Rowntree family were heavily involved in the civic, political and social life of York, not merely as a major employer but also as Members of Parliament, city councillors, committee members, newspaper proprietors and philanthropists. Motivated in part by their religious faith, they were politically liberal and interested in questions of economic, educational and social reform. The factory at Haxby Road became well known for its innovative schemes to improve the welfare of the workforce, including paid leave, pensions, on site healthcare, a profit sharing scheme and model housing.
The family also invested in educational and leisure facilities for the city, including the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Rowntree Park, York city library, and local schools for children and adults. A significant source of funding came from the four Joseph Rowntree Trusts established by Joseph Rowntree in 1904 to continue his social and charitable work.
His son Benjamin Seebohm in turn conducted pioneering research into poverty in York at the turn of the twentieth century, publishing his conclusions in ‘Poverty: a Study of Town Life’ in 1901. He later advised David Lloyd George and William Beveridge on areas of public policy relating to unemployment and living conditions.
The Rowntree company was sold to Swiss company Nestlé in 1988. Today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust are still based in York and continue the family’s support for social reform.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

The collection includes vinyl records, VHS videotapes, and compact audio cassettes. Access to audiovisual material may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute for more information.

Archivist's Note

Created 07.10.15. Updated 18.12.19.

Conditions Governing Use

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Accruals

Further accruals are expected.

Related Material

Further records relating to the Rowntree family are deposited at the Borthwick Institute as part of the following archives: Records of Henry Isaac Rowntree & Co, Rowntree Company Archive, Rowntree Trusts Archives, Records of the Rowntree Society, Papers of John Bowes Morrell, Educational Interchange Council Archive, Margaret Barnet Archive and the Harvey Archive.
Minute books and photographs of John Rowntree & Sons, tea and coffee merchants and cafe owners of Scarborough, dated 1838-1955, are deposited at North Yorkshire County Record Office.

Bibliography

Asa Briggs, 'Social thought and social action: a study of the work of Seebohm Rowntree, 1871-1954' (London, 1961)

Elizabeth Jackson, 'Joseph Rowntree (1801-1859): Citizen of York,' in York Historian, volume 23 (2006)

Elizabeth Jackson, 'Henry Isaac Rowntree: his Life and Legacy,' in York Historian, volume 28 (2011)

Ian Packer, ed. 'The letters of Arnold Stephenson Rowntree to Mary Katherine Rowntree: 1910-1918' (Cambridge, 2002)

Chris Titley, 'Joseph Rowntree' (Oxford, 2013)

Additional Information

Published

GB 193