Stop 8. Confectionary and Hospitality: The Rowntree’s Story.

Cross Pavement and walk towards the entrance to the Shambles, entering the yard in front of the church of St. Crux. Look back across the road towards the building at number 35, now housing a Pizza Hut.

The building now occupied by Pizza Hut is the site of York businessman and philanthropist Joseph Rowntree’s first grocers’ shop, which opened in 1842. Rowntree’s products have been manufactured in York for 150 years now and the name Rowntree’s is still a famous brand of sweets even today. The building was later the home of a young Arnold Rowntree, nephew of Joseph, during his apprenticeship with the company. He went on to become the Liberal MP for York 1910-1918 and a fierce champion of the rights of conscientious objectors. Rowntree’s Cocoa works was eventually moved to a much bigger site on Haxby Road which they still occupy today.

During the war, the company extended their generosity both at home and abroad. The company was contracted by the government to supply goods to the army, but in addition, members of Rowntree’s workforce sent out their own packages to the troops. The Cocoa Works employees’ magazine tells us how a Miss Huffam was particularly instrumental in this, requesting donations of “tobacco, cigarettes, matches, candles, chocolates, peppermints, etc.” to send in her weekly parcels to the men of the West Yorkshire Regiment, while the workers of the Almond Paste Department also sent parcels of “confectionery and cigarettes” to their department colleagues in the forces.  You can see a sample of Rowntree’s confectionary which survived the trenches in the Yorkshire Museum. Clearly, food played an important role in maintaining contact with and boosting the morale of those who had gone off to fight.

This generosity wasn’t just felt overseas. Rowntree’s also displayed their hospitality here in York. In the early years of the war, two battalions, including 1000 men from the 8th battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment (terriorials) were quartered in the New Dining Block at the Haxby Road factory. When the West Yorkshire Regiment moved out, the space was soon filled again by another group of soldiers nicknamed the ‘Koylis’; one of them was a former Rowntree’s worker and he was placed on guard duty outside the hall on the first night. When the Regiment were posted to the Western Front, the Dining Block became a hospital for wounded soldiers. The employees efforts were much appreciated - a letter from the battalion commanding officer published in the workers’ magazine expressed thanks to the employees who had volunteered to run the bar.

As well as accommodating soldiers waiting to travel to the frontline, Rowntree’s also played host to those travelling in the opposite direction: Belgian refugees who were fleeing from the fighting. Many found their way to New Earswick, Rowntree’s model village for their employees, where nine houses were donated rent-free by the directors. Rowntree’s workers helped furnish and decorate these homes for the refugees and also paid a weekly donation of 1d to support the Belgian families. In turn, the refugees contributed to the community: many of the men took jobs in the Cocoa Works in order to support their families themselves, while some also offered to teach French to the employees.

Hundreds of Rowntree’s male employees went off to fight in the war; many of them did not return. In 1921, the company gave Rowntree Park to the city in memory of all those workers lost in the war.

Stop 8. Confectionary and Hospitality: The Rowntree’s Story.


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