The Quakers

Appears in

Chocolate: The Food of the Gods


By Chantal Coady

Published 1993

At this time the Quakers began to be involved in the cocoa industry. The Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers, was founded in England by George Fox (1624–1691), its aims being to promote justice, equality, forgiveness and understanding. Fox felt that the established church did little to help the poor, and abused its position of power, by maintaining that the only way to reach God was to be a member of the church. The Quakers challenged this view, asserting that ministers were not essential and that there was something of God in every man, and equally in every woman. Quaker women played a very important role in both the business and the family, and were far more emancipated than their non-Quaker contemporaries.

The Quakers suffered persecution, even imprisonment, on account of their beliefs, which alienated them from almost every branch of the Establishment. They were barred from Oxford and Cambridge Universities because they were dissenters, and also from professions such as politics, law and medicine. Consequently many Quakers seem to have found a natural outlet for their energies in the fields of business and commerce. Several great Quaker families - the Frys, the Rowntrees, the Cadburys and the Terrys – chose cocoa as a commodity because they believed it to be a nourishing drink and a healthy alternative to Dutch gin. They hoped to persuade the poor to give up alcohol, in favour of this altogether healthier drink, and to spend their limited resources on clothes, food and housing, to create a better living environment for themselves. It would be true to say that we owe a great debt to the Quakers for extending the use of cocoa, from being restricted to the rich and aristocratic, to being a food of the people. They promoted the drink as a healthy, ‘flesh forming’ substance, and created model working environments for their employees.

These model villages are still going strong, providing housing for workers and retired employees in Cadbury’s Bournville outside Birmingham, Rown-tree in York and Hersheyville, Pennsylvania. As a result of the persecution of the sect in England, large numbers of Quakers left for America, and settled in the area west of New York. A colony was founded in 1682 by William Penn. The colony of Pennsylvania later became the second state of the USA. By 1864, some seven thousand Quakers had settled in Pennsylvania, where Milton Hershey set up his chocolate factory and model village in 1900.

Joseph Fry (1728-1787) was a Quaker who came to Bristol in 1748, aged twenty, and was later made a freeman of the city. He was an apothecary, who became a chocolate manufacturer, his interest in cocoa stemming from the belief that it was of great medicinal and nutritional value. He was assisted in his enterprise by the use of Walter Churchman’s cocoa-grinding engine, having bought the patent from Churchman’s son Charles. After Joseph Fry’s death, his wife Anna and their son Joseph Storrs Fry I (1767-1835) continued the business. Anna Fry took an active role in it, and after her death her son took on a partner, a certain Mr Hunt, who continued until his retirement in 1822. J. S. Fry I, in his turn, took his sons into the business, forming the now famous J. S. Fry and Sons.

Elizabeth Fry (another member of the famous Fry family) was a Quaker minister, and so was able to visit prisons, which became a focus for her reforming zeal, so appalling were the conditions she witnessed. Another well-established York-based Quaker family were the Tukes, who were also chocolate makers and later linked by marriage to the Rowntree family. William Tuke was horrified when he visited a lunatic asylum in 1791, with a group from the Society of Friends, for at this time it was normal for inmates to be chained up and treated like animals. Within four years he had opened an establishment for the mentally ill, with a care system based on rehabilitation and enlightenment.
The legacy of the Quaker work ethic continues to some extent to this day in Cadburys and Rowntrees, although the working practices are now becoming similar to any other multinational employer. In the early days, there were strict rules governing the segregation of the sexes (only relaxed in the 1950s), compulsory daily readings from the Bible, and free education and healthcare for all the workers and their families.
Through marriage into the Tuke family, Henry Isaac Rowntree took over the business from old William Tuke. This is how Tuke formally announced the change:

We have to inform you that we have relinquished the manufacture of cocoa, chocolate and chicory in favour of our friend HI Rowntree, who has been for some time practically engaged in the concern, and whose knowledge of the business and its several departments enables us with confidence to recommend him to the notice of our connection. We remain very respectfully, Tuke and Company, York, 1st of seventh month, 1862

It seems that the Rowntrees were dogged by financial troubles, and also had a policy which forbade advertising. At this time, both Cadburys and Frys were using the new technology invented in 1828 by the Dutchman Coenraad Van Houten, which pressed the cocoa butter from the cocoa liquor. This invention revolutionized the production of cocoa, which until that time had always suffered from the problem of excess fat. As far back as the Aztecs, there is evidence of maize or cornmeal being added to cocoa to absorb the oily residues.
Cadbury and Fry were quick to capitalize on this new selling-point, informing their customers that they were selling the pure, unadulterated extract of cocoa, or cocoa essence, to make drinking chocolate. This was indeed a revolution in the world of cocoa, as it was the first time that a product had been marketed which would dissolve readily in milk or water. Eating chocolate, however, was still some years away.

Rowntrees, unable to make the necessary capital investment to introduce Van Houten’s cocoa press, tried to make the best of a bad job by promoting existing lines. Henry Isaac was a light-hearted, witty young man, perhaps the only Rowntree with a bubbling sense of humour. When he took over the business, he gave his products exotic names such as Iceland Moss Cocoa, Hexagon Cocoa, Pearl Cocoa, as well as Flake Cocoa, Farinaceous Cocoa and Tuke’s Superior Rock Cocoa – names that must represent the many different ways in which cocoa was blended with other products to make it more palatable. When Tuke’s Superior Rock Cocoa won a local prize, Henry Isaac renamed it Rowntree’s Prize Medal Rock Cocoa, and liked to quote a verse from Deuteronomy in its praise: ‘For their Rock is not our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.’

It seems rather sad and misguided that they were drawing attention to the fact that their products were positively pre-Columbian compared to their rivals, simply because they could not afford a cocoa press. However they did eventually hit upon a money-making formula with their now famous fruit gums, and their fortunes improved. Their other commercial success story is the Kit-Kat snack bar, which has been a market leader since it was introduced in 1933.

The Cadbury family was another of the great Quaker families, starting out as grocers in Birmingham in 1824, and opening their first factory in 1847. The village of Bournville was created by the Cadbury brothers as a model village with 24 houses for their key employees in 1879. The reasons why Birmingham was chosen initially, were to do with freedom of speech, movement and trade, which were paramount to Quaker ideals.

At Bournville, the Cadbury brothers saw their dream of creating a harmonious environment for their work-force becoming a reality: the land they bought was undeveloped, and left lots of room for future expansion. There was fresh air, a good supply of clean water, and a canal and rail infrastructure in place to make distribution simple and efficient. Today there is a chocolate theme park called ‘Cadbury World’ on the site, as well as the original village which remains almost unchanged from the early days. The houses are in the contemporary style of the garden suburbs such as Welwyn Garden City, spaciously designed with gardens at the front and back, and in a landscaped environment. To this day their tenants have to meet rigorous standards in maintaining the fabric of the buildings and in renewing the paintwork. Even the length of the grass on their lawns is specified.

The Cadburys were not satisfied with just providing model working environments for all their employees. With the vast profits which were now rolling on, they started to dabble in the world of newspapers, which gave them an ideal platform from which to air their views. In 1906 they even went so far as to sponsor an exhibition at the Queen’s Hall, Birmingham, in order to expose the exploitation which so many labourers faced, and thus the National Anti-Sweating League was founded. Its principle aims were to press for a minimum wage, and to improve working conditions, and Mr George Cadbury himself became the League’s president.

The factory at Bournville had indeed set new standards in the environment provided for the working man and woman. However, there were certain observers who could not reconcile the Cadburys’ proselytizing, paternalistic position with the fact that they were buying slave-grown cocoa. The Cadburys had spoken at length to H. W. Nevinson, author of the book A Modern Slavery written in 1906, detailing the horrific conditions of the ‘servicaes’ Cadburys, however, still continued to source their raw materials from these plantations.

The Cadbury brothers soon found themselves in a compromising position, because at this time the conditions of the cocoa growers in Africa were being widely reported in the press. It was a well-established fact that the Cadburys had been making millions of pounds’ profit out of slave-grown cocoa. Labourers were press-ganged, and forced to work in such hot and wet conditions that the average life expectancy on such plantations was about one year. All slaves were issued with a standard five-year contract, and any who miraculously survived the course were automatically issued with another when the first had expired. It was unheard-of for a slave to return home alive.

In 1908 an article was published in the Standard by a journalist called H. A. Gwynne. He wrote a piece parodying the model village and factory at Bournville, where the young men and women worked in calm surroundings, and were encouraged to take part in recreational exercises. There was a swimming pool, built especially for them, though in this as well as in the factory, the sexes were strictly segregated (a legacy which continued into the 1950s). Here indeed was ammunition for Gwynne’s piece:

The white hands of the Bournville chocolate makers are helped by other unseen hands some thousands of miles away, black and brown hands, toiling in plantations, or hauling loads through swamp and forest.

There was little choice for the Cadburys but to issue a libel action against the Standard, which led to a highly publicized trial. After hearing all the evidence, which went on for several days, the jury returned in less than an hour. Cadburys had won the libel case, but little else, for the award was derisory: one farthing, plus costs. It was a salutary experience, and one which forced the Cadburys to look at and improve the conditions on the plantations. Eventually a new system of ‘share cropping’ on the Gold Coast evolved, which allowed each man to own his plot of land and cultivate the cocoa himself, selling his crop to a co-operative.

Not everyone in the chocolate industry came from quite such high-principled backgrounds as the Quakers. In England there are also two long-established shops, whose histories, if not the chocolates themselves, have a hint of eccentricity. The first is Charbonnel et Walker. The legend is that a French paramour of one of the British royal family was pensioned off in 1875 and, with the proceeds of her alliance, opened a chocolate shop with a certain Mr Walker in Bond Street, London. It exists to this day, and in truly lavish style will keep a record of regular customers’ favourite chocolate selections on a card, so that one can simply phone and say, ‘A 31b box of the usual please, my driver will be round in half an hour. . . .’

The other shop is Bendicks, which was the result of a partnership between a Colonel Bendicks and a Mr Dickson, and was founded in 1921 in Mayfair, London. Their most famous, and decidedly English gentleman’s club-style chocolate, is the Bendicks Bittermint. Made using a mint fondant centre dipped in unsweetened chocolate, it remains an enduring classic to this day.

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