I spent an interesting couple of hours yesterday poring over old publications put out by Rowntree’s chocolate factory in York. The factory was a significant part of the lives of its workers, and offered them the sorts of facilities that modern workers can only dream of. There was a theatre, library, gymnasiums, swimming pool, and much more – the factory took a real responsibility for the welfare of its workers. In reading some of the staff newsletters, I saw articles about staff members who had been off work sick for years – and yet they were still being paid by the factory.
My grandfather, Bert, worked at Rowntree’s for fifty years – making display stands for shops and other things for the advertising department. His skills were mostly to do with woodwork, but he’s a creative type and so got involved in a variety of projects. He’s kept a box full of old catalogues from the 1920s and 30s, which show illustrations of boxes of chocolates from that era, including some of the most fussy and ornate easter eggs imaginable.
He’s also kept dozens of staff newsletters, one of which dated back to 1902 (before he started working there). The articles are lovely – there is guidance on what type of vegetables to plant and how, features about the site’s gardeners and stablehands (because horses were used to transport things around the large factory campus), and even articles from abroad (some of which would be considered racist by today’s standards). He told me that once women got married, they stopped work at the factory – I saw a few articles about “what the girls are up to”, recounting their achievements and engagements.
I’ve taken a few pictures, and will hopefully get chance to take a few more next time I visit. There’s a set on Flickr if you’re interested, and you can read more about the Rowntree’s story on the Nestle website, and on Wikipedia.