Reminiscences of George Rowntree
written during the winter of 1935-36
My dear granddaughters,
It is giving me many an hour's pleasure trying to fulfil your request
that I should commit to writing some of the incidents and stories that I
have come across during my life. I fear that you may be bored: the more I
write the more there is to write about.
I have largely relied on my memory which is better for fifty years ago
than for fifty days ago. Some of the incidents are haphazard and not in
their correct order. This is no history ; in fact, many incidents I should
have mentioned are so much better recorded in my brother Arthur's book
that I have not alluded to them. I have not troubled about dates, as my
own lifetime is one small unit of time, and during this unit the
world has been turned upside down.
You will ask, where does Granny come in? I am writing in her bedroom;
every piece of furniture, every picture, in fact everything in the house,
speaks of her.
You have that short booklet, " Memories," by Francesca
Wilson. I do not wish to add to it. I never realised till too late how
gifted Granny was. Whether it was painting on china, embroidery , leather
work, or sketches, her work, very largely self taught, was good. I have
often said that if there was any handicraft that she wanted to do, she
could master it; and what a quick worker she was! I have watched a young
lady who had been taught to do embroidery at the School of Art; she did
good work, but she did not get through one quarter the amount that Granny
did in the same time. So to you I say, do keep some specimens of Granny's
Now about the "Incidents"; you will say that I have not
recorded the "incidents" that you wanted to know more of; I am
sure that you are right. The line I have tried to follow is that where
Arthur has dealt with many of these in his history it is unnecessary for
me to do more than add any asides.
So forgive the sins of omission and commission and accept the
following, leaving the rest for a possible addition at such time as health
and strength permit.
There is a watercolour sketch of Maurice L. Rowntree's hanging on the
wall in front of me. The picture shows the site on the shore of the
Bosphorus where the Lady of the Lamp built her first laundry for the
British Soldiers in the Crimean War. That was in 1855; it makes me feel
very old to be told that I was born in that year.
Ever your affectionate GRANDDAD.
My grandfather, William Rowntree, was born in Scarborough, but went
away to Gateshead where, on Windmill Hill, he carried on the business of a
maltster. His son John came to Scarborough to be apprenticed, in 1835, to
his Uncle, John Rowntree (my father-in-law, Francis Wallis, came as an
assistant in 1847), where the joint business of Grocer and Draper was
carried on in the shop at the corner of Carr Street, now Eastborough, and
Bland's Cliff. I enclose a copy of his indenture, which was for a period
of seven years, without any agreement for any payment by way of wages
during the whole time (see end of Chapter I.).
I do not know in practice what was done, but in my time, 1871, the
parent or guardian paid down the sum of £40 or £50, which amount was
repaid to the apprentice during his period of apprenticeship, commencing
with nothing for the first twelve months; increasing sums were paid during
the remaining years, consequent on the conduct of the boy. Notes on the
form of indenture used by our firm to-day are also added for comparison
(see end of Chapter I.). My father used to tell us that in Newcastle, in
his early days, there was a condition that apprentices should not have
salmon more than twice in any one week !
When my father came to Scarborough as a boy, there was only one narrow
street down to the Harbour, named in portions, Carr Street, Leading Post
Street and Merchant's Row; Bland's Cliff being the only other road to the
south shore. These narrow streets were merged into one wide street in the
sixties and named Eastborough. Newborough was the first street to be paved
with flags, 47 Newborough up to King Street. This provided the most
desirable place for 'Arry to ask 'Arriet to spend the evening "on the
What would they say to-day ? The South Cliff was a mile outside the
town, the only houses being Jarvis's White Cottage, a herring curing
house, a toll bar, a windmill and a public house. To the west the district
beyond Newborough Street was called "Without the Bar", this
road, with posts and chains, going out for a mile to the village of
Falsgrave. An old drawing of the town shows a gallows placed Without the
Bar as a warning to the unwelcome visitor; the present Goods Yard being
built on the field which is still called Gallows Close. Mentioning
Jarvis's Cottage reminds me of a story of a Friend who offered to send
Jarvis a ton of coals. The offer was accepted, but when the coals were
sent, Jarvis sent the donor a message, "Thou might have
sent a man to wheel them into the coal cellar. " After my father's
apprenticeship, he went to the grocer's business in the Pavement, York,
which had been opened by Joseph Rowntree, senior, Grocer, on the day he
was 21 years of age. Owing to the sudden death of John Rowntree, senior
(father of Joshua), in 1844, his nephew John (my father) took over the
responsibilities of the business at Scarborough for his Aunt Jane, the
widow of John Rowntree, and in due course took over the business; his
uncle from York coming over periodically to supervise.
The business must have prospered, as we find the property across the
road, 47 Newborough, was bought by my father, who moved into it. He
married Ann Webster, who was then a governess of Jane Rowntree's children
at Princess Street, two of whom, Joshua and Maria (Ellis) are well known
to many of us. There is no record of the actual number of the staff or
domestic servants, all of whom lived on the premises, but from some early
entries the staff seems to have numbered about five or six assistants and
apprentices, three maids, and, within a comparatively few years, there was
a family of six children, John Watson, George, Ellen, .Frederic, Arthur
and Emily-in addition, one boy, William Henry, who died when a small child
-making a total of not less than 17 in the household. Was there any wonder
that the mother died when only 34 years of age?
My mother had a great objection to perambulators. What was a nurse for,
if not to carry her charge? Besides, a pram was colder than the arms of a
nurse. If out with a pram. she would leave hold of it, and then where
would the pram get to with the child ? I think one was introduced on the
arrival of the fifth child, as number four was weighty.
The exhibition in London in 1862 is memorable to me by one fact. Father
brought back with him a toy hansom cab. Such a thing had never been
seen in Scarborough, and I think that it was a novelty in London at that
In 1868 my father married Eliza Brady (nee Walker), who had been his
housekeeper since the death of his first wife. There was one child,
Alfred. The family removed from the business house to West Parade Villas,
back to Newborough, and then to the Gables, Valley Road.
The year that I came of age a grocery business in Westborough, occupied
Baker, was offered to us, and when we took hold I started with one shop
assistant, an apprentice and a young warehouse man, whom we took over from
Thomas Baker, from which small beginning the present business has grown.
In 1892 the premises, No.11 Westborough, were opened as a Cafe, since
which the development of Cafes has added considerably to the business.
Before the Spa Company and the Corporation undertook their own Cafes, we
were lessees of the Cafes at the Alexandra Gardens, on the Marine Drive,
and at the South Cliff Gardens, as well as the Spa Cafe.
COPY OF INDENTURE of ]ohn Rowntree to his uncle John Rowntree.
This Indenture made thc fifth day of the twelfth month in the
sixth year or the reign of our Sovereign Lord WILLIAM the Fourth by the
Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britian and Ireland, KING,
Defender of the Faith, and in the year of our LORD One Thousand Eight
Hundred and Thirty five. Between John Rowntree Junr. son of William
Rowntree Maltster of Gateshead in the County of Durham and himself as
party to these presents of the one Part, and John Rowntree of Scarborough
in the County of York, Grocer and Tea Dealer of the other Part. Witness
that the said John Rowntree Junr, hath of his own Free will and with the
consent of his aforesaid Father put and bound himself Apprentice to and
with the said John Rowntree and with him after the manner of an apprentice
to dwell, remain and serve from the first day of this present month for,
during and until the Term of Seven years thence next following be fully
completed and ended ; during all which Term the said apprentice his said
Master well and faithfully shall serve, his Secrets shall keep, his lawful
Commands shall do, Fornication or Adultery shall not commit, Hurt or
Damage to his said Master shall not do, or consent to be done, but to the
utmost of his power shall prevent it and forthwith his said Master thereof
warn: Taverns or Alehouses he shall not haunt or frequent, unless it be
about his Master's Business there to be done, at Dice, Cards, Table Bowls
or any other unlawful games he shall not play; the goods of his Master he
shall not waste, nor them lend, or give to any Person without his Master's
Licence. Matrimony within the said term shall not contract, nor from his
Master's service at any time absent himself; but as a true and faithful
apprentice shall order and behave himself towards his Master and all his
Family, as well in Words as in Deeds during the said Term; And a true and
just account of all his Master's goods, Chattels and Money committed to
his charge, or which shall come to his Hands, faithfully shall he give at
all times when thereunto required by his said Master or his Executors
Administrators or Assigns. and the said John Rowntree (in consideration of
the sum of now paid) for himself his Executors Administrators and Assigns,
doth covenant, promise and agree by these Presents to and with the said
John Rowntree Junr " the Apprentice, that he the said John Rowntree
his Executors Administrators or Assigns shall and will teach learn and
instruct him the said Apprentice, or cause him to be taught, learned and
instructed in the trade or business of a Grocer and Tea Dealer, which the
said Master now useth, after the best manner that he or they mayor can
with all circumstances thereunto belonging; And also shall find and
provide to and for him the said Apprentice, sufficient and enough meat
drink and lodging during the said Term the said William Rowntree finding
and providing sufficient clothing and Washing for the said apprentice, and
for the true performance of all and singular the Covenants aforesaid, each
of the parties aforesaid doth bind himself unto the other firmly by these
Presents. In witness whereof the parties above named to these present
Indentures interchangeably have set their Hands and seals the Day and Year
Signed sealed and delivered (being first duty stamped)
in the presence
of Chr. Robinson.
JOHN ROWNTREE JUNR.
N.B. : No sum of money is inserted, probably because of relationship;
the usual amount paid was 40 or 50 Pounds, no wages during apprenticeship,
but John Rowntree voluntarily repaid the sum by yearly payments.
Since John Rowntree signed his indentures another century has passed.
John Rowntree & Sons continue to take indentured apprentices under new
I will point out a few changes.
The apprenticeship is for three years, not seven.
The apprentice no longer pays a premium but receives a wage.
The apprentice has 14 days holiday with full wages.
The apprentice is required to attend the evening continuation
classes for grocers' commodities, etc., at the expense of the employer
The Institute of Certificated Grocers is a fourth party to the
On the completion of the apprenticeship the certificate is sent up
to the Councillor the Institute, and, if satisfactory, is signed by
the President and returned to the apprentice-an excellent testimonial
for his future.
Many other slight alterations need not be mentioned here.