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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36



Amongst personal reminiscences, may I include an evening when William Rowntree, the father of William Stickney Rowntree, invited a number of "Friends" to his house on his eightieth birthday. I can see him now, sitting at his dining room table with a large magnifying glass in his right hand and a sheet of foolscap in his left, telling us of his own early experiences. I will just repeat one story. When he was sent by his parents from Pickering to Ackworth School he rode on a horse behind his elder brother, Robert, a special saddle having been made for the small boy's comfort. On arrival at York, they put up for the night at John Mason's, and then rode on to Ackworth the next morning, where the small boy William was left; William Rowntree stated that the next three days were the most miserable of his life.

The stories in his mind were getting too modern to repeat. The last he told us was how a messenger on horseback rode into Scarborough from York, bringing the news of the victory at Waterloo in 1814, and how the soldiers that were in Scarborough then assembled and fired from the Castle a volley of shots to celebrate the occasion. William Rowntree then put his hands down on the table, with the words, "So much for my youthful days."

In a conversation with Maria R. Ellis, I learnt how Beacons were lighted to warn the inhabitants of the danger of a landing by the French, and also how Paul Jones, the privateer, could be seen in an engagement out at sea toward Flamborough Head; the British vessel frightened Paul Jones away, but did not sink his ship. The inhabitants of Scarborough were naturally nervous, a coach and four calling at the house next to where Jane Rowntree lived to take away the Woodall and the Lotherington families.

In 1932 the captain of a destroyer named "Scarborough", came as a guest to the town and received a welcome by the Mayor. He produced a small box containing a certificate given to the captain of the vessel that successfully drove Paul Jones away about 100 years previously. This certificate, on a scroll, is kept on the vessel named "Scarborough" , passing on from one boat to another .

Maria R. Ellis also told me that, owing to trade depression, her mother only had quite a small income from the business. Jane Rowntree was anxious, left as she was, a widow with five children. One night, after retiring to bed, the door opened and the widow saw her late husband come in, dressed as usual; coming up to the bed, he said words to this effect: "Thou art concerned about money matters. I have come to tell thee that thou need not be fearful. Thou wilt have sufficient for thyself and family." When she came down to breakfast she told the family her experience during the night. From that time she was relieved, and she not only provided for the family, but also maintained her subscriptions to some causes, which many people would have dropped, holding the view that these objects were under the care of the same Heavenly Father and must he supported.


Three Silk Pocket Handkerchiefs are now in my drawer, having been passed on from former generations. Each measures about a yard square, has a good rich tone of red, with decorations of blue and gold.

No.1 is a beautiful handkerchief now, and will, I hope, pass on to another generation. It accompanied one of our Elders to meeting for many a long day. If it could speak it would tell of a worthy comfortable little man who sat at the head of the meeting, often taking part in the ministry , with the young people always in mind. How he wished that I would be a missionary and go to Madagascar. He also gave advice in his own way to members individually on the wisdom of making their wills in time of health, ending up with: " If thou has nothing but debts to leave, make a will, George, and keep correct accounts." He had been a grocer, but retired before I knew him. This friend, Henry Hopkins, had one daughter, Mary Green Hopkins, who was an active and competent woman, serving for over 30 years as a guardian. She saw the best in everyone or very nearly everyone. One day she fell down a hatchway in King Richard III. house into mud in the cellar and was picked up unconscious. When she revived she found herself in a cab with the Doctor, who was her bete noir, also a policeman, the latter carrying her bonnet carefully on his lap. The Doctor and Mary were good friends ever after.

The second handkerchief would appear at the same Meeting House, ready, as occasion might require. The owner, Henry Foster, was the last member of the meeting to wear the old Quaker dress. He never spoke in our meetings for worship but was strong and independent on discipline. At the time I am thinking of, there were a large number of Thomas Walton's school attending the meeting. On one occasion HF told the meeting that a man come into his shop for a ha'porth of "snoof" - what else he was going to say was, lost, as boy after boy broke out in an audible smile, and it was hopeless to continue on that theme. By the way, how different to-day is the treatment of boys in Friends' schools when walking through the streets. In the sixties, "quack , quack," was shouted at us by the town boys as we walked through the town.

The third handkerchief belonged to another elder. His square yard of silk also came to meeting on Sundays and Wednesdays. Now there was in the centre of the Meeting House a stove heated by coke with a flue going up through the roof. The flue had a regulator, the right adjustment of which made for the right holding of the meeting. During the winter months, the three silk Handkerchiefs regularly paused as they passed the stove; the holder of the first put the regulator straight; the second paused and moved it across; the third, being unconscious of what had already taken place, replaced the regulator in its first position. The elders appeared satisfied and the rest of the meeting knew that nothing further could be done, so they settled down with the full assurance that the same careful attention would be given to the stove each meeting throughout the winter.

The Meeting House was in St. Sepulchre Street, pronounced by the residents with the emphasis on the syllable "PULL " (Sepulchre). The last marriage 'that took place in the Meeting '-louse was in 1885, when Priscilla Gray Wallis and myself were married. The first marriage that took place in the present Meeting House in York Place was that of Robert Alfred Penney to my sister-in-law, Richenda Wallis. The Meeting House in York Place was built by Fred Rowntree, architect, and opened in 1894.

Going back to the old Meeting House, the life of the meeting was much helped by several residents, including Joshua Rowntree, also by the masters at Oliver's Mount School. Thomas Walton must have been a good judge of character , if we may judge by the fact .that not less than thirteen of his masters occupied, at one time or another, responsible positions in the Society of Friends; amongst the number were the following : William Robinson, Edmund Ash by, F. H. Brown, A. Kemp Brown, Frederick Andrews, J. W. Graham, W. F. Nicholson, A. N. Brayshaw, W. E. Brown, Walter S. Rowntree, 0. B. Baynes, C. B. Rowntree and Arthur Rowntree. Edward Grubb and Edward Worsdell were valued members of the meeting: they gave lessons in some of the girls' schools and did tutorial work. It is difficult for us to-day to imagine the attitude of mind of a Friend at the head of a girls' school, who parted with Edward Grubb because he took the chair in the Town Hall for Annie Besant, the pioneer of women's rights and votes for women .

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