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The Rowntree Family



Details of the Riot

The Riot as told in
The Reminiscences of George Rowntree

Notes and References

This article was produced by Metford Robson, .
The Rowntree family and the Schreiner riots'. 
Journal of the Friends' Historical Society, 
59:1 (2000), 67-82. ISBN 00719587.

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This is the story of how a close knit Quaker family tried valiantly to present an alternative view to the jingoism sweeping the country in connection with the Boer War at the turn of the nineteenth century. However, before relating the tale of the rioting that occurred in Scarborough during the night of Monday, 12 March 1900, it may be useful to say something about the family background, their business activities, their social conscience and the religious faith that underpinned it, for without this information it is perhaps difficult to understand the venom they faced a result of their actions.


Although, it is recorded that a Francis Rowntree of Stokesley was convinced by John Whitehead between 1650 and 1660, there are no records of a continuing Quaker link and the later Quaker Rowntrees are all descended from William (1727-1798) who joined Friends about 1750 and his wife Hannah ((1734-1801), who settled at a farm known as Riseborough, near Pickering, shortly after they married 1 William was of Yeoman stock, but he was clearly beginning to rise in the world and in his will he made mention of several properties in Pickering and divided nearly £3000 amongst his children and grandchildren. In addition to this, when William’s son, also William (1768-1832), left Riseborough for Settrington, near Malton, the removal included 36 wagon loads of furniture and fittings, together with sheep, pigs, cattle and horses. It must have been a truly impressive sight. 2 Throughout the 19th century, the nearby town of Scarborough was growing rapidly, firstly as a centre of the fishing industry with a small, though fashionable Spa and then with the coming of the  railway in 1845, as the hugely successful ‘Queen of Watering Places', catering for a much wider public. The five Rowntree sons were clearly ‘upwardly mobile’ and through a network of Quaker apprenticeships, the eldest son, John (1757-1827), eventually became a grocer in Scarborough (which fact is central to this narrative), while another William (1806-1901), the son of Joseph (1774-1811), was the founder of a highly successful drapers and furniture store in the town. This bore his name for well over 100 years. In passing, it is perhaps worth mentioning that the more famous York branch of thefamily is in fact a cadet branch of the Scarborough Rowntrees, as John’s son Joseph (1801-1859) moved from Scarborough to York and subsequently founded the grocery business at The Pavement, which was the cradle of the world famous Cocoa works. 3


Throughout this period, the widespread branches of the family maintained the closest ties, both through their business and their Quaker activities. To illustrate this, Henry Isaac Rowntree (1838- 1883) of York, writing in a delightful tongue-in-cheek fashion to Claude (1882-1959), the newly born son of his third cousin Allan (1853-1940) in Scarborough on 13 April 1882, vividly described the family characteristics, which are so important to this narrative. 4

Dear Claude,

Please excuse my not writing before...... Well, how does thou like this world as far as thou has seen it? On the whole thou will find a good deal that is nice in it. What does thou think to thy father and mother? I was pleased with thee for selecting them as thy parents and thought it did credit to thy judgement. From thy mother thou will inherit sweetness and light, from thy father numerous other qualities, whilst as a Rowntree thou will doubtless come in for a full share of the family gifts and graces. As thou are but young yet I will tell thee in confidence what very possibly thou might not hear from outsiders, that some of the more striking of these are Humility, Self-abnegation, a willingness to be guided by others, Reticence, Suavity of manner, and an entire absence of a critical or satirical spirit. Seeing then, dear child, that thou has all these advantages, see that thou walk worthy of them, especially do not keep thy mother awake at nights. Hate alcoholism, Tory-ism, Priest-craft and all other concrete forms of sin.... Accept the united love of my wife and myself and believe me, dear Claude to be now and ever (unless thou turned Tory),
Thy affectionate cousin          H.I.Rowntree

From this, it can be seen that the Rowntrees were almost to a man liberal in thought and politics. It was therefore not surprising that the Boer War raised questions in their minds that needed an active response.


Hope Hay Hewison, in Hedge of Wild Almonds, 5 has vividly described the divisions among British Friends resulting from the patriotic excesses that were created by the Boer War, but from the beginning, the Rowntrees (and almost inevitably, Scarborough Friends as a whole) appear to have been wholeheartedly on the side of peace and reconciliation. Indeed, it is no wonder that this was the case, as the list of members for 1902 6 indicates, that of the 132 members of the Meeting, no less than 27 were members of the Rowntree family. A further 8 were closely related to them and when Margaret T Metford came from Geneva to marry James Henry Rowntree in 1902, she was surprised 7 to find that she had joined no less than 7 other ‘Mrs Rowntrees’ in the Meeting. In this connection, it is perhaps worth noting that at the turn of the century - at least in Scarborough Meeting if not elsewhere - Friends testimony on titles appeared to be largely relegated to their business meetings and in day to day conversation and correspondence she would frequently have been ‘Mrs (James Henry) Rowntree 8’. This surprising acceptance of ‘the world’s ways was also reflected in their unthinking attitude towards the place of women in society, who as a result played virtually no direct part in the forthcoming narrative.

Details of the Riot