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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

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 work.

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 flags."

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 time.

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 by Thomas

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 above written.

Signed sealed and delivered (being first duty stamped) 
in the presence of Chr. Robinson.


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 conditions.

I will point out a few changes.

  1. The apprenticeship is for three years, not seven.

  2.  The apprentice no longer pays a premium but receives a wage.

  3. The apprentice has 14 days holiday with full wages.

  4. The apprentice is required to attend the evening continuation classes for grocers' commodities, etc., at the expense of the employer .

  5. The Institute of Certificated Grocers is a fourth party to the completion of
    the Indenture.

  6. 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.

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