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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36



A Day in the Seventies.

The Adult School Rowing Club (afterwards the Scarborough Rowing Club) was in debt, when Henry J. Rowntree offered to give the Club 20/-- if a 'crew would row to Filey sands and back before breakfast. To the surprise of the generous friend, the offer was taken seriously. My brother John was stroke and I was cox. The crew launched their boat before sunrise; when crossing the bay, the sight of the sunrising out of the water. casting its first rays across the sea, gradually changing from a deep orange to a bright silver , was a scene never to be forgotten. A golden Sunset cannot exceed the beauty of the pathway of glory that came right up to our boat. Two or three cobles were out looking after the lobster pots, otherwise all the glories of the morning were left to our crew and the seagulls. A good strong pull brought us to the Bell Buoy off Filey Brigg, then we rounded into calm water of Filey Bay, landing on the sands near to the Brigg. Whilst our crew were getting a stretch on the sands and filling a jar with sand to present to H.I.R. on our return home, a coastguard was seen approaching. He began to run when he saw us hurriedly getting into our boat, and hailed us. He wished to know what ship we belonged to and from what port. He was soon satisfied; we waved him a farewell salute as we started on our homeward journey. The water was choppy as we rounded the Brigg, and we were glad to hug the shore instead of making a bee-line for Scarborough sands. In due course, however, we landed in time for those of us, who were due to commence work at 47 Newborough by 7.30 to sign our names in the timebook. On another occasion we rowed one evening from Scarborough to Robin Hood's Bay, returning from there at 4 o’clock in the morning.

The Time Book. This book, sacred to the god of punctuality, was worth 5/- every 3 months to each of us if the record was a good one. The condition of some boys who came down direct from their bedrooms with nothing but their trousers and nightshirt, left a good deal of the toilet to be done at the back of the shop. But this was the exception. A good half hour's work was put in before the breakfast bell rang, and half the staff ,went up for breakfast.

After breakfast the foreman had the work laid out; it varied from half ounces of Tobacco one day to stores of all kinds, whichever were to be weighed and wrapped ready for the day or the week. There were no tobacconists in those days; the Grocers were '"licensed" to sell tobacco; the tobacconist's business was not a speciality of its own until cigarettes appeared, about sixty years ago.

The shop was opened for business in the summer from seven o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock in the evening, on Saturdays until eleven o'clock. There was no payment for over- time and no "half days". The shop staff were all Friends, they "lived in" at 47 Newborough, and, in addition to attending the Meetings for Worship on Sunday, they also attended the weekday meeting on "fourth day" morning, half the staff going alternate weeks.

In addition to the shop assistants, there was warehouse staff , amongst whom were the most trustworthy lifelong servants. There was Isaac Herbert, our coffee Roaster, a conscientious low churchman, a real old tory of the tories, so much so that when parliamentary elections came round nothing would induce him to register his vote, as he held that a servant should not vote against his master. He ruled the warehouse very well; a youth who was under him used to tell how Herbert kept a short switch, and when the youth provoked him he would give him one good switch, remarking as he did it, "Thou sees, Kimmings, the quickness of the ’and deceives the h’eye." Kimmings himself ran away to sea and worked his way up to a sea captain.

Then there was James Boucher, a handyman who could be called into the house for any job. In his later years his temper got very much tried by the conduct of the apprentices. On one occasion, one of the boys (E. Arnold Wallis) sewed up the sleeve of Boucher's coat; this, on the top of other previous items, made Boucher feel that he must report him, so he rolled his jacket with the sleeves sewn up in a parcel and put it in the office. When his master (J.W.R.) came into the office, he sent for Boucher, asking him what was his complaint; so Boucher opened out his coat, and said he could not stand such conduct. "Look here, both sleeves sewn up,"  and then a pause. The sleeves were no longer sewn up. The boy had been up to the office between times; and Boucher remarked with his strongest expression, "Bonn it! That caps all,"

From this period of a cash business when farthings were current coin, when no order was ever called for and no deliveries made further than Paradise near St. Mary's Church and nothing beyond a radius of one mile, the whole character had changed so much that one wonders where the position will be for a genuine grocer. The Grocers’ Guild had gone long ago; the independent grocer who would not sell biscuits in tins or starch in boxes has had to make way for a co-operative stores, a WooIworths, or a Harrods; yet there is a future for the large business, if carried out in a thorough manner.

When the business was started, about 1780, the town was all within the Bar, that is, from the top of Newborough in the west, round to Auborough Gate at the top of Auborough Street on the north, and so down to Sandside.

An advertisement came into my hands the other day that William Rowntree had opened a draper's shop Without the Bar. This evidently was before its time; it was too far up street, and was closed down in consequence.

Changes affecting the town came. Who knows now where the Toll Bars were, where everyone entering Scarborough, whether from Falsgrave, Filey, York or Whitby, if not on foot, had to pay ? These were finally abolished in 1865.

I must not omit the enterprise of the Woodall family, who, I believe, were responsible for the Waterworks at Cayton, also for the planting of the Trees in the Valley , as it is still called , as well as the Plantation, thus preserving this portion of the borough from being spoilt.

This spirit and foresight for the welfare of Scarborough is not dead, one of the recent purchases being Raincliffe Woods, Lady Edith's Drive and the whole of Forge Valley on the east side.

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