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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36



This is also well documented by Metford Robson, .
The Rowntree family and the Schreiner riots'. Journal of the Friends' Historical Society, 
59:1 (2000), 67-82. ISBN 00719587.
Go to the Article

The end of the nineteenth century was marked by the war with South Africa. The English press had worked up a great deal of ill-feeling against the Boers. Rumours were spread telling of ill-feeling of British people in Pretoria, and public opinion was very mad against the people of that country.

Mr. Cronwright Schreiner came to England to try and give what he thought was the truth. J.L.Hammond, J. A. Hobson and F. W. Hirst felt strongly that he must be heard. They asked Mr. E. Richard Cross to meet him. The South African Conciliation Committee was formed in Scarborough, as in several other towns, and Joshua Rowntree was appointed Chairnan. Several Scarborough citizens were invited to an At Home to meet Mr. Schreiner and Mr. Hobson. They arrived in Scarborough during, the afternoon, and were met by Mr. E. Richard Cross and Mr. Joshua Rowntree, also a few other members of the Committee. The station was filled with people, who were obviously very unfriendly. Fortunately for the visitors, Mr. Frank Rowntree was in the same train, and for some reason the crowd thought he was Mr. Schreiner. They followed him out of the station, booing and hooting, whilst Mr. Cross got Mr. Schreiner and Mr. J. A. Hobson into a cab and took them to his home, Sunny Howe. They went to an At Home in the evening. and found a huge mob outside Rowntree's Cafe in Westborough, where the reception was to be held. Very soon it was seen that the crowd was getting excited. Missiles were: thrown through the windows and the people tried to rush and break open the doors. It was then felt unsafe to prolong the meeting. Marion Rowntree, with great pluck, got Mr. Schreiner out through a back door into a side street, and took him in a cab to Sunny Howe. Mr. Cross took Mr. Hobson and Mr. Joshua Rowntree down another street; here they met a well-educated man who smashed in Joshna Rowntree's hat and called Judas. In a short time several members of the Committee came to Sunny Howe to see if everything was safe. They reported that great damage had been done to the Cafe and to John Rowntree & Sons' Grocers' shop.

Meanwhile, the Chief Constable came up and told Mr. Cross that his visitors must leave the town early the next morning. He arranged to take them in a carriage and pair to Ganton Station and put them into the York Express, which he arranged to have stopped. Of course, when the train unexpectedly stopped, passengers put their heads out to see what was the matter, but nothing happened beyond a little booing.

Going back to the night previous, after the Chief Constable's call, a ring came to the front door. Mrs. Cross went out to see what was wanted and there found a crowd of young men. They were not quite sure of the house so rang the bell. One of the crowd was a young solicitor and when he saw the wife of the Magistrates' Clerk he remained quiet. They asked if Mr. Schreiner was in and Mrs. Cross asked them what they meant by disturbing her and her young Family. They looked in at the door, saw that all was quiet (Mr. Schreiner and the others were silent) so they came to the conc1usion they had made a mistake and retired, leaving the stones they had brought on the doorstep.

The usual boycott took place; the local magistrates called a meeting of the Justices for the purpose of trying to remove Mr. Cross from the position of Clerk to the Justices. Fortunately the chairman, Mr. Darley, although a strong Tory, spoke in favour of no action being taken, and in the end wisdom prevailed.

Mounted Police failed to control the crowd. One, if not two, councillors tried to pull a constable off his horse. Stones were offered at 6 a penny; when the whole of the windows of the ground floor of J.Rowntree & Sons’ Grocery shop were broken, and in one case the goods came out into the street, the crowd moved up to W. Rowntree & Sons, where the windows that were. not protected by shutters were also broken. By this time the Mayor and the Chairman of the Watch Committee were in the Cafe, considering what to do. Finally, they sent to the barracks for the military. As soon as they appeared on the scene marching in a string stretching across the road, women and girls ran up to them and joined hands, singing "Soldiers of the Queen". Captain Fell, in charge of his men, showed great tact, marching at quick march down the street, then right about and up through the crowd again, and finally called Halt at the corner of Aberdeen Walk and Westborough. Raising himself on the stone wall outside the Bar Church, he said in a loud voice, "I have nothing to do with this affair, except to keep order. It is time I was in bed, and quite time you were as well. Let us sing ‘God Save the Queen,’ and go home." It was now past midnight. The crowd then dispersed, except some of the young hotheads; of these, some went to Mrs. Cross's house on the South Cliff, others up Westborough and Westwood into William Rowntree's private garden. He was 94 years of age; his wife had given him a cup of hot milk and he fell asleep. Within a few minutes the wife heard the sound of a crowd talking and of broken glass in a window at the other side of the house. The ruffians then went to the Rowans. My brother John had not come home from the Cafe, and it was left to his brave little wife to stand in her invalid son's bedroom, holding a counterpane over the bed, whilst stones were thrown, which broke the window, also a jug and basin. My brother came up, escorted by a policeman, about 2-30 a.m.

During the same evening General Booth was addressing a crowded meeting in the Circus. I was in the chair; someone pulled my coat tail and said, "Your windows are being smashed." It was not until I had taken the General home that I could come into the town to see for myself what the rioters had done.

The next morning I took the General to the station to see him off by train. As the train began to move a certain Hull solicitor put his head out of the window and shouted, "Rowntree, I am glad of what happened last night. You deserve it." Three Salvation Army young women replied, "We don't know w ho you are, but you are no gentleman."

Anyone coming down Westborough next day would read the bills pasted on the boards which were covering the windows, "Business as usual."

Though we suffered heavily, no charge was made on the town. About 150 letters of sympathy were received during the next few days, from all over England, Scotland and Ireland.

I  quote an extract from Keir Hardie's letter:

GLASGOW. "Pardon a stranger for expressing his sympathy with you in the dastardly outrage to which you have been subjected at the hands of the easily misled mob. Having experienced, on a small scale, somewhat similar treatment, I feel sure that your uppermost feeling is not anger but pity for the misguided people who only see an enemy in those who would save them from participation in the great crime now being perpetuated, which can only bring suffering and sorrow to the nation. I have often tried to picture the scene outside the judgment hall of Jerusalem when the maddened multitude, looking at the pale, grave, sorrowing face of their Saviour, wildly shouted, "Not this man but Barabbas," but I never dreamt of having to endure the horror of having the scene re-enacted be- fore my eyes, and can only pray as He did, ‘Father , forgive them, they know not what they do’ Now, as then, the priests are the chief sinners, and what wonder is it that earnest men are finding it more and more impossible to associate their religious life with that of men who seem to take a pride in violating the very essence of the gospel in which they profess to believe. I sincerely trust that you escaped without serious personal injury, and that you may be permitted to witness how the present tribulation will yet be over-ruled for good"

"Yours with respect, J. KEIR HARDIE."

Also, Cronwright Schreiner concluded his letter with,
"Such people are the Salt of the Earth."

The following letter appeared in the "Evening News," 21st March, 1900 :

To the Editor of the ‘Evening News.’


"It is our desire that the sores arising from the recent Visit of Mr. Cronwright Schreiner to Scarborough may speedily be healed, and as one contribution to this end we wish to state that it is not our intention to make any claim against the Borough Fund for property damaged or destroyed during the riot which occurred on the night of the reception given by one of our number .

"The loss of property, though not light to some of us, is nothing compared with the peril to which some of those dearer to us than life were that night exposed; or with the loss of free speech won for us by brave men and women of old.

"We respectfully submit to our fellow countrymen of all creeds and parties that the wreckage of buildings, and especially midnight assaults on the homes of women, children and aged persons are acts of cruel lawlessness which nothing can justify.

"Inquiries seem to show that the violence was chiefly the result of the delusion that the visitor to our town, a colonial fellow subject of British blood, who had come to lecture on ‘The conditions of a durable peace in South Africa,’ was a Boer, whose life might fairly be taken; and that it was encouraged by some who are supposed to know better. Edmund Burke’s entreaty to his fellows- ‘so to be patriots as not to forget to be gentlemen’-seems still to be needed.

"We are at one in desiring the honour and greatness of our country; we are intensely anxious for the good name of the British Empire amongst the nations of the earth. But we hold that the fostering of prejudice and enmity, even against our foes, is in the long run hurtful to ourselves ; and that injustice to strangers never leads to justice to our own people.

"Our convictions on some great questions are, we know, different from those of the majority of our fellow-countrymen; but for these convictions we must render our account not to men but to God.

"If we are wrong, resort to lynch law will not set us right, whilst it inflicts serious injury on the whole community.

"We desire to acknowledge, with sincere thanks, many expressions of support and sympathy from both strangers and friends. History often has to reverse the popular verdicts of the day, and we believe it will reverse the verdict of violence which has been given against us.

Yours truly,



Scarborough 21st March 1900

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