Saturday 20 March 2010
Joseph Rowntree, a social hero...
Joseph Rowntree was born to a Quaker family in York on the 24th May 1834. Joseph's father was a grocer and when he was 14 he started work with him. His work took Joseph to London where he attended the Commons after becoming interested in politics. In 1869, he decided to change career and began working with his brother, Henry, at his factory; the Cocoa, Chocolate and Chicory Works in York. Joseph was very influential at the factory and under his supervision it expanded rapidly, especially after he introduced the fruit pastille in 1881.
In 1883, Henry Rowntree died leaving Joseph as owner of the business. Joseph was not only an excellent businessman but also a charitable man who did many good works during his lifetime, including teaching a class for adults on Sundays, helping set up the York Public Library and providing a park in York to be used as a First World War memorial. But what Rowntree is perhaps most famous for (apart from his delectable sweets) is his work to help the poor. After becoming influenced by a book written by his son, Benjamin Seebohn Rowntree, called 'Poverty, A Study of Town Life, Joseph installed a library in his factory and provided all workers under the age of 17 with free education.
Rowntree very generously provided his workers with a doctor and a dentist and, in 1906, set up a Pension Fund for his workers, donating £10,000 to it. But what Rowntree was most concerned with was finding ways of reducing poverty where he saw it. In 1863 he produced a statistical study linking crime and poverty and two years later published his second study; Pauperism in England and Wales. In 1901, Rowntree even purchased 123 acres of land to build homes for low-income families at New Earswick, York. Rowntree went on to be a lifelong advocate for social reform right up to his death in 1925. Today, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation continue what he started spending £10.5 million on research and development to put forward key messages (souce: JRF).