Saturday 15 February 2014

Men of Yore: Joseph Rowntree

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

Joseph Rowntree, 1862 (aged 26)
Joseph Rowntree (1836-1925) was born in 1836 into a Quaker family in York. A grocer’s son, he left the family business to run a small and struggling cocoa factory with his brother, Henry Isaac. Just as they had begun to turn the business round, Henry Isaac died. So Joseph carried on as sole proprietor, until, in time, he was joined by his sons and nephews.
From its early days with just twelve men, the factory grew fast and by 1906 it employed over 4,000 workers. Joseph was always determined to produce top quality cocoa, chocolate and confectionary.
A lifelong Quaker, Joseph seldom spoke about his religious beliefs. But they informed his life at all levels, from his home life to his commitment to social reform to his business practice.

Joseph was an active philanthropist. He worked to improve adult literacy, and to safeguard democracy and political fair play. Acutely aware of the social conditions many of his factory workers lived in, he was keen to improve the quality of civil life for all through the provision of affordable, decent housing, recreational facilities and opportunities for self-improvement.

In 1904, aged 68, Joseph Rowntree endowed the three Joseph Rowntree Trusts, giving “about one-half of my property to [their] establishment.” He believed the way to remedy the injustices of the world was not to relieve their ill-effects, but to strike at their roots. This would be the trusts’ work.  
Joseph died in 1925, aged 89, and the City of York turned out to mourn one of their great citizens. He was buried in the Quaker graveyard beneath a simple Quaker gravestone on which you can read just his name and his date. No more and no less.

Temperance & alcohol
Until at least 1880 JR does not appear to have been a teetotaller, though his consumption of alcohol was very moderate. At Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting in 1889 he countered Friends who claimed that poverty was due solely to ‘the drink’, but he came to suspect that it was a contributory cause and, with Arthur Sherwell, set out to discover some hard facts; these found expression in their The temperance problem and social reform (1899), a book which ran through an enviable number of editions. 
Though spending money on books, on travel and on his garden, Joseph had no lavish tastes and was perturbed at his increasing wealth. In 1904 he set up three trusts: The Joseph Rowntree Village Trust (from 1959, Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust; from 1990, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) was concerned in particular with the development and supervision of New Earswick , but was extended to cover housing issues more generally.
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust was for social, charitable and religious purposes, intended to finance such things as social surveys, adult education and Quaker activities.   
The Joseph Rowntree Trust Ltd from 1990, Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd) had power to undertake social and political work, such as Liberalism and the ownership of newspapers, which could not legally be supported from the fund of a charitable trust.

Rowntree was just one of the philanthropists who emerged during the industrial revolution in Britain during the 19th century.  Like other philanthropists he was also a businessmen (Robert Owen, John Cadbury and Titus Salt to name a few).  Indeed many of the philanthropic acts of the 19th century came from individuals and businesses (multi national corporations) rather than government handouts and social welfare; which shows that not all businesses or businessmen are motivated purely by profit.  Nor are they only cocerned with increasing their profit margin.  It's up to the individual to decide what he wants to do with his resources (be that money/gold or anything else).  Just like the monarchs of the middle ages, they can invest it in the edification of their fellow man or for ostentatious frippery.


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