fonds BSR - Research Papers of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree

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Reference code



Research Papers of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree


  • 1890-1973 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1.06 cubic metres

53 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, known as Seebohm, was born in York on 7 July 1871, the son of Quaker chocolate manufacturer Joseph Rowntree and his wife Emma Antoinette Seebohm. Educated at Bootham School, York, and Owen’s College, Manchester (now the University of Manchester), he joined his father’s Cocoa Works at 18 and became a company director in 1897 when the firm was incorporated as Rowntree & Co. In the same year he married Lydia Potter, the daughter of engineer Edwin Potter and his wife Ann. The couple had five children together.

Seebohm shared his father’s view of business as a God given trust and his employees as ‘fellow workers in a great industry.’ As Labour Director from 1897, and later as Chairman of the company between 1923 and 1941, he oversaw the introduction of a number of innovative schemes aimed at improving the welfare and productivity of the workforce. Such innovations included an eight hour day, a profit sharing scheme, staff pensions, a works doctor, a supplementary unemployment benefit scheme, and a Central Works Council on which both management and workforce were fully represented.

His preoccupation with welfare at work led him to found the Industrial Welfare Society in 1918 and the National Institute of Industrial Psychology in 1921. He used his experience at Rowntree & Co, as well as his study of management practices in the United States, to write ‘The Human Needs of Labour’ in 1919, a practical guide to good management which argued for the introduction of a national minimum wage. In 1921 he followed this with ‘The Human Factor in Business,’ in which he advocated for the adoption of more democratic business practices. In 1922 he created a psychological department at Rowntree which brought a new scientific approach to issues like recruitment, worker engagement, and marketing. In 1947 Seebohm was made an honorary founder member of the new British Institute of Management.

His interest in industrial welfare was part of a broader interest in social reform which saw him carry out pioneering research into poverty in York. Influenced by Charles Booth’s ‘Life and Labour of the People in London’ which combined statistical evidence with qualitative research to analyse the extent and causes of poverty in the city, Seebohm set out to investigate if Booth’s results were comparable to an English provincial centre like York. His research and conclusions were published in his 1901 book, ‘Poverty: a Study of Town Life,’ and showed that nearly a third of York’s population lived below the poverty line, and that all of the labouring class were subject to what he identified as the ‘life cycle of poverty.’

His study was enormously influential, challenging as it did long held assumptions about the moral causes of poverty. Seebohm conducted a second and third study of York in 1935 and 1951, tracking improvements and highlighting areas still in need of reform. In 1911 he published ‘Unemployment, a Social Study’ in collaboration with Bruno Lasker and later went on to advise Liberal Member of Parliament and later Prime Minister David Lloyd George on areas of public policy related to unemployment, pensions and national insurance, as well as rural living conditions and land reform. In this latter cause, Seebohm published ‘Land and Labour: Lessons from Belgium’ in 1910 and served on the land inquiry committee of 1912-1914. In 1928 he participated in the Liberal inquiry that produced the publication, ‘Britain’s Industrial Future’, and in 1941-1942 he was one of a number of advisors to William Beveridge whose 1942 report laid the foundations for the creation of the Welfare State.

Seebohm Rowntree retired as Chairman in 1941 and moved with his wife, Lydia, to High Wycombe where he died on 7 October 1954.

Archival history

The research papers of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree were sent to the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of York by the Rowntree family in 1971.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was transferred to the Borthwick Institute from the Institute of Social and Economic Research in 1981. A further addition was made to the archive in 2009.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Articles by BSR, 1912-1953, subjects include: religion, industry, national and social problems, town planning, housing and rents, and old age; betting and gambling research papers, 1890-1954, including reports, memoranda and papers of the Anti-Gambling League, 1890-1947, and reports, executive committee minutes, articles and correspondence of National League for Education Against Gambling, 1945-1950; research papers relating to the 1948 Leisure Time Enquiry, 1931-1951, including individual case histories, 1947-1948, correspondence, c.1947, and material concerning cinema, religion, education, reading habits, urban adult centres, sexual immorality, youth and recreation, gambling, leisure and recreational facilities in High Wycombe, and York Summer Schools; research papers relating to lectures and addresses by BSR, 1899-1956, subjects include: Christianity and social problems, industry, politics, housing and town and country planning, and national affairs and social questions; Management Research Groups papers, 1937-1953, including bulletin reports, lists of members, correspondence, reports, circulars, and accounts; money, banking and fiscal policy research papers, 1914-1973; reports, questionnaires, and related papers of the Nuffield Survey Committee on Aging, 1945-1947; minutes, memoranda, questionnaires and related papers of the Nuffield Project on problems of aging, 1944-1945; minutes, reports, agreements, correspondence of the Nuffield Trust for Special Areas, 1936-1954; research papers relating to planning, 1901-1945, including reports, minutes and notes of Liberal Reconstruction Committee, 1938-1943, and lecture and notes entitled ‘The Future of Industry,’ 1918-1919; political research papers, 1939-1947, including letters, pamphlets, press cuttings relating to proportional representation, the Labour Party, the Communist Party, and civil service reform; poverty research papers, 1943-1954, including schedules and annotated copies of schedules concerning the York poverty investigation, 1950, 1970s, correspondence on publication of Poverty and the Welfare State, 1951-1952, and draft plans and correspondence concerning secondary poverty investigation, 1951-1954; Poverty and Progress research papers, 1930s-1940s, including working notes and papers concerning family budgets, diet, housing, slum clearances, illegitimacy, and leisure and recreation; religious lectures and addresses, 1901-1954 social and community services research papers, 1945-1952 research papers relating to the spiritual life of the nation, c.1941-c.1953, including correspondence and reports on interviews with individuals; temperance research papers, 1902-1954, including reports, lecture notes, correspondence and printed articles; research papers relating to Trade Union Enquiries, 1919-1950, including reports, committee minutes, questionnaires, interviews, statistics, correspondence, printed articles, and press cuttings; unemployment research papers, 1912-1954, including unemployment survey data, reports, memoranda, notes, correspondence, printed articles and press cuttings; papers relating to War on Want, formerly the Association for World Peace, 1941-1954, including correspondence, committee minutes, pamphlets, newsletters and press cuttings; miscellaneous research papers, 1906-1953, subjects include: investigation into the position of coloured people in Britain, the United Europe Movement, the N. I. I. P. (National Institute of Industrial Psychology), vocational selection and guidance, wages, population, war and post-war reconstruction, crime, and scientific and technological research; lantern slides belonging to Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree's housing projects, 1918.


Further accruals are not expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Includes lantern slides. Access to this material may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute for more information.

Finding aids

A four volume typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Further records relating to Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree are deposited at the Borthwick Institute as part of the following archives: Rowntree Family Papers, Records of Henry Isaac Rowntree & Co, Rowntree Company Archive, the Rowntree Trust Archives, Records of the Rowntree Society, Papers of John Bowes Morrell, the Margaret Barnet Archive and the Atkinson Archive.

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

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Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

GB 193

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created 09.10.15.




Accession area