fonds HIR - Henry Isaac Rowntree & Co. Archive

Identity area

Reference code



Henry Isaac Rowntree & Co. Archive


  • 1857-1953 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.6 cubic metres

26 boxes and 5 volumes

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

Henry Isaac Rowntree acquired the cocoa, chocolate and chicory workshop at the back of a Castlegate shop from Tuke, Waller and Copsie in 1862. The first reference to cocoa within the Tuke family business in is 1785; by the 1860s perhaps their best known product was 'Tuke's Superior Rock Cocoa'.

Larger premises, consisting of an old iron foundry and several cottages at Tanner's Moat were purchased by Henry Isaac in 1864, but the workforce, of about 12 men and the output, of about 12 cwt. per week, were both small. Annual sales amounting, possibly, to only £3,000 were not sufficient to ensure the financial stability of the business. In 1869 Joseph Rowntree, Henry's brother, joined the firm, bringing his sound business sense and his capital with him. A partnership was formed, under the title H. I. Rowntree and Co. Joseph took over the accounting, whilst Henry Isaac managed production.

Sales and profits increased slowly, mainly due to the large number of new lines introduced. The packaging guard book Rowntree/HIR/9/14 offers a striking illustration of the number of different lines produced and sold. The event which brought about a change in the fortunes of the business was the arrival, in 1879 of a Frenchman, Claude Gaget, with a sample of gums. At that date the manufacture of pastilles and gums was almost a French monopoly; but with Gaget's technical skill, Joseph's original ideas and the perfectionism of both, Rowntree's 'Crystallized Gum Pastilles' were a success. Mixings Books and Experiment Books can be found at Rowntree/HIR/7B.

Henry Isaac Rowntree died unexpectedly in 1883, leaving his share in the business to his brothers Joseph and John Stephenson Rowntree. The success of Rowntrees as a cocoa and chocolate business depended on their mastery of the 'Van Houten' process in the manufacture of cocoa butter and cocoa powder. In 1885 Joseph Rowntree engaged Cornelius Hollander, a Dutchman, who claimed knowledge of the process for the extraction of cocoa butter from the roasted nib. Hollander worked in seclusion and never divulged his information to the company. Joseph suspected that Hollander was profiting by fraudulent expenses claims, dismissed Hollander and broke into his workroom to discover the details of the process. Papers relating to Hollander's employment and his subsequent, successful suit for breach of contract can be found at HIR/2/12.

The work of Hollander led to the development of the famous 'Elect' Cocoa, launched in 1887. Rooms were added the premises in North Street (formerly Simpson's Flour Mill, purchased in 1882) for the manufacture of the cocoa, but space remained a problem, as the success of Elect brought an expansion of trade. In 1890 Joseph Rowntree purchased 29 acres of land at Haxby Road and construction of a new factory began, with the Fruit Room and Gum Department the first to move to the new premises, in 1892. The Architect was Frederick Rowntree (formerly of Malcolm Stark and Rowntree of Glasgow) and the builders were J. H. Thorp and Sons of Leeds. A private railway line was constructed to join up with the North Eastern Railway Company's Foss Islands Line. Title deeds and other papers concerning the Haxby Road estate are listed under Rowntree/R/DH/R/20-30; see also papers concerning the valuation of the firm's assets prior to the formation of the limited company in 1897, under Rowntree/R/DH/SR/1-5.

The Rowntree company grew rapidly from small beginnings; the workforce numbered no more than a dozen men when Henry Isaac first acquired the business in 1862 and had increased to 100 in 1880 and over 4,000 in 1910. No man then had any specific job - even the few clerks had at times to take off their coats for labouring work. A general foreman kept the factory keys and also acted as night watchman, as he slept next door. There was no time keeping or wage calculation, each employee kept his own time and at the end of the week the foreman asked each one how much time they had got. Production in the works became divided into departments during the early 1880s, possibly as a result of the manufacture of gums and pastilles, which required different ingredients and equipment. As the business expanded the work and responsibilities of individual employees became confined and defined within a particular area. By the mid-1890s as well as production departments and offices there were managers in charge of storerooms, packing, the railway, engineers, the Drawing Office, purchasing and the chemical laboratory.

By 1894 the workforce numbered nearly 900. The departmentalising of office work began in 1896 as the workload increased and more staff were taken on. In 1897 the firm was incorporated as a limited company, changing its name to ‘Rowntree & Co.’ The men who made up the first Board of Directors of Rowntree and Co. in March 1897 were already established in the firm. Their respective areas of knowledge and responsibility influenced, and are an illustration of the way in which the company was structured prior to the planned re-organisation in the 1920s. John Wilhelm Rowntree was taken into partnership by Joseph in 1889 and was involved in the general conduct of the business, specialising in cocoa and cake chocolate. Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree studied chemistry at Owen's College in Manchester, before joining the firm in 1889, and laid the foundations of the firm's Chemical Department. His primary interest was employee welfare and he later became Labour Director. Arnold Stephenson Rowntree began in the Gum Department, in 1892, but moved to work on Sales and took charge of selling and advertising in 1897. Francis Henry Rowntree studied engineering at Manchester and co-managed the Engineering Department on joining the firm in 1893. John Bowes Morrell came to the cocoa works in 1890, and was put in charge of the Cake Chocolate Department. He then became responsible for the purchase of all raw materials, and in 1898 went to the West Indies to negotiate the purchased of estates in Jamaica and Dominica. Theodore Hotham Rowntree joined the firm in 1891, undertaking accounting and statistical work.

A box making firm owned by a Mr Crooks and situated in North Street supplied packaging for Rowntrees but it soon became impossible for the firm to meet all the requirements of the Cocoa Works. During 1889 and 1890 Rowntrees started to make all small wooden boxes, packing cases and cardboard boxes themselves. Carting of Rowntrees goods to the railway station and materials from the station to the Works was carried out by William Laycock, a carter with the Eastern Railway Company, from 1877 to c. 1892.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was deposited at the Borthwick Institute in 1992. A further addition was made to the archive in 2002.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

General papers of Henry Isaac, Joseph and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, including memoranda and account books, c 1869-1898, and correspondence, 1887-1904.

Records of H. I Rowntree and Co, comprising legal papers, including conveyances, 1876-1896, agreements with salesmen, c 1890, papers regarding trade marks, 1891-1896, and papers regarding Cornelius Hollander vs H. I. Rowntree and Co, 1886-1894; property papers, 1869-c 1960; general and corporate accounts, 1859-1953; papers concerning costings, 1870-1920; sales accounts and statistics, 1869-1911; stock books, 1862-1896; purchasing records, including notebooks concerning ingredients, 1882-1904, correspondence, 1887-1900, and papers concerning second cost items, 1881-1896; records of the factory manager, including correspondence, 1890-1897, time book, 1895-1896, notices, 1892-1899; production records, including production management, stock and output figures, 1881-1901, mixings and experiments books, 1877-1899; employment and wages records, 1857-1894; sales and advertising records, including travellers’ records, 1883-1925, price lists and catalogues, 1890-1896, and packaging guard books, 1870s-1910.

Cocoa Works Library accounts, 1884-1891; Cocoa Works Institute general committee meeting minutes, 1895-1897; Cocoa Works Literary and Debating Society, 1884-1890.


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

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute. The catalogue has also been published as 'A Guide to the Rowntree and Mackintosh Company Archives' by Judith Burg (University of York, 1997).

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Information concerning the history of H.I. Rowntree and Co can be found in manuscript and typescript drafts of articles and other publications, listed with the holdings of the company Technical Library. See particularly The Evolution of a Modern Business, typescript, c 1932; By Faith and Good Works by L.A.G. Strong, typescript, c 1952. Other items listed in the main catalogues are also useful, eg: R/DT/CC/6. See also A Quaker Business Man, The Life of Joseph Rowntree 1836-1925 Anne Vernon, 1982.

The records of Rowntree & Co, the successor of H. I. Rowntree, are also deposited at the Borthwick Institute, along with the papers of the Rowntree family and Trusts and the research papers of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree.

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Place access points

Genre access points

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

Finding aid originally created by Judith Burg. Collection-level description created by S. A. Shearn, 27.04.17. Retroconverted, edited and imported to Borthcat by K. Mannion, August 2017.


  • English



Accession area