19 September 2014

As many of you will know, I am in the process of writing my second book right now. Well actually, finishing it off…. hopefully soon! It’s all about tracing your ancestors in the Industrial Revolution. So, I ask: should you write a book about something you know stacks about, or very little about? I’ll leave that question for you to ponder….

Suffice to say, whether you know a lot from the outset or not, you undoubtedly learn much more along the way. Now today, is the birthday of George Cadbury, chocolate manufacturer.

Working in factories was tough in the nineteenth century but the story of the Cadbury family highlights that not all factory owners worked their employees from dawn until dusk for a very low wage…. George Cadbury was born in Edgbaston near Birmingham in 1839. His father, John Cadbury was a tea and coffee dealer. The Cadbury family were members of the Society of Friends and they sent George to the local Quaker School. His childhood was spent in a loving and deeply religious family.

At the age of 22, George and his elder brother, Richard, took over the family business and in 1873, they stopped selling tea and coffee and concentrated on chocolate. Their name is now a byword for excellent confectionery that many of us consume on a weekly/daily basis.

As Christians, both men believed strongly that the happiness and well-being of their employees was one of the chief aims of the business. They were profit-sensitive without being profit-driven. They were quite happy to make an honest ‘coin’ but not at their employees’ expense.

Both of the Cadbury boys loved sport. George loved football, cricket, tennis, swimming and golf. George admitted late in life that the first thing he turned to in his daily paper was the cricket news. He was also keen on early morning cold baths! So, what was it like to work in the Cadbury chocolate factory? Well, each day began with Bible readings and prayers for all. The working day was considerably shorter than many other factories of the time. George introduced half-days on Saturdays and bank holiday closing.

GeorgeIn 1893, when the premises became too small, George decided to build a factory in the country. They called this new site ‘Bournville‘. On this site the brothers provided football and cricket fields, a huge playground for children, swings and even an open air swimming pool! Utterly unheard of at the time!

Employees were encouraged to have fun and the sporting and recreational facilities were fantastic. Sometimes Cadbury would tell his employees to knock off early and everyone would enjoy playing and watching a cracking game of cricket. On one occasion, the brothers took all eleven wickets in a match. George once bought his employees a bicycle (of the ‘bone-shaker’ type) which they used to learn to ride on during the lunch-break.

Inside the factory, there were warm cloakrooms for drying wet clothes and kitchen facilities for cooking food. The brothers also built superb houses for their employees. Every house had a spacious garden for growing vegetables. Fruit trees were planted and the garden dug over before each new owner moved in. Trees were planted along the wide roads. Imagine moving from a rat-infested slum dwelling to a wonderful garden estate….

Later George built schools and a shopping area for his employees. He campaigned for old-age pensions and fought against grim ‘sweated’ labour. He even paid £60,000 of his own money into pension funds for his employees. On his estate, he had a special building constructed and each year, thousands of deprived children found every delight that could appeal to them in the spacious gardens – swings and cricket, races and games and above all, the open-air swimming pool.

When George died in 1922, his funeral was attended by over 16,000 people.

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