The Quakers: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

Joseph Rowntree (1836-1925)

Campaigner for Social Reform


Joseph Rowntree was born in York on 24 May 1836. He was apprenticed to his fatherís grocery business at the age of 15, taking it over after his death in 1859. He later joined his brother Henryís chocolate business, becoming the sole owner in 1883.

A teenage visit to Ireland during the devastating potato famine, and his family's Quaker principles, greatly influenced him to improve conditions for the chocolate factory workers. He went on to provide a library, free education, a social welfare officer, a doctor, a dentist and a pension fund!

He established New Earswick (North of York) to provide affordable houses for low-income families, he set up four charitable trusts to continue his work and he opened the public Rowntree Park as a memorial to the workers that had died during World War One.


Rowntree died on 24 February 1925 and though his initial work seemed to mainly benefit his factory workers, his ideas and legacy were extremely far reaching. The four charitable trusts all continue today, researching to understand the causes of social problems, providing affordable housing and promoting international peace and justice.

Map of New Earswick, the model village near York built by Joseph Rowntree»

Document icon Learning article provided by: Campaign! Make an Impact |  Ryedale Folk Museum | 
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