Rowntree postcards from a bygone era

York Press: Men unpacking (or packing?) crates in the Rowntree Elect cocoa works, early 1900s Men unpacking (or packing?) crates in the Rowntree Elect cocoa works, early 1900s

WE have some wonderful old photographs and postcards on a Rowntree theme in Yesterday Once More this week. All were brought in by reader Anne Blincoe, who worked for the company for seven years in the 1950s.

Anne, 79, from the Stockton Lane area, has been collecting postcards of York for 30-odd years. Among her collection are some showing the inside of Dunollie, the Rowntree convalescence home in Scarborough where employees who had been ill were allowed to go for a holiday.

They show the house's grand hall, a comfortable lounge, and the imposing exterior, up on top of a hill overlooking the town.

Dunollie was just one example of Rowntree's enlightened approach to dealing with the health and wellbeing of its employees. That’s something Anne knows all about.

She was suffering from tuberculosis when Rowntree took her on. “Nobody else would employ me,” she said. “But Rowntree took disabled people on. They gave me my first job. They were good to me.”

Anne started by working four hours a day, and remained with the company seven years before leaving to set up her own business, running guesthouses in York.

Ironically, despite being so ill, she never got to stay in Dunollie. "Nobody ever asked me to go, but I had three friends who stayed there. They loved it.”

They were perhaps fortunate not to have been staying there 40 years earlier. Because two of Anne's postcards show Dunollie following the bombardment of Scarborough by the Imperial German Navy early in the First World War.

The German High Sea Fleet opened fire on three east coast towns early on the morning of December 16, 1914: Scarborough, Whitney and Hartlepool.

By 9.30am, the bombardment was over – but 135 people lay dead in the three towns, and more than 500 were seriously injured. Hartlepool saw the largest loss of life: but it was the attack on Scarborough that most outraged the nation.

Among the buildings hit that day was Dunollie: Anne's postcards show rubble on the steps, and damage to columns. Two people were killed, a caption to one of the postcards reports.

Another of Anne’s postcards has a First World War theme. It shows a wounded soldiers’ garden party held at the cocoa works on July 14, 1917. A man stands on a table, presumably giving a speech, while uniformed men and women in hats and frilly dresses sit on chairs or relax on the lawns.

Perhaps the most evocative photographs, however, show the inside of the cocoa works themselves.

One shows women in long white coats on the Rowntree’s Elect packing line; another, which looks to date to the early 1900s, shows men heaving heavy crates about, also in the 'Elect' block. Another photograph shows the Rowntrees barge moored on the River Ouse at King's Staith, with scouts and guides opn board posing for the camera.

And finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, there is a photograph taken in about 1900 showing chocolates being packed to be sent to South Africa.

Presumably, this was in connection with the end of the Boer War – though exactly who the chocolates were being sent to, Anne doesn’t know. British soldiers who fought in the war, perhaps?

If any readers know the answer, we’d love to hear from you.

York Press: Dunollie, showing damage from the German bombardment of Scarborough, December 16, 1914
Dunollie, showing damage from the German bombardment of Scarborough, December 16, 1914

York Press: Wounded soldiers garden party at the cocoa works, July 14, 1917
Wounded soldiers garden party at the cocoa works, July 14, 1917

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