IT must be one of the most momentous business transactions in the history of York – if not the whole country.

Back in the summer of 1862, with Queen Victoria on the throne and Britain in its industrial heyday, Henry Isaac Rowntree shook hands on a deal that would make his family famed around the world for both its confectionery and its social ethos.

Rowntree’s purchase of Wm Tuke’s cocoa business started an empire that would become internationally renowned, cementing York’s chocolate-making reputation.

Now, to mark the 150th anniversary of the deal, archivists at Rowntree’s successor Nestle UK are planning a range of celebrations, and have released spectacular images from the company’s early days – including a previously unseen painting of the first Rowntree factory, in Tanner’s Moat beside the River Ouse.

Alex Hutchinson, the company’s heritage assistant, said: “The 150th anniversary is very important for the city of York. Rowntree’s didn’t just create confectionery brands known all over the globe – it was a pioneer in better working practices, company pensions, sick pay, and invented the modern science of marketing.

“Joseph and Seebohm Rowntree used their success to invest in the lives and wellbeing of their fellow citizens, to investigate the causes of poverty, and to help alleviate poverty wherever they could.”

Henry Isaac Rowntree’s first factory was in Castlegate, but the first he called his own was in Tanner’s Moat.

Miss Hutchinson said: “The Tanner’s Moat factory is a really important part of our history, and so that’s why we’ve decided to release this previously unseen painting from the archives, to celebrate our anniversary year.”

The official anniversary is July 1, but many of the celebrations will be focused on the city’s Chocolate Festival in April. Miss Hutchinson will also put on a film show at City Screen on April 10, after a previous showing sold out.

York Press: Rowntree's Tanner's Moat factory

A 1906 view of the Tanner’s Moat and North Street factories, which also includes other notable York landmarks, including the spire of All Saints’ Church, North Street, seen in the background to the left of the centre of the picture

York Press: Two women workers in the Rowntree factory

Two women workers in the factory

York Press: Railway sidings at the Rowntrees Tanner’s Moat factory in about 1880

Railway sidings at the Tanner’s Moat factory in about 1880

York Press: Tuke's Rock Cocoa advert

Tuke’s rock cocoa is said to be “superior”, above, but Rowntree’s version declares itself to be “improved”, below

York Press: Rowntree's cocoa advert

York Press: The Press - Comment

A family milestone

AS York celebrates 800 years as a chartered city, one of its most famous companies also has a milestone to mark. It is 150 years since Henry Isaac Rowntree struck a deal to buy Tuke’s cocoa business, and from those humble beginnings, he built a global chocolate empire with which York has become synonymous.

But York has more to thank the Rowntree family for. Joseph championed social reform and pioneered better working practices, while Seebohm’s seminal report on poverty earned him the name Einstein of the Welfare State.

The Rowntree name may be lost to the chocolate world, but the Rowntree Foundation continues to give a voice to the downcast and in this landmark year, that is a fine testament to one of York’s most philanthropic families.

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