THE family which was to found an enduring chocolate dynasty in York, and also set new standards of philanthropy and social justice, came from rebellious and unconventional stock.

Official Rowntree records begin in 1521, according to local author Paul Chrystal, with a lawsuit brought against one John Rowntree by his daughter and son-in-law, who was a landowner from Borrowby near Thirsk.

Later generations of the family were mainly yeomen farmers and they shared a tendency for strong and independent views. “So it is not surprising to find members of the family in trouble with the authorities, both religious and secular,” Paul writes in his new book, The Rowntree Family of York.

He gives an example. In 1615 a Ralph Rowntree of Stokesley was arraigned for breaking into a park belonging to one Magdalen Bruce “and hurting and chasing her deer with a greyhound.”

The first Quaker Rowntree appears to have been Francis Rowntree, also of Stokesley, who joined the Society of Friends between 1650 and 1660. But even before him, Rowntrees were clearly having difficulties with orthodox Christianity.

In 1644, William Rowntree, of Birdforth, was indicted for ‘not coming to church.’ By the start of the 1800s, the Rowntrees - at least the branch of the family that we are interested in - were living in Scarborough.

Joseph Rowntree, the father of the great Joseph Rowntree of York, was born on June 10, 1801, the third son of John Rowntree, a master mariner who had moved to Scarborough from Riseborough in 1778.

As a boy, Joseph worked in the family grocery shop at Bland’s Cliff on the corner of Cross Street, later Eastborough, in Scarborough.

In 1822, at the age of about 21, he left for York, determined to set up his own business.

He attended an auction at the Elephant & Castle Inn, in Skeldergate, where he bought a shop, 28 Pavement, which today is Pizza Hut.

“The auctioneer was so drunk that Joseph, aided by his friend James Backhouse, was forced to plunge the man’s head into a barrel of sobering cold water so he could conclude the sale,” writes Mr Chrystal.

The shop was a rather dilapidated, but elegant Georgian building with bow windows and fanlights. Joseph transformed it into a grocer, tea merchant and coffee-roasting establishment, with mahogany counters, iron grilles, full-length upstairs curtains and ornate fire guards, all of which were considered rather elaborate by Quaker standards, Mr Chrystal writes.

Joseph was clearly a hard-headed businessman, as well as a Quaker.

In his 1852 Memoranda Of Business And Household Arrangements, he wrote: “The object of the Pavement establishment is business.

“The young men who enter it… are expected to contribute… in making it successful… it affords a full opportunity for any young man to obtain a good practical acquaintance with the tea and grocery trades… the place is not suitable for the indolent and wayward.”

Pavement at the time was a lively, bustling part of York.

Mr Chrystal quotes from Ye Old Streete Of Pavement, by W Camidge, printed in the Yorkshire Gazette of 1893.

It describes the goose market in front of St Crux Church, boots and shoes on sale in Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate, the basket market at the bottom of Colliergate, and the pleasure fairs at Whitsuntide and Martinmas which included dog and lion fights, plus “other shows with fat women, deformed men, giants and dwarfs, reptiles, waxworks, mechanical inventions, fortune tellers, circuses and boxing booths.”

Sadly, we don’t know what Mr Rowntree made of all this.

One photograph in Mr Chrystal’s book shows young apprentices at Mr Rowntree’s shop, including the younger Joseph, who was later to develop the cocoa works his brother Henry had bought from the Tukes into a chocolate empire that would become one of the world’s leading brands as well as, for generations, one of York’s main employers.

Also pictured in the photograph is George Cadbury – who went on to develop the great chocolate manufacturing business in Birmingham.

There have been many books written about the Rowntrees.

The beauty of Mr Chrystal’s book, apart from the wealth of photographs, many of which have never been published before, is that he brings together in one volume the stories of all the most notable members of the family, including both the elder and younger Josephs, Joshua Rowntree, John Stephenson Rowntree, Henry Isaac Rowntree, who originally bought Tukes, and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, who wrote those pioneering works on poverty and unemployment.

Astonishingly, claims Mr Chrystal, there has never been a biography of Seebohm before.

This book puts that right.

• The Rowntree Family of York, by Paul Chrystal, is published by Blackthorn Press, £19.95. It is also available as an ebook at £7.99 on Amazon or at 

York Press: the younger Joseph Rowntree, centre front, and George Cadbury, left front, of the Birmingham chocolate family, is a picture of one Lewis Fry
THIS photograph from Mr Chrystal’s book shows a group of young apprentices at Joseph Rowntree the elder’s grocer and tea-merchant’s shop in Pavement.

Alongside the younger Joseph Rowntree, centre front, and George Cadbury, left front, of the Birmingham chocolate family, is a picture of one Lewis Fry, back left.

Mr Chrystal claims in his book that Mr Fry was the son of Joseph Fry of the Bristol chocolate company.

Actually, while this is widely believed, it is not true, says Bridget Morris, director of the Rowntree Society in York. Joseph Fry did have a son named Lewis, but he never came to work as an apprentice at the Rowntree shop.

Bridget said this Lewis Fry joined the Rowntree household in 1856. He married Mary Cruickshank from Aberdeen, but they had no children.

They moved from their home to take charge of the Rowntree apprentices and assistants, but the strain proved too much for Lewis’ health and in 1870 the couple moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, where he was an accountant to J & F Richardson, a leather manufacturers.