Meeting Report 1st November 2018 by Susanne Young

History of Chocolate in York

The Wharfedale Family History Group met Thursday 1st November and the meeting opened with a short extraordinary general meeting in which members unanimously approved a change to the Airedale & Wharfedale Family History Society incorporating Wharfedale and Keighley family history groups with effect from 1st January 2019. Chairman Lynda Balmforth welcomed our speaker for the evening Norman Simpson who presented an interesting illustrated presentation on the History of Chocolate in York.

Chocolate was originally consumed as a drink made from crushed cocoa beans in South America around 2500 to 3000 years ago. Aztec Emperor Montezuma I 1398 – 1469 is said to have drunk large quantities believing it to be an aphrodisiac. European chocolate drinking first became popular amongst the elite in France and was introduced into England around 1659 when it was consumed for its apparent medicinal qualities. The cocoa drink as we know it today was not made until 1828 when most of the cocoa butter had been extracted and sugar added so that it was more palatable.

The first dark chocolate bar was made by Frys in 1847 and Lindt invented milk chocolate in 1879. The first chocolate manufacturer in York was Mary Tuke in 1732 and Henry Rowntree purchased the Tuke business in 1862. He was joined by his brother Joseph who eventually took over the business. The Rowntrees were a Quaker family as were all the major English chocolate manufacturers including Cadbury, Fry and Terry. Joseph Rowntree was a noted philanthropist who treated his workers well. He introduced sick pay and pension schemes but also vetted new employees in their own homes and punctuality was essential. Joseph grew the Rowntree business which employed 1600 staff in York in 1899. The Rowntree factory moved to its familiar Haxby Road site in 1904. Rowntree confectionary produced popular pastilles and gums and their first chocolate did not compete well with market leaders Cadbury and Fry. However the company had its first major breakthrough in chocolate with Black Magic in 1933 followed by the Kit Kat Chocolate Crisp in 1935.

The other major chocolate manufacturer in York was Terrys (originally Terry and Berry founded 1823). Terrys first produced chocolate in 1867 and their famous chocolate orange first appeared in 1932. Rowntrees were taken over by Nestle in 1988 and Terrys by Kraft Foods in 1993 prompting an end to chocolate production in York which at its height employed some 1800 staff in the city.

A lady from the audience showed us a family heirloom Rowntrees WW1 chocolate tin. In December 1914 the City of York sent Rowntree tins of chocolate to all York men serving in WW1. Lynda Balmforth gave a vote of thanks.

The group’s next meeting will take place 7.30 pm Thursday 6th December at the Salem Church Hall, Burley when we shall be holding our annual general knowledge Christmas Prize Quiz. Members and visitors all welcome, refreshments will be served.