Quakers have been involved in business since the start of the movement in 17th century England. Most early Quakers were involved in small-scale local trade, as farmers, craftspeople and artisans.
As the Industrial Revolution unfolded in Britain in the 18th century, many Quakers poured their energies and talents into innovative business ventures. Like other nonconformists, they were barred from English universities, and most professions, so business was a natural outlet for their talents. They also often had ready access to advice and support, and start-up resources, within their community: Quakers had become a close-knit network of mutually supportive families, many of whom were involved in interconnected businesses.
In the 18th Century Quaker merchants and apothecaries began to get involved in the chocolate industry. At this time chocolate was used to make cocoa: there was nothing like today’s chocolates. Cocoa was thought to have medicinal properties and to be a good alternative to alcohol. Chocolate was an ‘innocent trade’.
Three great family firms grew up – Frys, Cadburys and Rowntrees.
Joseph Fry (1728 – 1787) was an apothecary in Bristol. He began selling cocoa from his shop in 1759, emphasising its health-giving properties. It soon became popular in Bath where the coffee houses sold it to the aristocracy. In partnership with John Vaughan he purchased the business of Walter Churchman, the leading cocoa manufacturer, in 1761. By 1764 Fry, Vaughan & Co had agents in fifty-three towns and a chocolate warehouse in London.
Joseph’s son introduced the Watts steam engine in 1795, which made Fry’s the first chocolatier to use factory methods to manufacture their product. Fry’s also obtained a patent for a machine to roast the cocoa beans and by 1824 they were using 40% of the cocoa that was imported. Employees were paid relatively well – ten shillings a week at a time when a farm labourer could expect to earn only seven.
John Cadbury (1801 – 1880) had served an apprenticeship in the tea trade. When his father gave him a sum of money to set up his own business in 1824, he became a tea dealer and coffee roaster in Bull Street, Birmingham. At this shop he prepared cocoa based beverages, crushing the beans using a pestle and mortar. Cadbury saw the potential for cocoa powder and drawing on his experience of roasting coffee beans and preparing nib (crushed cocoa beans) he decided to open a factory in 1831. The earliest extant price list dated 1842 shows sixteen varieties of drinking chocolate and eleven cocoas. The product could be bought as pressed cakes, flakes, nibs and powder.
In 1847 Frys introduced the chocolate bar to England. They melted cocoa butter, mixed it with cocoa powder and sugar and pressed the resulting paste into a mould. It was difficult to extract all the fat (butter) from the cocoa, so additives such as potato flour were used to stop the cocoa powder from sticking together. (Some of the less scrupulous chocolate manufacturers used additives such as brick dust to enhance the colour of their chocolate.)
However when brothers George Cadbury and Richard Cadbury took over the family business in 1861, they began to innovate. They worked on an improved method of extracting the butter, so that they no longer needed additives of any kind. They began to use marketing slogans, advertising the new Cadburys’ chocolate as “Absolutely Pure: Therefore Best”. In 1868 they began selling chocolates in boxes. To the dismay of some Quakers the design of the boxes of chocolates became more elaborate as time went on, but the idea proved to be a winner, and the company thrived. Quaker firms were not the pioneers of milk chocolate, but they soon developed their own formulas. By 1913 Cadburys Dairy Milk chocolate bars were the company’s best seller.
In 1869 Joseph Rowntree (1836 – 1925) left his father’s grocery business in York to enter a cocoa and chocolate partnership with his brother John. Rowntrees grew into a highly successful concern, developing many new chocolate products.
The Cadburys and Rowntrees showed an enlightened concern for their workforce. One hundred and forty four cottages were built for the Cadbury workers near their factory at Bournville. Infant mortality and death rates in the village in 1915 were half those of Birmingham as a whole. George’s wife, Elizabeth Cadbury, played a crucial part in this work. Rowntree founded the village of New Earswick for low income families in 1902. Education was provided for both children and adults. Rowntree is particularly remembered for his Adult Schools. Cadburys was the first firm to grant its workers a 5-day working week and to provide medical facilities, a canteen, leisure activities and community gardens. Rowntrees also took a keen interest in the wellbeing of their employees and the wider community (Joseph’s son Seebohm Rowntree undertook a seminal study of poverty in York) and the family played an important part in the establishment of the public library in York..
None of the Quaker chocolatiers exist today, though many of their products do. Frys merged with Cadburys in 1919; Rowntrees was finally taken over by Nestlé in 1988 and Cadburys by Kraft in 2010. The Quaker influence in these businesses had either declined or disappeared by the time these takeovers and mergers took place.
Quaker Bankers in Britain
Quakers could also be trusted to take good care of any valuable possessions that people wished to store. Those who were goldsmiths were particularly sought after for this, because they had facilities for safekeeping for their own businesses, which could easily be made available to others. These goldsmiths were soon negotiating loans, bills and other financial transactions, functions that we associate with banks today.
One of the goldsmiths of this time who became in effect one of the early bankers was Quaker John Freame (1665-1745) of London. He had an interest in the Royal Mines Company of Wales (which later became the London Lead Company) and acted as a banker for them by arranging their financial dealings in London. He also received and stored the cakes of silver from their mines and negotiated sales of the silver to the Mint for the manufacture of silver coins.
His son Joseph inherited the business and in 1736 took on James Barclay, son of David Barclay, as a partner in the bank, which became known as Freame, Gould and Barclay. In 1759 Joseph’s son John was taken into partnership and the bank changed its name to Freame, Barclay and Freame. After the death of James Barclay and John Freame in 1766 the partnership became known as Freame, Smith and Bening. The bank changed its name several times to reflect the current partners. In 1770 it became Barclay, Bevan, Barclay and Tritton, in 1791 it was Barclay and Tritton, and in 1797 it changed again to Barclays, Tritton and Bevan. Eventually the bank was simply called Barclays.
The Gurneys of Norwich were another Quaker banking family, though only for a limited period. They were in the woollen industry, and their banking interests started by advancing credit to their workforce. In 1775 John and Henry Gurney founded the Norwich Bank. The brothers were strict Quakers and would not entertain what they perceived as unfair dealings. Quaker meetings at that time kept a close eye on the integrity and soundness of Quaker businesses, which was no problem for the Gurney brothers. In 1800, however, a Gurney of the next generation took the business away from Quaker oversight. He went into partnership with John Overend and Thomas Richardson to form Overend and Gurney, which speculated in buying and selling bills, and eventually became bankrupt.
The Tritton family were prominent Quakers from Kent in the goldsmith tradition. With Kenton Brown and James Collinson they formed a bank known as Brown, Collinson and Tritton. In Bristol Thomas Gouldney and Charles Harford entered into a partnership to form the Bristol Old Bank. They were closely connected with industry – the Harford family were associated with iron making in South Wales and Thomas became a partner in the Coalbrookdale Ironworks.
Sampson Lloyd II entered banking in Birmingham in 1765 with John Taylor and his two sons. Their banking business prospered producing a profit of more than £10,000 within the first six years of trading. In 1770 Sampson Lloyd formed a new partnership in London with Taylor, Lloyd, Hanbury and Bowman, which together with other smaller banks was to become a major bank, eventually simply known as Lloyds.
Joseph Pease started his bank through helping his customers by taking care of their money and valuables. As this work grew he decided to form Pease Partners Bank in 1754 which by 1782 had become Pease and Harrison in Hull and Beverley.
In 1798 Priscilla Wakefield established a savings bank in Tottenham, to enable people on small incomes to put small amounts of money aside for emergencies.
Samuel Alexander, a ship owner of Ipswich, also extended credit facilities to his customers along with some banking. He founded the Ipswich and Woodbridge Bank which later amalgamated with Barclays. His son Samuel married the daughter of John Gurney of the Norwich Bank. The Whitby bank also grew out of a grocer and draper shop owned by Wakefield Simpson. In 1892 this bank became part of the York Union Bank.
By the end of the 19th century Quaker banking was disappearing, for two main reasons. One was that there were many other opportunities for that generation of young Quakers – they could now attend university and enter the professions. The other was the passing of the Corporation Act, which removed family and Quaker control, replacing this with shareholders and Boards of Directors. Nevertheless the old Quaker names of Lloyds and Barclays are still in use today.