The Cocoa Works at 180

By Alex Hutchinson, Nestlé UK Archivist and Historian

06 July 2018 See comments (0)

rowntrees factory tanners moat york in the news

To celebrate the 180th anniversary of the York Cocoa Works I’ve looked out a few little gems from our archive that tell its story.

Mrs Bird’s Almanac

One of the earliest references to the Cocoa Works comes from Mrs Bird’s Almanac. I call it Mrs Bird’s Almanac because it was donated by her grandson and when I tried to offer him chocolate in exchange for his donation (he had jogged all the way to the factory and looked like he could do with a break) he said that he wouldn’t take it, but he would like his grandmother’s name to appear whenever we used the donation, so Mrs Bird’s Almanac it is.

This little gem was an ‘almanac’ published by Rowntree’s to advertise their Elect drinking cocoa. The almanac tells us what the first York Cocoa Works was like, and it doesn’t sound much fun.

Leather wallet

This leather wallet was donated to the archive in late 2007, and there is something very special about it. As you can see the wallet reads “H. I. Rowntree & Co, The Cocoa Works, York”. This wallet was carried in the cab of one of our first wagon drivers who used it to keep his business cards in. In those days (this has to date from somewhere after 1869, but before 1897) his business cards were his identification; a way to verify that he was a Rowntree’s employee. The wallet was passed down from driver to driver and kept in the cab of our vehicles until it came to the archive. It had been kept in the cab of one of our wagons by one of our drivers for at least 110 years.

rowntree and co leather wallet in historian's hands

rowntrees cocoa works journal september 1922 issue

The Cocoa Works Magazine

Rowntree’s were so proud of their postal address that when they created their own company magazine in 1902 they named it The Cocoa Works Magazine (nicknamed the CWM). The CWM Continued until 1971 when it finally merged with the McCaley News (the magazine of Mackintosh’s the toffee makers with whom Rowntree’s merged in 1969).

plain mr york of york

Plain Mr York of York, Yorks.

Plain Mr York of York, Yorks. (the plain speaking man who likes plain chocolate), was the mascot of Rowntree’s York chocolate brand back in the 1920s and 30s. He may not be widely known now, but back in the day he was so famous that post addressed simply to “The Cocoa Works, York” with his logo over the top would still reach us here on the Haxby road; even the ones posted from Canada. This one was sent in by a customer from Surrey who has put the stamp in the centre of Mr York’s hat. We can’t help wondering what this sender would have thought of Snapchat.

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