The Chocolate Christians - By Charles Gardner

Workers – and customers – get a taste of heaven on earth

Indulging in a box of chocolates might seem almost akin to a religious experience for some.

Perhaps there is an element of truth to that – and I am not talking about Easter eggs – because virtually all the big chocolate companies were founded by Christians; and there is even a link with Israel (as I will explain in due course)!

Most of them were practicing Quakers, who were radical disciples of Jesus much persecuted for their faith in days gone by as their exuberance and passion literally shook the foundations of formal religion. At times they would tremble with emotion as they worshipped – hence their nickname.

As their principles barred them from many trades including alcoholic drinks, they went into business producing non-alcoholic beverages.

Joseph Rowntree and other Quakers like Fry and Cadbury hit upon the idea of using the humble cocoa bean (imported from South America) to create a delicious chocolate drink – the bars came later – with the help of a spoonful or two of the precious sugar extracted from the Caribbean cane plantations1.

The industry took off and soon provided employment for thousands in Bristol, Birmingham and York, with the latter now home to a museum – York’s Chocolate Story – attracting visitors from around the world.

Honesty and integrity was their watchword, with the welfare of their workers, and of the community in general, always paramount.

The establishment of a retreat to care for the mentally ill in a humane way was an example of their early philanthropy. And Rowntree’s were among the first to offer paid holidays and a company pension scheme along with a works doctor and dentist. Indeed, they were ahead of their time as regards industrial welfare, providing terms of employment and working conditions which only came much later in other industries.

Rowntree’s also built New Earswick on the outskirts of York to provide clean, affordable, housing – following the example of George Cadbury who had created a model village at Bournville, near Birmingham, still said to be among the most desirable residential areas in the country. There were obvious business benefits from having a contented workforce living in a pleasant environment.

Richard Cadbury, George’s brother, also became linked with mission to the Jews, and in fact died in Jerusalem. It was on a tour of the Middle East in 1899 that he

contracted diphtheria in Egypt and was cared for by the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people in the hospital they had built on Prophets Street. Sadly, he died there, but not before being hugely impressed by the work of CMJ.

A hospital ward was subsequently named after him. But after Jewish residents began building their own hospitals, the premises became an educational centre now known as the Anglican International School teaching pupils from some 40 different nations.

In 1917, when British-led forces liberated the city, it was used as a temporary military headquarters at which leading officers including the famed Lawrence of Arabia (Col T E Lawrence) held court.

Richard’s 22-year-old daughter Helen, who accompanied him on the tour, later married American singing-evangelist Charles Alexander and went on to develop the Pocket Testament League into a global enterprise, borne of a childhood vision to share the gospel at school by sewing pockets into dresses so she and her friends could carry their New Testament.

Helen died, aged 92, in 1969. And inscribed on her gravestone is the Bible reference Romans 1.16 – “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

As well as focusing on business, John Cadbury (Richard’s father) also invested his energies in campaigning against industrial pollution, child labour and animal cruelty, founding the society which became the RSPCA.

Joseph Fry held a prayer meeting for all workers and Cadbury’s followed his example while Rowntree’s hired a Congregational minister to look after the young men’s pastoral needs. Free breakfast was also provided along with a myriad of social and recreational facilities.

Sounds like heaven on earth – and certainly a challenge for today’s business world! 

CADBURY LINK: The Anglican International School in Jerusalem, originally built as a hospital and also used as a temporary military headquarters during the liberation of the city by British-led forces in 1917. Photo: Linda Gardner

CADBURY LINK: The Anglican International School in Jerusalem, originally built as a hospital and also used as a temporary military headquarters during the liberation of the city by British-led forces in 1917. Photo: Linda Gardner

1 Though Quakers were opposed in principle to the slave trade, it seems they would inevitably have become involved by association through their dealings with merchants importing sugar.

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