- Published: Saturday, 26 September 2015 14:14
- Written by Nigel Dawkins
The life of George Cadbury
George Cadbury, the son of John Cadbury, a tea and coffee dealer, was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham in 1839. The Cadbury family were members of the Society of Friends and sent George to the local Quaker school. George's mother, Candia Cadbury, who was an active supporter of the Temperance Society died in 1855. John Cadbury's health was also poor so George's education came to an end and he joined family business.
At the age of twenty-two, George and his elder brother, Richard, assumed control of the company. Five years later Cadburys became the first company in Britain to sell cocoa. The cocoa beans were roasted, winnowed, ground and then mixed with sugar to make chocolate powder. Customers added hot water or milk to the powder to make a popular drink.
In 1888 he married Dame Elizabeth Mary Cadbury. By then he was a widower with five children. They had six children together as well: Laurence John, George Norman, Elsie Dorothea, Egbert, Marion Janet and Ursula.
Despite the demands of running a large company, George Cadbury was committed to spending time helping those less privileged than himself. Cadbury often said: "We can do nothing of any value to God, except in acts of genuine helpfulness done to our fellow men.". Every Sunday morning Cadbury taught classes at the Birmingham Adult School. Although organised by Quakers, the school was non-sectarian and encouraged students to take part in the activities of their own churches.
In 1879 the company premises were no longer large enough for the rapidly expanded business. A new 15 acre site four miles outside of Birmingham was chosen for the new factory. The factory was named Bournville after the name of the small stream that ran through the site. Bournville was an attractive area and it became known as the "factory in a garden".
At first Cadbury built 24 houses for their key workers at Bournville. Later Cadbury built another 300 houses to form Bournville Village. These houses were superior to working class homes of that time, with larger rooms and generous sized gardens. Another innovation was to group the houses around cul-de-sacs or gardens. A school, hospital, reading rooms and wash-houses were also built for the people in the village.
Cadbury Brothers already had a reputation as a good employer, having introduced Saturday half days and Bank Holiday closing. At Bournville Cadbury introduced a wide variety of sporting and recreational facilities. There was a kitchen for heating up food and later a works canteen was added. The company also provided medical and dental treatment.
Cadbury Brothers made their first milk chocolate in 1897. At first it was similar to the chocolate being imported from Switzerland but later the company started using fresh full cream milk to make a lighter coloured chocolate. Called Cadbury's Dairy Milk, it soon became Britain's best selling chocolate bar.
Cadbury was a strong supporter of William Gladstone and represented the Liberal Party on both Birmingham Town Council and Worcestershire County Council. In 1901 he purchased the Daily News and used it to campaign for old age pensions and against sweated labour. As a pacifist, Cadbury was also a strong opponent of the Boer War.
In the grounds of his home, Northfield Manor, Cadbury arranged for the construction of a building that could seat 700 people. Every year during the summer months, Cadbury provided food and entertainment for about 25,000 children from the deprived areas of Birmingham. In 1906 George Cadbury paid £60,000 into a pension fund for his employees.
Cadbury continued to work at the Birmingham Adult School every Sunday morning. It was estimated that over a fifty year period he taught over 4,000 students. Twice a year he organised reunions at Northfield Manor that were attended by around 1,000 people.
Cadbury opposed Britain's involvement in the First World War and disillusioned with the way the Liberal Government behaved in 1914 switched his financial support to the ant-war Independent Labour Party. Cadbury joined with E.D. Morel, Ramsay MacDonald, Arthur Ponsonby, Arthur Rowntree and other critics of the government's foreign policy to form the Union of Democratic Control (UDC). Over the next couple of years the UDC became the leading anti-war organisation in Britain.
He died at his home, Northfield Manor House, on 24 October 1922, aged 83.