George Cadbury the Chocolate Philanthropist

This is the day that … George Cadbury was born in 1839, in Birmingham, England.

George’s father, John Cadbury, was a tea and coffee dealer. George’s mother, Candia, died when he was in his mid-teens and John’s health was poor. So George’s education was cut short by his need to work in the business.

At the age of 22, he, along with his older brother Richard, took over his father’s business. Five years later Cadburys became the first company in Britain to sell cocoa. The beans were roasted and ground to form a powder which customers made into chocolate drinks.

In this Quaker family, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs had been standard ‘Sabbath reading’, along with the Bible.

Thus it was that working conditions were improved, even a half-holiday was granted on Saturdays … in an age when such things were unheard of.

Eventually, as their cocoa refining experiments revolutionised the business, George even began a daily worship service in the factory. Attended by a few at first, there came the day when “visiting ministers spoke of the impressive sight of a great crowd of worshippers led in praise by 3000 women’s voices, the girls dressed in pure white overalls ready for the day’s work” (Yarns on Christian Torchbearers, page 45).

To improve living conditions for his workers George Cadbury built three villages on the outskirts of Birmingham. From an initial cluster of 24 houses for key workers, a total of 300 houses formed the Bournville Village. His factory, on the River Bourn, was called the “Bournville Works”.

A pension scheme was introduced for his employees long before parliament thought of such an idea.

Here was a Christian businessman and philanthropist who loved people … for, as his biographer says: “He had caught the secret of love from Christ, his Lord and Saviour” (Life of George Cadbury, page 277).

George taught school every Sunday morning for fifty years, instructing some 4,000 students over that time. He also ran evangelistic meetings for the derelict of the city. It was at one of those meetings that his daughter, Helen, made her commitment to Christ at the age of 12. She was so excited about sharing her faith that she organized a group of girls who sewed pockets onto their dresses to carry the small New Testaments her father provided. The girls called their group “The Pocket Testament League“. Using small membership cards, they pledged to read a portion of the Bible every day, pray, and to share their faith as God provided opportunity. Helen later married RA Torrey’s popular gospel singer Charles Alexander.

George Cadbury believed that society would be better if people owned and worked their own land, so he opposed the land monopoly. He was also a pacifist who objected to the Boer War in South Africa.

He is remembered as a philanthropist. “I have for many years given practically the whole of my income for charitable purposes, except what is spent upon my family. Nearly all my money is invested in businesses in which I believe I can truly say the first thought of the welfare of the work people employed.”

George Cadbury died at Northfield Manor on 24th October, 1922.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.