Sweet Memories

The Cocoa Works sits in an iconic location on York’s Haxby Road and is renowned for being the former home of Rowntree’s Almond and Cream buildings. In the 1920s over 6,000 people worked in the building, known as York’s famous ‘Garden Factory’, where open space and education facilities supported the wellbeing of factory workers and their families.

Revitalising The Cocoa Works Community

The factory, built by Sir Joseph Rowntree in the early 1890s, has been empty and unused for a number of years but will be revitalised by Latimer to become the home of The Cocoa Works.

While York is renowned for being a ‘Chocolate City’ and many landmarks and attractions mark its rich history, we are looking to build a specific Cocoa Works community. We are asking people to come forward with stories of their own family members’ and friends’ experiences of working in the Haxby Road factory.

Latimer is looking for accounts of this unique period, relating to workers and families from the 1890s onwards, to create a ‘Sweet Memories’ public exhibition in the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library, as well as being featured on our digital sweet memory board below.

If you or your relatives worked at the factory, Latimer would like to hear what life was like during that time, how the Rowntree family is remembered and any insightful experiences you shared with other workers and friends.

We have received a fantastic response to our sweet memories campaign, thank you to everyone who has shared a special memory. Here’s a taster of some of the memories we have received so far, we look forward to sharing more in the future.

I worked for Rowntrees from 1951 until 1957 when I emigrated to Canada. My first job was in Cream Manufacturing where my main task was collecting the ‘tea’ money.  I moved on to the Men’s Employment office. There I was fortunate enough to work for ‘BPR’, as Mr Phillip Rowntree was always called. One of my duties was to take notes each week when he met with the ‘sick visiting nurse’. She visited chronically and seriously ill employees in their homes and she and BPR decided what help they and their families needed. I learned so much from them about compassion and caring and what great help was available. Men who could not come back to regular duties were given the chance to do light work in the ‘bag room’ where they could still be part of the Rowntree family.

Another interesting job was going through the factory with my leather satchel shouting ‘BANK’ and collecting shillings from workers to be put in their savings accounts each week. Of course in those days everyone was paid in cash. I was familiar with all parts of the factory and recall the big machines in conch, smarties being polished, wonderful cardboard boxes being made for chocolates etc. and realize how lucky I was to experience all that.

Ann Davis

I have fond memories of when my Dad worked on the roads near the factory from the 1970's. My Dad would bring home big bags of sweets form the factory shop every Friday for his four children. It was magical. Joseph Rowntree was beyond his time for social responsibility.

Julie Murrish

My father, who was born in 1890, wanted to drive one of the newfangled motor vehicles so he joined the Territorial Army before the First World War. In consequence he drove lorries and rode motorcycles during four years in France and avoided the carnage on the trenches. He joined Rowntrees after the War, driving a delivery van to shops all around the county. On a quite different subject, Christopher Rowntree, the last of the family to work at the cocoa works as he always called it, was my neighbour for almost twenty years and we often chatted.

George Heppell

I worked in their experimental wrapping machine design and construction engineering block in the 1950's, having gained my qualifications and engineering apprenticeship. We manufactured their wrapping equipment in-house, and when ready we tried it out and taught the operators in the various departments. It was a very invigorating experience, the company were friendly and caring taskmasters with many fabulous facilities for the workers to employ. I had necessary dental treatment in their medical department, when toothache struck, and my girlfriend there, subsequently my wife, had 2 weeks in Dunolly, after an operation to alleviate ear problems.

Stephen Oxlade

Our family have quite a long history in Rowntree's. My grandad Herburt worked in the engineers shop, alongside two of his sons (Graham and Ronald). My dad, Lewis, worked in the Elect block all his life until he died in 1975, while two of my sisters (Sylvia and Jean) also worked in the Cream department. I myself started there in 1956, in the Packing & Stores and after about 7 years went into the Fire Brigade - an extremely interesting job which took me all over the factory and warehouses. I eventually got to be a Station Officer and took early retirement in 1992. We still live in an ex company house, which we moved in 1965.

Michael Hodgson

My father worked in card box , my mother as a teenager worked in the jelly department, my brothers worked in beechnut, melange and cream packing, my sister in cherry dipping. I worked in cream packing hand-packing black magic, Easter eggs at Christmas and hand-cellophaning Black Magic boxes when they were in triple boxes with a tassel on them, I then went into hand-packing After Eight mints for a while.

I was also sent to a place in Scarborough to recuperate after a huge operation all paid for, they really looked after you. I actually ended up in the offices at the end doing data processing and verifying on huge discs, one of the best jobs ever at the time, but being a teenager I did not realise it until it was too late.

Mrs Sheila Raper was Musgrove

My grandfather, John Robert Crawford, was recruited to the "Chocolate factory" in 1919/20 from Stockton-on-Tees as a sheet metal worker and spent the rest of his working life on the machines. My mother was 13 years old and the family lived in New Earswick from that date. My mother also worked at the factory, packing boxes of chocolates, until she and my father were married in 1932. They also lived in New Earswick and I grew up able to see the factory from my bedroom window. We even have, in the family, the china tea-set my mother received from the factory as a wedding gift.

I remember once being taken to the factory, by my grand-father, to see where the chocolate was made - and receiving a KitKat! I also remember getting what was referred to as "waste" - chocolate not quite up to standard to be packed for sale. One very vivid memory is of the huge crowd of cyclists waiting by the gates to leave work, many heading in the direction of New Earswick.

I have been in Canada since 1969 but have told many people of Joseph Rowntree and what a generous philanthropist he was. He was way ahead of his time and left a huge legacy in his "garden" village. I think the only thing he did not foresee was the day when just about every family would have a car!

Margaret Taylor

My small part in working in the factory started in 1957 as an apprentice fitter in the Engineering Department and finished in August 1962. Completing my Apprenticeship five years later in the Engineering Drawing Office, at the age of 21. I went on to work for a number of other companies the final one being the Shepherd Building Group of York as Regional Mechanical & Electrical Engineer for the North East Regional Office in Darlington, where I was based for 24 years, and retiring at 67, in 2008.

I still hold the deeds to my Apprenticeship signed and sealed by one of the Rowntree family – as you can imagine as an apprentice I worked in the majority of departments on engineering aspects of production.

Peter G White
Engineering apprentice (1957-62)

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Contact Us

Our Marketing Suite and Show Apartment is open. For further information and to book an appointment, please contact the team or complete the enquiry form.

We are open 10-5pm Monday-Saturday and 10-4pm Sundays

01904 390301
The Cocoa Works Marketing Suite,
Haxby Road, York, YO31 8TA