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.
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.
George Cadburydied at Northfield Manor on 24th October, 1922.
(1) George Cadbury, interviewed in Christian Commonwealth (1898)
Forty years ago I visited among my scholars and knew their hardships and the difficulties men have to contend with when they are reformed - unattrative neighbourhoods, no social life and but few objects of interest in and around their homes. But if each man could have his own house, a large garden to cultivate and healthy surroundings - then, I thought, there will be for them a better opportunity of a happy family life.
Largely through my experience among the back streets of Birmingham I have been brought to the conclusion that it is impossible to raise a nation, morally, physically, and spiritually in such surroundings, and that the only effective way to bring men out of the cities into the country and to give every man his garden where he can come into touch with nature and thus know more of nature's God.
(2) George Cadbury, speech at the Trade Union Congress (1905)
The evils of poverty will never be cured by the prohibition of liquor or of betting - the twin curses of Great Britain today. Even if these evils were prohibited, other evils would arise while men live in the depressing and demoralizing surroundings they do. True Radicals must go to the root of the matter, that is, I believe, land monopoly.
(3) George Cadbury, interviewed by Bishop Gore
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.
(4) In the magazine Vanity Fair, George Cadbury was criticised for giving money to support engineers during an industrial dispute in 1897.
George Cadbury is said to have guaranteed a subscription of £50 a week to the funds of the striking engineers; the subscription to be kept up until the masters make terms with the men. George Cadbury is a philanthropist, and philanthropists ought to know the difference between wholesome charity and the unwholesome maintenance of a mischievous quarrel.