Beliefs and Business: The experience of Quaker Companies

Beliefs and Business: The experience of Quaker Companies

Produced by Hearts & Minds Media 2017 

Sir Adrian Cadbury
A talk in the Faith Seeking Understanding series - May 2003


Few are aware of the extent of Quaker involvement in business in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some may know that the four main chocolate companies - Cadbury, Fry, Rowntree and Terry - were all Quaker businesses in their origin. Quaker leadership, however, covers a wide range of industry and commerce of the period. The iron and steel industry of the country owes its origin to the Darbys of Coalbrookdale (don't miss a chance to visit Ironbridge) and to Huntsman of Sheffield (steel). Our railway system began with the Pease's of Darlington, who ran the first train from Stockton to Darlington in 1825 on what became known as the Quaker Line. To know what train to catch, you consulted Bradshaw's - he was another Quaker. Banking was dominated by the Quakers. Lloyds were bankers and ironmasters and all the founding families of Barclays were Quakers. In addition, the majority of the country banks were Quaker owned and run.

They were involved in brewing. Although much concerned with the scourge of cheap spirits, brewing ale was considered acceptable. Barclay Perkins were the main Quaker brewers and that business was formed when Mrs Thrale sold the Anchor Brewery in which Dr Johnson was an investor. She famously wrote about the sale, "God Almighty sent us a knot of rich Quakers who bought the whole and saved me and my coadjutors (which included Dr Johnson) from brewing ourselves into another bankruptcy".

The Quaker influence extends to shoes - Clark's of Street, K of Kendal and Morlands of Glastonbury, to pharmacy - Allen and Hanbury, to chemicals - Albright & Wilson and Sturge, to matches - Bryant & May, to food - Huntley & Palmers, Carr's Biscuits, Reckitt's and Horniman's Tea, to engineering - Ransome's of Ipswich, and they are just examples taken from a much longer list.

The remarkable thing is that in 1800 Quakers were only 1 in 500 of the population. Thus 0.2% of those living in the country played an important part in the transformation of Britain into an industrial nation.

Why were they in business?

One reason was that they were debarred from any official positions, from most of the professions and from going to university because of their religious beliefs. With the restoration of the monarchy, a number of laws were passed in the 1660s to prevent those outside the Church of England from having positions of influence. They suffered persecution and particular problems were their refusal to swear oaths and to pay tithes to the Church. Their refusal to swear meant they would not take the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown which could be interpreted as disloyalty, if not treason.

Industry and commerce were therefore outlets for people with drive and energy and who, in religious terms, thought for themselves. They were also educated, largely through their own efforts, since they all learnt to read and write in order to spread the word. They were not however the only group who were considered outsiders, since Catholics suffered from the same disabilities, but this did not lead them to any extent into the field of business. Looking at the particular beliefs of Quakers helps to explain why, having entered business, they took the lead in so many fields. It is however impossible to separate the kind of people who became Quakers from the beliefs which brought them to join the Society of Friends. It is the combination of the two which accounts for their remarkable record of business leadership.

Quaker Beliefs

The Society was founded by George Fox in 1650. His revelation was that the divine presence was within him. This inspired him to preach that there was, in his words, "That of God in every man", which led him and his followers to look for personal guidance from that Inward Light. This self-reliance meant that there was no need for appointed ministers, or for creeds or sacraments. They preached equality, all were equally children of God and members of a universal brotherhood. The established order felt threatened by this revolutionary approach which did away with hierarchies and which did not recognise worldly honours, distinctions or claims of office, since honour lay with God alone. They were therefore persecuted by those in authority well into the 18th century.

Relevance of their beliefs to business

1) They inspired trust. This was linked to their refusal to swear on oath. Their refusal was based on the biblical injunction against swearing, but fundamentally, on the basis that there could not be two standards of truth. Truth was truth. This led to their success as bankers, because banking depends on trust. It also meant that as shopkeepers they put the price on their goods at which they intended to sell them. This was in contrast to the prevailing custom of haggling over prices. It was an ethical approach but also good business - and resented by their competitors!. Most people prefer to know they are not being fleeced, rather than to have to bargain to achieve the same end.

2) They saw life as a whole; religion was not just for Sundays. One of the Queries Quakers are asked to consider, is: "Do you maintain strict integrity in your business transactions and in your relations with individuals and organizations? Are you personally scrupulous and responsible in the use of money entrusted to you, and are you careful not to defraud the public revenue?" They must be unusual among Christian groups in giving specific advice on business ethics. As a result, they supported each other and kept an eye on fellow Quaker business people, to maintain their reputation. When my great-great-grandfather came to Birmingham in 1794, to open his draper's shop in Bull Street, he went to Bull Street Meeting and met Sampson Lloyd to whom he had an introduction. The firm has banked with Lloyds ever since.

3) Oddly enough their unwillingness to support war opened up business opportunities. The Darbys did not as ironmasters make cannon during the Napoleonic wars like their competitors. Instead, they developed a whole range of domestic ironware which turned out to be a far bigger and more stable business than armaments.

4) Their respect for the worth of every individual influenced the way in which their businesses were managed. I saw many instances of this at Bournville. It encouraged the view that everyone's contribution to the business was of value. This made for good working relations. Suggestions for improvements were welcomed and followed up, whatever their source. Because of their belief in equal worth, women played an important role in Quaker affairs from the outset. The same was true in our company where, in Edward Cadbury's day, women's departments were managed by women to ensure that they had a fair share of managerial posts. I have no doubt that the firm gained greatly from the belief that everyone working there had something of value to offer the enterprise.

5) Another belief was the importance of arriving at decisions by agreement. Voting could mean that the views of minorities were disregarded and overridden. The aim was to arrive at a "sense of the meeting". In industrial relations, which was my field in the firm, it often meant considerable time spent in debate and argument, but it also meant that decisions once arrived at could be implemented quickly and with commitment.

6) The encouragement to look for a better way forward, rather than accept the world as it is, stemmed from the belief that you should follow the Divine Light within yourself. It made Quakers ready to challenge accepted practices and to innovate. The spirit of innovation was unintentionally assisted by one of the laws passed to keep Quakers and other dissenters in their place. The Five Mile Act of 1665 meant that Quakers needed to live more than five miles from established towns and cities, if they were to worship and to go about their trades freely. Birmingham was such place and so became a centre for Quakers and nonconformists. There they had the advantage that they were not bound by the restrictions imposed by the guilds over matters like apprenticeships and methods of working. They were free to invent new products and new methods of production. A good example is Robert Ransome, whose firm makes lawnmowers to this day. In 1803, he invented the self-sharpening plough, which kept its edge as it wore. Then in 1808, to meet the problem that farmers tended to break their ploughs all at the same time at the beginning of the season, he produced ploughs made of interchangeable parts. They could be quickly repaired by inserting new parts, instead of his having to repair the whole plough on site. In effect, he invented the process of mass production used by Ford to make his cars.

7) The Quakers respected education. They were excluded from much of the formal educational system. It was not until 1871 that Quakers and Catholics could enter Oxford or Cambridge. They started their own schools and needed to be literate if they were to carry out their mission. As a Quaker history rather stuffily puts it, their belief in education and study, "was an advantageous factor in the quality of mind of an important portion of their labour." Thus they benefited to the extent that they employed fellow-Quakers. Again their approach to learning was not bound by ancient custom. William Penn on leaving for America in 1682 set out his views on how his children should be educated:

"For their learning be liberal……but let it be useful knowledge, such as is consistent with Truth and godliness…..I recommend the useful parts of mathematics, as building houses or ships, measuring, surveying, dialing, navigation, but agriculture is especially in my eye: let my children be husbandmen and housewives, it is industrious, healthy, honest and of good example, like Abraham and the holy ancients, who pleased God and obtained a good report."

That is a good note on which to finish and anyone who is interested to learn more about the Quaker way of life could not do better than to read, Quaker by Convincement by Geoffrey Hubbard, first published by Penguin in 1974, ISBN 0 14 02.1663 4.

Sir Adrian Cadbury

Doing Business The Quaker Way

Imagine filing into the conference room for a business meeting, only to find the other participants sitting there in thoughtful silence. If someone has something to say, they stand up and speak; then others take their turn. No one ever interrupts. When a person finishes having his say, the silence resumes until someone else is moved to speak. No authority figure presides over the meeting, no vote is taken, and there is no agenda.

That’s how Quakers run their meetings, whether they have gathered for worship or to conduct the congregation’s business. If their methods sound eccentric, consider this: In centuries past, Quaker meetings produced decisions that shaped the course of capitalism. Given the poor-quality decisions emerging from corporate conference rooms these days, a revival of Quaker methods may be long overdue.

Click here for more advice about business meetings.

“I think that managers can adapt certain elements and the guiding spirit of the Quaker business meeting to their purposes,” said Margaret Benefiel, a Boston-based management consultant and the author of Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations.

Those elements include “a quiet, reflective frame of mind, mutual respect, [and] the idea that no one person has all the truth, but must listen deeply to others to gain a fuller picture of the truth,” said Benefiel, who is a Quaker herself, and teaches at Massachusetts’ Andover Newton Theological School when she is not advising managers.

Quakers are more properly known as The Society of Friends, which comprises not one organization but many. Each meeting house sets its own procedures. But they are all egalitarian. Quakers have no priesthood or hierarchy and defer to no human authority figures.

The faith was born in England during the 17th century. Persecuted for their beliefs, Quakers banded together for self-protection, forming communities and networks based on mutual trust. Supported by those communities and empowered by those networks, Quakers invented new ways of doing business. (At least one of their innovations is still with us: the traveling salesman.) Indeed, author David K. Hurst locates the cradle of capitalism in the little town of Coalbrookdale, England, where Quaker manufacturers like Abraham Darby forged the iron sinews of the Industrial Revolution.

During early Quaker meetings, “the business activities of their members were scrutinized by their peers, not only for their soundness but also to ensure that the interests of the broader community–not just the Quakers–were protected,” says Hurst, a management consultant based in Oakville, Ontario, who wrote about Quaker business methods in his book Crisis and Renewal: Meeting the Challenge of Organizational Change. The Quaker congregation “would stand behind the activities of members who were in good standing, and if one of them got into trouble, they would supervise the liquidation of the business and make good the deficit.”

Quakers soon crossed the ocean to Nantucket, which they made into the world capital of whaling, and to Philadelphia, where they planted the seeds of America’s own Industrial Revolution. Bethlehem Steel , for example, was founded by the innovative Quaker entrepreneur Joseph Wharton, who also endowed the world’s first collegiate business school at the University of Pennsylvania.

These days, the Wharton School is not known for propagating Quaker business techniques, and most people associate Quakers more with oatmeal or activist organizations like Greenpeace. But Quaker business methods are not necessarily obsolete; they have merely fallen into disuse, which is not quite the same thing.

In their meetings, Quakers do not let anyone impose a decision on the group. Instead, they wait for a consensus to emerge from a free and open discussion.

Probably the most distinctive feature of the Quaker meeting is that it begins and ends in silence. This approach may not lend itself easily to a corporate conference room.

“I suppose that on a very small scale, if you are trying to get people who already trust each other somewhat to express real concerns or come up with different ideas, it can help to think about starting a meeting without an agenda and in silence,” Hurst says. “The pressure of silence is immense, so you can’t just spring it on an unsuspecting group. They have to know its coming and what the objective is. A complete change in physical context from the office environment might help too.”

Hurst, a non-Quaker, says he admires the Friends’ theology and their community-oriented business methods. But he notes that modern corporations long ago grew too big to be managed the Quaker way.

“Huge scale undermines innovation and entrepreneurship and our ability to control our own creations,” he said. “Unless we can make our large, complex organizations a lot smaller, we cannot hope that modern board meetings will ever resemble their Quaker counterparts.”

Nevertheless, some firms may feel that they have little to lose by experimenting with Quaker methods. After all, most managers already spend much of each day in meetings that seem like a complete waste of time. These meetings may be conducted “efficiently” in that they plow through a long agenda and produce decisions for each item. But as those early Quakers knew, efficiency is not necessarily the same thing as effectiveness.

“Studies show that half of management decisions fail,” Benefiel said. “Quaker practices can help managers make better decisions.”

Charities aid foundation series 

Meet The Philanthropists: A good pint - the brewing industry’s race to give

In this series, we explore some of the most prolific, trailblazing or notorious philanthropists in history, taken from ‘Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain’. Today, the brewing industry’s race to give.

We have seen that at various times in the past, there was a clear social expectation on businesspeople to do good with their money through personal philanthropy. In certain industries this took on the nature of a race, with those who competed against each other in the commercial arena also trying to outdo each other when it came to their charitable deeds. The brewing industry was one such example. In the 19th century, almost all of the figures behind the biggest beer brands of the time were significant donors. This was almost certainly in part a response to the ongoing criticism of their brewing activities by the vocal temperance movement. For instance,
it is noted of the Liverpool brewer and philanthropist Andrew Barclay Walker (who gifted to the city the art gallery bearing his name)348 that ‘his business interests in the brewing trade made him a controversial political figure in a city riven by sectarian and religious differences’, and that ‘many saw Walker’s philanthropy as a crude attempt to establish his own cultural status in the town and to curry favour with metropolitan artistic elites’.349 Critics saw his support for the arts (which admittedly came somewhat out of nowhere) as
nothing more that an attempt to ‘buy a knighthood through showy displays of philanthropy’. Whatever the motivation behind their donations however, and notwithstanding such criticisms, it was clear that ‘. . . brewers were expected to be involved with the community and to be charitable’. In fact, so ubiquitous was charitable giving among the major figures in brewing (dubbed ‘the Beerage’ ), that a failure to give was reason for raised eyebrows. Fred King, of the still‑famous Greene, King and Sons, for instance, ‘may be the only brewer of whom it never seems to have been claimed that he made the world a better place by some means other than his beer’.

Caricature of Sir Andrew Barclay Walker, by Liborio Prosperi (aka ‘Lib’) for Vanity Fair, 1890.

Postcard of The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool circa 1910.

Other notable examples of the Britain’s philanthropic beer barons

· Sir Felix Booth, distiller of Booth’s Gin, who financed the Ross expedition
to the Antarctic which located the magnetic pole in 1831.

· John Elliot of the Stag Brewery, who was a supporter of the RHS
(Royal Horticultural Society) from its foundation in 1804, and acted as
Treasurer for 20 years from 1807.

· William McEwan, the Scottish brewer, who gave generously to Edinburgh University, where the Graduation Hall bears his name.

Caricature of Lord Iveagh (Edward Guinness), by Leslie Matthew Ward (aka ‘SPY’) for Vanity Fair, 1891.

· Edward Guinness, whose widespread philanthropic work in Dublin and London included the establishment of many new houses for the working classes in Dublin.

· Thomas Buxton, Director of the Truman Brewery in East London, who was involved in a number of major social campaigns including the abolition of the slave trade, raising the wages of Huguenot weavers, and prison reform.

Meet The Philanthropists: Thomas Holloway, the best and worst of philanthropy?

In this series, we explore some of the most prolific, trailblazing or notorious philanthropists in history, taken from ‘Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain’. Today, meet Thomas Holloway, who may represent the very best, and the very worst, of philanthropy.

Engraving of Thomas Holloway, from a photograph by Elliott & Fry, 1884

Thomas Holloway (1800–1883) was a wealthy Victorian businessman who made his fortune selling patent medicine, and put a large portion of it towards philanthropic works. He is probably best known today for founding Royal Holloway College, now part of the University of London.

Holloway is interesting because his charitable works encapsulate both some of the best, and what many might consider some of the worst, aspects of philanthropy. On the plus side, Holloway did not choose easy or popular causes: Royal Holloway College was conceived as a college of higher education for women, with a view to it becoming a standalone women’s university, at a time when there were very few higher education opportunities available for women. Likewise, Holloway’s other main project, The Holloway
Sanatorium, was designed as a curative institution for the mentally ill, based on research into approaches on the continent and in the US, and was a long way from the normal mode of the Victorian insane asylum.

Also counting in his favour was the considered and strategic approach that Holloway took to choosing his philanthropic projects. It was this that led him to focus on a small number of major projects rather than spread his generosity more widely. It is noted: ‘There was nothing impulsive about his choice of philanthropies. On the contrary, he studied the possibilities with exemplary deliberation, took counsel from a variety of advisers, and reached his decision only after years of reflection.


There was nothing impulsive about his choice of philanthropies. On the contrary, he studied the possibilities with exemplary deliberation, took counsel from a variety of advisers, and reached his decision only after years of reflection.


Apparently he saw in the benefactions of George Peabody, the American, a challenge and even a rebuke to wealthy Englishmen. From the beginning he made it clear that he would concentrate on one or two important projects of national utility rather than scatter his resources on a variety of minor schemes.’

The flipside of this is that Holloway was clearly driven by a desire to boost his own status and rather enamoured of the image of himself that he obtained through his good works. By choosing to found physical institutions, he was able to attach his own name to them and ensure that everyone was aware of his role in their construction. This suited Holloway because ‘he obviously enjoyed the twin satisfactions of contributing to social progress and wielding power, albeit in the interests of benevolence . . . Unlike many of his well‑to‑do contemporaries, [he] was little tempted to scatter his wealth semi‑anonymously over the charity terrain. Instead, he elected to put the bulk of it into bricks and mortar (and endowment) for the two institutions that he founded’.

Royal Holloway College, the upper quadrangle

Apart from the slight question mark over the purity of Holloway’s motivations, it was his dogmatism and micro‑management when it came to the construction of the institutions he was funding that brought the most criticism. He refused, for instance, to listen to those who suggested that his choice of location for Royal Holloway College (Egham in Surrey) would make it isolated from all the other existing academic centres. He drew further
disapproval for the design of the college, which many felt to be ridiculously opulent. One can see his critics’ point: rather than adopting a practical, low‑cost approach, Royal Holloway was built as a foot‑by‑foot replica of Château Chambord in the Loire Valley (albeit in brick, rather than stone). The blame for this rested solely with Holloway, as he obsessively micro‑managed the project from beginning to end. As a case in point, one (possibly apocryphal) story has it that when the architect submitted the final plans to him for approval, Holloway travelled to Chambord to check that nothing had been missed. Apparently all was perfect, except for a small and inaccessible dormer window on the east front that was lacking in the architect’s plans. Holloway immediately demanded that the architect draw up new plans to
rectify the omission.

Holloway is an intriguing and confusing figure, and is in many ways an anomaly among donors of his time. But whatever questions there might be about his motivations or methods, in purely financial terms he was one of the most significant donors of his age.


Holloway is an intriguing and confusing figure, and is in many ways an anomaly among donors of his time. But whatever questions there might be about his motivations or methods, in purely financial terms he was one of the most significant donors of his age.


‘If a portrait [of a “typical” Victorian philanthropist] could be drawn, it would bear little resemblance to Thomas Holloway. He seems, perhaps to have less in common with his English contemporaries than with certain American multimillionaires, who during most of their careers were concerned only with business success and whose sense of social responsibility flowered late. For Holloway lacked the interest in a profusion of good works that marked the characteristically charitable Victorian, and religious motivation, if it existed at all, was not conspicuous in his activities. Yet measured by the total of his benefactions, which totalled well over a million pounds . . .[he] was certainly one of the two or three preeminent philanthropists of this time.’

Meet The Philanthropists: the Indiana Jones of philanthropy, John Howard

In this series, we explore some of the most prolific, trailblazing or notorious philanthropists in history, taken from ‘Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain’. Today, meet the Indiana Jones of philanthropy, John Howard.

John Howard (1726–1790) was one of the most remarkable philanthropists of his — or indeed any other — age. Rarely can an individual have been so celebrated, both during and after his lifetime, for his good works, and yet seemingly cared so little for this adulation. He exemplified the contradictions and idiosyncrasies that make philanthropy both an incredibly potent force for change and a maddeningly difficult beast to harness.

The defining incident of Howard’s life, which shaped his philanthropic work, was when he was captured by French pirates during a journey to Portugal in 1756, and thrown in jail. This experience of the inhumanity and depravity of prison life sparked his lifelong interest in prison reform in England. When he was elected High Sheriff of Bedford in 1773, he came into contact with the law court and prisons, which kick‑started his real philanthropic efforts.

John Howard bringing water and fresh air into a prison in order to improve the conditions for the inmates.

Howard’s approach to philanthropy was rigorously methodical: rather than leaping to conclusions, he set about carefully gathering information to get a complete picture. He had long been known to be a patient and stoical observer, and it was even said that ‘. . . on the frost setting in, he used . . . to leave his bed at two every morning, for the purpose of observing the state of a thermometer which was placed in his garden at some distance from his house’. Howard brought the same slightly obsessive approach to his philanthropic research. He travelled extensively around the UK, visiting prisons to gather evidence on their failings, and also criss‑crossed the Continent, visiting jails in other countries to get ideas for best practices and things to avoid.

While his detached scientific approach and his relentless pursuit of data might give the impression that Howard’s philanthropic work was somewhat dry, the way he went about doing this work blows that assumption out of the water. His approach to rigorous data gathering seems to have been a decent approximation of Indiana Jones’s approach to archaeology. To take one example: Howard developed an additional interest in plague treatment, and devised a plan to tour the continental plague quarantine stations (lazarettos) to learn more about disease prevention. He travelled without a servant because he thought it unfair to ask another man to accept the level of risk. He inquired of the French government if he could visit the lazaretto at Marseille,
to be told that he would probably be thrown in the Bastille if he entered the country. Despite this, he sneaked into France and visited the site in Marseille; narrowly escaping the attentions of the authorities in Paris, who had been alerted by a spy among Howard’s travelling companions. He then toured a number of other lazarettos around Europe, ending in Constantinople. Here, in 1786, he conceived an even bolder plan — to take passage from Smyrna to Venice on a ship carrying plague victims, so that he would himself be put into quarantine. His plan succeeded, although it was nearly scuppered when the ship he was sailing in was once again attacked by pirates (this time Tunisian), and he narrowly escaped capture.

These exploits in the name of philanthropy made Howard a heroic figure in the eyes of many, and a byword for how philanthropy should be done. Nearly a century later, The Times was still invoking his name to criticise the way that ‘modern’ philanthropists went about their business, arguing: ‘John Howard, like an apostle of old, went to the places and mixed with the people that he wished to reform, and he had his reward in an early grave and the admiration of the world. But modern philanthropy does not run such dangers and will hardly excite such gratitude.’


John Howard, like an apostle of old, went to the places and mixed with the people that he wished to reform, and he had his reward in an early grave and the admiration of the world. But modern philanthropy does not run such dangers and will hardly excite such gratitude


However, there was a less appealing side to Howard’s personality. Even those who lauded his charitable works sometimes acknowledged that the very traits that made him such a successful philanthropist made him a rather difficult person because ‘he had many of those qualities and those vices which made for greatness: single‑mindedness, unflinching tenacity, ruthlessness and even a streak of cruelty. He was not popular among the people he met, a certain coldness and inhumanity precluded affection, but he appealed to the public’s imagination’.

A Sea View of the Lazaretto (or plague prison) at Genoa, taken from Howard’s 1789 book, An Account of the Principal Lazarettos in Europe.

Some of these traits were present in his philanthropy too. We should not assume, for instance, that because Howard strived so hard for prison reform, he was some sort of humane liberal. He was a strict disciplinarian, and believed strongly in the use of manual labour and solitary confinement for inmates. Likewise, he was not shy to moralise on his own austere beliefs, and unafraid of enforcing these views in a distinctly authoritarian way. Like many middle‑class philanthropists of his time, Howard ‘disliked the fairs and the holidays, the dirt and the drunkenness, the squalor and the merriment of village life in England at that time’.

He was happy to help the poor, but thought that this was best done by telling them how to live. He gave generously to support the local community near where he lived, but stipulated that ‘as well as having to attend places of worship, they had to refrain from going to public houses, or partaking in such amusements as Howard thought wrong’. And just to make sure they followed his advice, Howard threatened to evict any local residents who failed to meet these criteria. This resulted in an unsurprisingly mixed response: some viewed Howard with great affection for the help he had given them, but it is also reported that a group of locals plotted to kill him and were only foiled when on the given day he walked a different route.


Some viewed Howard with great affection for the help he had given them, but it is also reported that a group of locals plotted to kill him and were only foiled when on the given day he walked a different route.


John Howard (‘The triumph of benevolence’) by James Gillray, published by Robert Wilkinson. Stipple and line engraving, 1788.

But while this unbending conviction in his own views made him a difficult man to like, it was also one of the characteristics that made him such a successful campaigning philanthropist. He disregarded the views of others, and this enabled him to speak truth to power in a way that few could match. He was able to do this precisely because ‘he placed little value on the favours of kings or emperors; he would refuse to bend the knee to anyone, and he never hesitated to speak his mind plainly . . . Whether he was at home or abroad, he never hesitated to reprimand strangers if, as often happened, he disapproved of their behaviour, and many anecdotes are told of his forthrightness’.

Howard was not remotely interested in public acclaim. Ironically, he got more recognition and praise than many philanthropists who actively seek it could ever dream of.


Howard was not remotely interested in public acclaim. Ironically, he got more recognition and praise than many philanthropists who actively seek it could ever dream of.


In fact, Howard had to go out of his way to avoid public honour. The University of Dublin conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, but he steadfastly refused to use the title. And when he heard of a proposal in the pages of The Gentleman magazine to raise funds for a statue of him, Howard disapproved strongly of the idea and most of the donated money was returned.

Although he shunned public profile in life, Howard could not escape the plaudits of others once he was gone, and this began almost immediately when ‘his death was announced in the Gazette, an honour never before conferred on a private person. Articles in magazines, funeral odes and sermons from many pens praised “God‑like Howard”, “the consummate philanthropist” and “God’s Minister of Good”’.

But despite the fantastic nature of his efforts and the admiration of his peers, Howard’s work had little immediate impact on the prison system in England. It would have to wait until the next century, and the efforts of Elizabeth Fry and others, for true reform to take place. But those later campaigners all acknowledged that John Howard’s work had paved the way for their own successes. And his name lives on today in the Howard League for Penal Reform, which continues to be one of the leading voices on prison reform issues.

For your chance to win a copy of Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain, visit the CAF website.

Meet The Philanthropists: Angela Burdett‑Coutts, the life philanthropic

In this series, we explore some of the most prolific, trailblazing or notorious philanthropists in history, taken from ‘Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain’. Today, meet Angela Burdett-Coutts and Charles Dickens.

Angela Burdett‑Coutts (1814–1906) is one of the true big hitters of philanthropy. She was the granddaughter of Thomas Coutts, the founder of Coutts’ Bank (famously the bankers for the Queen). When Coutts’ first wife died, he married the much younger actress Harriet Mellon with somewhat indecent haste, and to the disgust of his three daughters. They resented her bitterly, and were further enraged when Coutts died and left his entire fortune to her. Of Coutts’ grandchildren, Angela was the only one to get along with her step‑grandmother, but it was still a surprise when Harriet died in 1837 and left the whole of her fortune (including a large interest in Coutts Bank) to Angela. Even Angela’s father, Sir Francis Burdett, was temporarily so enraged that his wife (Angela’s mother) had been passed over that Angela had to leave home.

Burdett‑Coutts proved herself adept at looking after her new‑found fortune, but discovered that her real gift was in giving it away for the benefit of others. As mentioned above, she had help from no less a figure than Charles Dickens, and ‘in guiding her benevolence [his] influence . . . was probably decisive . . . or some years [he] served as her almoner, screening applications and separating the worthy from the undeserving’. Burdett‑Coutts, the young heiress steeped in the very male world of banking, and Dickens, the young reporter with a burning hatred of social injustice, made an unlikely but extremely effective pairing.


Burdett‑Coutts, the young heiress steeped in the very male world of banking, and Dickens, the young reporter with a burning hatred of social injustice, made an unlikely but extremely effective pairing.


She gave him a means, alongside his writing, of combating the scourge of poverty he saw all around him; while he was able to broaden her philanthropic horizons beyond the obvious Christian causes she initially favoured.

The list of Burdett‑Coutts’ eventual charitable interests is vast. It encompassed education (support for the Ragged School movement), women’s issues (the rehabilitation of prostitutes at the home for fallen women in Shepherd’s Bush), children’s welfare (she was heavily involved in the founding, in 1884, of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, later became the NSPCC, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), and some more esoteric interests such as beekeeping (she was President of the British Beekeepers’ Association for more than 25 years) and providing drinking fountains for dogs.

But not all of her philanthropic ventures were successful. Most notably, she gave the vast sum of £200,000 to pay for the construction of Columbia Market in the East End of London, which turned out to be a massively costly white elephant. The intention was undoubtedly noble: Burdett‑Coutts was concerned that the tolls collected at other London markets were pushing up the price of food and making it difficult for the poor to feed their families, and she wanted to find a way of supplying the inhabitants of poorer areas with cheaper food in the long term. Unfortunately, against opposition from the other London markets, Columbia Market struggled to get going. The sense that this was a grand philanthropic folly was not helped by the fact that, as a result of the desire to provide maximum employment during the construction of the market, the building itself was incredibly lavish. As The Times noted: ‘The Halles of Paris and the central market of Brussels are as nothing when compared with the beauty of this almost cathedral pile.’ Gradually the market declined, until it finally closed in 1886. The remnants of Burdett‑Coutts’ grand vision can still be seen today in the presence of Columbia Road flower market, which evolved from the street markets that had existed around the main market, and is now a popular tourist destination.

Burdett‑Coutts had more philanthropic hits than misses though, and her interests spread beyond the UK. She supported various expeditions, including the African exploration of Livingstone and Stanley, and provided hospital equipment and nurses during the Zulu War of 1879. She even dabbled in social investment, making an advance of capital for the purchase of equipment by the Baltimore fishing fleet that resulted in a major turnaround in its fortunes and was almost entirely repaid over subsequent years. This, along with other work in the city, led to her being hailed as the ‘Queen of Baltimore’.

She was widely feted in her homeland too, as a paragon of Victorian philanthropic virtues, and to many in Victorian Britain ‘the name of Baroness Burdett‑Coutts became almost synonymous with large‑scale charity’. There are a number of reasons. In part it may be a reflection of the fact that ‘more than with most of her wealthy contemporaries, she considered the practice of philanthropy to be almost a professional commitment’.


More than with most of her wealthy contemporaries, she considered the practice of philanthropy to be almost a professional commitment


It may also have been less about her philanthropy than about the woman herself, as it is clear that ‘her contemporaries found her a fascinating figure, with the touch of eccentricity that adds colour — the fabulously wealthy heiress, strong‑minded and shrewd, devoting her resources to improving the life of her time’. Whatever the case, she was widely renowned and appears to have been much‑loved, and ‘there is no reason to doubt the story that, when she died in her ninety‑second year, some thirty thousand Londoners filed past her coffin as it lay in state at One Stratton Street’

Meet The Philanthropists: sweet charity - how Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry gave us some of our greatest philanthropists

In this series, we explore some of the most prolific, trailblazing or notorious philanthropists in history, taken from ‘Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain’. Today, meet the chocolate dyansties creating great philanthopists.

Perhaps the only industry that can claim to outdo brewing in terms of philanthropic heritage is chocolate‑making. Although it might not have quite the quantity of notable givers found among the beer barons of former times, the confectionery trade more than makes up for this in quality, having given us some of our greatest philanthropists in members of the Cadbury, Rowntree
and Fry dynasties.

Elizabeth Fry, by John Cochran, after Charles Robert Leslie stipple engraving, 1823

The philanthropic zeal shared by these major chocolate names is not a coincidence; it is a consequence of the fact that each of them was a family‑owned, Quaker company. This Quaker ideology informed each family’s approach not only to philanthropy but to business, and led them to be notable for their charitable deeds and (particularly in the case of Cadbury and Rowntree) for their forward‑looking approach to employment practices and industrial relations.

The prominence of Quakers in chocolate‑making was matched in a number of other areas of business in the UK: for instance, Barclays Bank, Lloyds TSB, Clarks shoes and Carr’s biscuits are all companies with Quaker origins. This commercial success was partly a consequence of the Quaker’s strong networks, but also of the fact that as non‑conformists, they were barred from going to university or holding public office. This made the commercial arena the obvious place to direct their energies, which many of them did with great success.

Of the other two, the company JS Fry is a slightly less celebrated philanthropic name, partly because the most important philanthropy was
done by members of the Fry family who were not directly connected to the business, and partly because they were less sophisticated in applying their Quaker principles to the commercial operations. However, Joseph Storrs Fry II (the great‑grandson of founder Joseph Fry) was a committed philanthropist, if somewhat less focused than the better‑known Rowntree or Cadbury.

Perhaps JS Fry’s most important contribution to philanthropy is its indirect role in the campaign for prison reform. One of the best‑known figures in this field, Elizabeth Fry, was a Quaker (her mother was part of the Barclay family), who married into the Fry family via the nephew of company founder Joseph Fry.

Advertisement for Fry’s ‘Five Boys’ milk chocolate

More directly, Joseph Storrs Fry II many years later left a sizeable legacy to his niece Margery Fry, who went on to continue Elizabeth Fry’s pioneering working on prison reform.

In the case of Rowntree’s, on the other hand, philanthropy very much went hand‑in‑hand with business and two of the most famous Rowntree philanthropists, Joseph and his son Seebohm, were also senior figures in the company at various times. Although both men were wide‑ranging in their generosity – Joseph, for instance, financed the creation of a public library and
a park in their home town of York — they are best known for their focus on addressing poverty.


Although both men were wide‑ranging in their generosity — Joseph, for instance, financed the creation of a public library and a park in their home town of York — they are best known for their focus on addressing poverty.

Perhaps more than the cause they chose to address, what is distinctive about the philanthropy of the Rowntrees is their approach. They firmly believed that it was important to look beyond the symptoms of poverty and attempt to address its root causes, which they were clear lay in structural failings of society rather than in the moral failure of the poor. To do this both men undertook detailed research, with each of them publishing a book
detailing their findings. They were not content merely to indulge in academic discourse: they realised that they were in a unique position, through both their philanthropy and their business, to do something about the problems they sought to understand.

Joseph Rowntree, 1906

For the Rowntrees, the line between philanthropy, business and politics seems
to have been deliberately blurred. Their endeavours in all three fields were a
reflection of their Quaker beliefs and their deep commitment to addressing the problem of poverty. For instance, Joseph Rowntree was instrumental in
constructing decent affordable housing for the working classes in York. He explicitly viewed this as a way to demonstrate the need for state action, rather than an end in itself. Likewise, in their own business, both Joseph and Seebohm Rowntree introduced many innovations to improve working conditions for their employees that were informed by their beliefs and their research, such as bringing in an eight‑hour day, providing a company doctor and dentist, implementing a pension scheme, and offering facilities such as a staff canteen, a library, a swimming pool and a theatre. 

Messrs JS Fry and Sons Manufactory, Nelson Street, Bristol

These innovations for their own employees were matched by efforts to influence wider public policy for the benefit of all workers. Seebohm became highly influential in policymaking, and developed relationships with major figures such as Lloyd George and Beveridge. The different aspects of the Rowntree’s philanthropy are continuing today through the various charitable and non‑charitable trusts that bear their name, which focus on a range of issues and activities including affordable housing, research on poverty, tackling global conflict and injustice and promoting progressive politics.