1801 – 1889
John Cadbury was the fifth child and third son of Richard Tapper Cadbury, a draper, of Birmingham. He was educated at Joseph Crosfields Quaker School at Hartshill. In 1816 he was apprenticed to Quaker John Cudworth of Leeds to learn the retail tea trade. It is said that he stood out from the other Yorkshire boys in his plain Quaker dress and sober manner. His employers had a high opinion of him and left the business in his charge when they had to travel. They gave him an encyclopaedia when he left to work in the bonded tea house of Sanderson Fox in London. Here he visited the East India Company warehouses and saw the trade in tea, coffee and cocoa. He wrote to his father and said that he could see a potential for cocoa, but was as yet not sure what it was.
In 1824 his father gave him a sum of money and he decided to set up as a tea dealer and coffee roaster, in Bull Street, Birmingham. His shop was original in several ways, and attracted many curious visitors. its plate glass window was made up of several small panes of glass set in mahogany frames, never before seen in Birmingham. Inside the shop he had a Chinese Clerk who wore Oriental dress and there were large blue Chinese vases and Oriental chests and figures. Once inside the shop there was always a rich aroma of roasting coffee and chocolate, and many fine products to buy. Customers' attention was particularly drawn to a ‘most nutritious beverage for breakfast’ made from cocoa nibs that John prepared using a pestle and mortar. The shop thrived, and he had many wealthy customers including members of the Lloyds banking family.
John’s interest in cocoa grew and he decided to open a factory in 1831. Here he continued to experiment with the production of different types of cocoa. The earliest extant price list dated 1842 shows sixteen varieties of drinking chocolate and eleven cocoas. The product could be bought as pressed cakes, flakes, nibs and powder.
He had married Priscilla Dymond in 1826, but she died two years later. He married again in 1832, to George Barrow’s eldest daughter Candia. They had six sons and one daughter. In 1846 he took his brother Benjamin into partnership and changed the name of the firm to Cadbury Brothers. The following year he moved again to larger premises. In 1853 Cadbury Brothers were appointed cocoa manufacturer to Queen Victoria.
John believed that there were practical solutions to the social evils that he saw around him. In particular he devoted himself to the temperance movement. Gin shops had replaced many public and ale houses. They promised ‘Drunk for a penny, Dead drunk for two pence’. He was an advocate of total abstinence because he believed that the man who abstained from alcohol could afford a joint of beef on a Sunday.
He was appointed to the Birmingham Board of Street Commissioners in 1829 (the forerunner of the Municipal Corporation), and in 1851 was chairman of the committee that successfully steered a bill through parliament to transfer the board’s powers to the elected council. He was also an overseer and guardian of the poor from 1830 – 1840. He was appalled by the common practice of using small boys as chimney sweeps, and was prominent in the movement to replace them with machines.
He and his brother Benjamin conceived the idea of the creation of a model village for their workers that would be away from the grime and slums of Birmingham. His sons eventually fulfilled this dream in 1879. John was also interested in the welfare of animals and founded the Animals Friend Society, which was the forerunner of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), still in existence. In 1850 Richard joined his father and uncle in the business. He worked hard and was often trusted to run the business in his father’s absence.
His mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis from which she died in 1855. John suffered depression and contracted rheumatic fever. His interest in the business declined and he stayed away for prolonged periods. In 1861 he retired and his sons Richard and George took over the ailing business. John died on the 11th May 1889 and is buried at Witton Cemetery in Birmingham.