Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Richard Cadbury

1835 - 1899

Richard was the second son of John and Candia Cadbury, and was known for his happy disposition.  He enjoyed ice-skating and he and his brother George would rise at 5.00 am in order to go on the ice and to see the sun rise before going to work.

At the age of almost fifteen he joined his father and uncle Benjamin in their cocoa and chocolate business in Birmingham.  He took a deep interest in his work and his father soon felt able to leave him in charge when he and his brother had to go away for business reasons.

His father became deeply depressed when Candia was diagnosed with tuberculosis: she died in 1855. Times were already difficult and his father’s dwindling interest put the whole business in jeopardy.  In 1856 John dissolved the partnership with his brother, and Richard took on more responsibility for the business.  At the time his brother George was apprenticed to Joseph Rowntree, and was working in his grocery shop.  Although he had served less than three years of his apprenticeship, George returned to join Richard in the family business. They took it over from their father in 1861.

Things did not improve and Richard, who had recently married, and George, were faced with bankruptcy. Their mother had left them £4000 each, and they decided to use this to try to rescue the business.   Unfortunately their experiments with different blends of cocoa, sold under exotic names such as Iceland Moss, did not have the desired success.   They worked long hours and as business deteriorated did more of the hands on work themselves.  They desperately needed a special product to save their business.   The death of their brothers Edward and John in 1866 was a further blow.

However they then found a method to reduce the fat content of cocoa, thereby producing a purer beverage.  They arranged for their new cocoa essence to be tried by doctors who provided them with testimonials concerning its health giving properties.   Richard decided that they would start advertising, and devised the slogan ‘Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best’.  He took advertisements in newspapers, had posters put up and advertised on the omnibuses. Sales began to grow.

Richard was artistic and began to design ‘fancy’ boxes of chocolates.  At first he used drawings of his family and later Alpine scenes, influenced by a trip that he had made to Switzerland.  Some of the boxes were covered with velvet and lined with silk.  Sales of the boxes of chocolates increased, but he and George continued to live frugally, trying to spend as little money as possible.

Richard’s beloved wife Elizabeth died following the birth of their fourth child in 1868 leaving him with a young family to look after.  Always a loving father he drew even closer to his children.  Seeing the plight of poor and abandoned children in the neighbourhood through which he walked on his way to work he opened a crèche for them.  He was helped with this task by a widow Emma Wilson who also helped him to care for his children.

Emma Wilson’s second daughter, also called Emma, became Richard’s second wife.  They were married at a friend’s home in Bristol in 1871.  She was a member of the Church of England and during the first two years of their marriage she attended Quaker Meeting and he attended her evening service.  He was delighted when she decided to become a Quaker.

The business was beginning to prosper and Richard could give more attention to philanthropic work, including the establishment of an adult school at Highgate, Birmingham.  His intense interest in gardening resulted in his showing adult school students how to grow flowers and bulbs, which could be exhibited at the school show. He also supported the temperance movement, as his father had done.

In 1879 the Cadbury business moved to Bournville.  Richard and George continued to work hard in the business and although they became wealthy they continued to live relatively simply.

Richard was a member of the Egypt Exploration Society and he and his wife went on a tour of Egypt and the Holy Land in 1899.  There he became ill and he died in Jerusalem.


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Further Reading and Credits

Dixon, Helen Cadbury Alexander, Richard Cadbury of Birmingham (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906).  Full text available at http://archive.org/details/richardcadburyb00dixogoog

Photograph from the above work is in the public domain