Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

The Fry Family, Chocolate Makers

Joseph Fry 1728 – 1787) was born in Wiltshire into a Quaker family.  After training as a doctor and apothecary he opened a small business in Bristol in 1753.   At this time Bristol was a major port where ships arrived from and departed to the New World.One of the commodities that they brought was cocoa.  Joseph began to sell cocoa from his shop in about 1756.  He was convinced of its health giving properties and saw it as a nutritious alternative to alcohol.  In 1761 Joseph Fry and his partner John Vaughan acquired the patent for a water-powered machine that could grind the cocoa flakes to a fine powder and thus produce a superior drink.  In 1777 he moved the chocolate works to larger premises on the banks of the river Frome which supplied the water to power the chocolate grinding machines.
After Joseph’s death in 1787 the business was taken over by his wife Anna and their son Joseph Storrs Fry I (1769 – 1835), who made some significant innovations. The water supply from the River Frome was not reliable and Joseph took the bold step of installing one of James Watt’s steam engines at the chocolate works.  It revolutionised cocoa production and attracted a great deal of interest from other manufacturers.  George III also granted him a patent to build a new machine for roasting the beans.  This was installed in the factory next door.

In 1822 Joseph Storrs Fry I made his sons Richard, Frances and Joseph partners and formally established J.S. Fry & Sons.   By 1824 Frys were using forty per cent of the cocoa imported into Britain and their sales had risen to £12,000.  The firm was run on austere lines in keeping with Quaker simplicity. Each day commenced with a meeting at which a hymn was sung and there was a period of silence.

After the death of Joseph Storrs Fry I in 1835 the business passed to his three sons - Joseph (1795 – 1879), Francis (1803 - 1886) and Richard (1807 – 1878) The three brothers tried further innovations such as the addition of arrowroot to the cocoa to absorb some of the oil in the cocoa.  The product was sold as Pearl Cocoa and being a cheaper product it opened the market to less well off families.  For the more discerning palate they also produced a more finely ground cocoa.  Their travelling salesmen were very successful and it is said that one brought in ninety-five orders valued at £10,000 from just four towns.

Their greatest innovation came when they devised a means of mixing cocoa powder with sugar and cocoa fat into a paste which could be moulded into a bar.  This was the first chocolate bar in Britain.   It transformed chocolate from a drink into a portable snack.  In 1866 they produced their famous cream bar and also the first pure cocoa powder called Chocolate Essence.

In 1869 the firm employed two hundred and fifty people, all relatively well paid.  It grew fast, and by January 1896 the number had grown to four thousand five hundred.    The firm became a limited company with an authorized capital of £1 million.  Joseph Storrs Fry II (1826 – 1913), great grandson of the first Joseph Fry, was the first chairman and by 1907 J.S. Fry & Sons Ltd was Britain’s fifty-first largest manufacturing employer.

All the Frys were devout Quakers, known for their quiet kindness and generosity. Joseph Storrs Fry II  was a leading figure  at the meeting house at Friars and a supporter of temperance and Sunday schools being prominent in the founding of the Friends First Day Sunday Association in 1847.  Although a philanthropist he did not have the organised systematic welfare systems of Cadburys and Rowntrees and did not establish trusts that could continue his Quaker service after his death. He did however leave a significant legacy to his niece Margery Fry which enabled her to undertake significant work on prison reform, following in the footsteps of her great-aunt Elizabeth Fry (nee Gurney, who had married a nephew of Joseph Storrs Fry I in 1800). 

J.S. Fry & Sons Ltd did not innovate workplace conditions in the way that their rivals Rowntrees and Cadburys did.  The advanced factory organisation at Bournville and York was not evident in Bristol.  Instead there were cramped conditions in the eight factories.

In 1919 Frys merged with Cadburys. By 1981 the name Fry had ceased to be used. In  2011, when  Kraft bought Cadburys, they closed the old Frys factory at Keynsham.


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Image may be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fry%27s_Chocolate