‘Freeing the Joy’ with George Cadbury, the man with a million-dollar heart


“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.”

Who doesn’t love Cadbury? Its chocolate and the cocoa have dominated our entire childhood, and for most part, even our adult lives. Exasperated parents would use Cadbury chocolates as incentives to get good deeds done from their children. I remember, as a ten-year old attempting to sound official, striking a deal with my mother that if I got more than 13 on 15 in my class tests, I should be gifted a Cadbury Dairy Milk for each. My mother negotiated it down to two for every four tests I would score high on and we shook on it. It would suffice to say my marks and my days got a little bit brighter from that day on.

This has been the legacy of Cadbury – ‘freeing the joy’ across the darkest corners of the world. But how many people know the story of the man we should be thanking for our favourite products – George Cadbury?

George was into the Cadbury family, who were emphatic followers of the Quaker philosophy. He and his brother Richard had inherited a failing business from their father, John Cadbury, who, at the time, concentrated more on the tea and coffee trade at Bull Street. Till the age of sixteen, George attended a local Quaker School but had to drop out mid-way following the sudden death of his mother, Candia.

Over the years, George and Richard shouldered the responsibility of the business and decided to orient it more towards the production and selling of cocoa. Things were tough for the first five years. Profits were meagre and gathering resources for the raw products and manufacturing was even tougher. A young George took over production and buying while Richard took over sales and marketing. Both were in bad shape in lieu of the markets of the 1860s, and struggling hard, they pooled in all their hours and money into building the business, spending on little else.

But tides were soon to turn in favour of the Cadbury brothers, for after five years of sweat and effort, they finally introduced Cadbury Cocoa Essence – purified powdered cocoa free from the common adulterations. This ingenious step of offering a unique and limited product in the market changed the very face of their business, leading their demand and sales to skyrocket and transforming it gradually into a renowned brand name.

Witnessing the upward spiral of their business, the brothers found the need to expand and invest in something more permanent. In 1878, they bought Bournbrook Estate, a 14-acre piece of land along the countryside, to build a factory. It was this factory that later came to be known as the world-famous Bournville, named after the nearby river and the French word for ‘town’.

But despite witnessing the rapid success of his growing business and making a name across the rest of England, George didn’t quite feel complete. This was because he was a social reformer at heart. He always felt one with his people, and fortunately for him, the sentiment was also shared by the rest of the Quaker family. The brother-duo thus set about building a model village with a good housing system and improved working conditions for their many employees, which soon opened up to the common public as well. In this way, the village became home to a mixed community of people, split equally between tenanted and owner-occupied homes.

George didn’t stop there. In 1895, he began building the Bournville Building Estate, comprising of 120 acres of land being brought closer to the factory so he could expand and improve on the existing housing structure of Bourville. In 1900, he established the Bournville Village Trust to maintain the 300 odd houses based inside the estate as well as on the fringes. He also introduced the concepts of ‘sick pay’ and ‘pensions’ to his employees and was possibly the first of England’s greatest businessmen to undertake the initiative. Actively opposed to the Anglo-Boer War that was rampant at the time, he bought the Daily News in 1901 and used it to campaign for pensions for the elderly and against the sweat-shop labour that the war was instigating.

George Cadbury’s story is a rare one of a prolific businessman who tried to give back to the people who made up his empire, and for that, we will always remember him. As his legacy grows a year older today, we’d like to remember him on his 177th birthday. Happy birthday, sir!


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