York Assortment

Written in 1934

On Wednesday, May 16th, the Pupil Teachers, disguised as economics students arrived at Rowntree's.York in pouring rain and two charabancs.  We were conducted to a special demonstration room, and, our bodily needs being satisfied with trifle and lime-juice, we split into parties of six with a guide at the head of each party.  Then followed three hours of unceasing interest and wonder.  It is impossible to conceive an industrial establishment more varied in its processes or more cheerful in appearance than Rowntree's.  The endless corridors and rooms, overhung with baskets of flowers and foliage, provided a startling contrast to the depressing aspect of our east-end factories.  It is a vast storehouse of interest, as was shown by the numerous questions, many of them quite sensible, hurled at our guides.

Our first glimpse of the firm's activities was obtained in the cardboard department, where are made fancy boxes of a thousand shapes and sizes.  In this section, conspicuous for its cleanliness, rows upon rows of pretty, white-clad girls were at work.  The male members of the party in particular were deeply interested, but asked few questions.  An idea of the vast size of this remarkable organisation can be obtained from the fact that the cardboard department alone covers nearly three acres, and turns out fourteen million boxes per annum.

Competition and quality go hand-in-hand, and this truth leads the firm to give a substantial prize each month to the employees who labour hardest in their respective departments.  Then, too, there are boxes on the walls for the reception of written suggestions from any workman with an inventive turn of mind.  A money prize is given for each suggestion that is adopted.

Concerning the remainder of the works, suffice to say that we were intrigued by the delicate mechanism needed for the different processes and by the huge output of the machines.  We were profoundly impressed, for example, by an almost human machine which with lightning rapidity folded the paper containers for the cocoa tins - truly a wonderful achievement.

With a rather sickly smell of cocoa in our nostrils we went hungrily to our tea in the canteen, after which, Dr. Northcott, the Labour Manager, gave a talk on the firm's policy.  Work at Rowntree's, we were told is essentially repetitive, but the fatigue resulting from this is minimised by the change of occupation which is given to the employees at regular intervals, and by the firm's Psychological Department which aims at finding the right person for the right job.  This department gives further evidence of Rowntree's progressive attitude, and has proved highly successful.

Then came a ceremony to which all of us had been silently looking forward, though such expectations had never been voiced, the distribution of neat, sample boxes to each member of the party.

We left the white-walled capital with the Icelandic depression still above us, and on the return journey, as is usual with charabanc parties, we amused ourselves with the singing of old tunes.

And so ended a wet yet thoroughly enjoyable day, memorable above all else as giving a practical aspect to our Saturday morning economic talks.  In conclusion, we extend a hearty "Thank You" to our friends at Rowntree's who made our visit so enjoyable.