Do you think there ought to be a statue of Joseph Rowntree in York? Do you think it’s a scandal that in his home city there isn’t a likeness in finest marble celebrating the great man? Would you put one up tomorrow if you could?
Well, if you did you’d be risking a serious haunting from a family of chocolate Quakers… Rather you than me!
Every so often the topic comes up in the local paper, and lots of very good, and well-meaning people get behind a campaign to erect a statue of old “Jo Ro”. The only problem is that Joseph himself said that he really didn’t want a statue, and it wasn’t on grounds of modesty, it was a sincerely held belief that as a Quaker it wasn’t appropriate to make himself appear any better than anyone else. In fact, if you visit the Quaker burial ground where Joseph rests (it’s behind The Retreat hospital in York) you’ll have to search for a little while before you find a headstone for Joseph because all the headstones are identical and completely plain. In death as they were in life, the Quakers equals.
Joseph’s family knew that, like any true Yorkshireman, Joseph wouldn’t want money wasting on a statute that didn’t do anyone any good. Instead they invested in a better kind of memorial; the kind that enhanced the lives of his fellow citizens. Joseph doesn’t have a statute, but he does have a memorial theatre, a library, a model garden village, some housing estates and nursing homes, a charitable research foundation, a couple of parks, a couple of schools, and a quarter share of a museum attraction (give-or-take a mint humbug).
It’s wonderful that so many people want to celebrate Joseph’s work with a statute, but if he were here I think he’d want you to celebrate in a different way. I think he’d want you to have an ice cream in one of his parks; take a dip in his Edwardian swimming pool; support the Rowntree Players who keep his theatre alive with music and laughter; cycle along the shady paths that used to be his chocolate railway line; watch a film in his village Folk Hall; borrow a book from one of the libraries he helped to found. I happen to know that Joseph Rowntree liked the romantic comedies of Jane Austen; why not read a Rom Com in the park in memory of Joseph Rowntree? It’s exactly what he would have wanted.