Myth-busting is something I take seriously, and I do a lot of it in my professional life. I’ve been the company archivist and historian with Nestlé UK for more than a decade and I come across myths about Chocolate City nearly every day.
Why do some of us think we need to bust the myths? Because in this “Post-Truth” age it’s more important than ever that we promote the value of immutable, verifiable facts.
I think it’s wonderful that the history of Chocolate City is finally getting the attention it deserves, but sadly this means that a lot of people will take advantage of the subject’s popularity to promote popular myths, or made-up information to sell their product or service rather than rely on sound research. Unless you’re already an expert in the field it can be impossible to work out which resources are accurate and which are perpetuating unhelpful myths. I particularly feel for teachers who have enough to do without hunting out the sources referenced in the books they’re relying on as part of their teaching of chocolate in the curriculum.
For instance: have you heard that the Terry’s were Quakers? If you have then I’m afraid you’ve been mis-led, they were not Quakers. If the standard texts on chocolate history tell children that all chocolatiers were Quakers, how does that help them when their teacher is trying to explain what a Quaker is?
You might have heard that Mary Ann Craven was doing something very unusual in 1862/4 when she took over the running of her family business. This isn’t accurate either; in 1840 there were already five women in York who owned and ran their own confectionery businesses (read here for more on that story). If we tell children that women have a history of being fully excluded from business, what does that do to their attitudes to themselves and their peers in the workplace when they grow up?
Did you read the Daily Mail article that exclusively shared previously unseen images of workers inside the Rowntree’s chocolate factory during the First World War ? The photographs were actually taken in the 1950s and released by an over-zealous PR company who wanted to promote an event and decided to jump on the First World War anniversary to secure themselves good coverage. If news stories like that one tell children that the style of dress was the same for women in 1915 and 1950 how can we expect them not to be completely confused in history lessons?
I’m making it my mission to promote better, more accurate resources for people who want to learn about the history of Chocolate City, and the wider topic of chocolate history.
On my site
- Chocolate City Wiki — it’s a work in progress, but I’m building a wiki of every fact (and it’s source) that I come across during my research.
- Book reviews — I’m slowly but surely working my way through the library of books about the history of York to bring you the most up-to-date list of which you can rely on, and which you can’t always rely on.
- Blog posts — I love myth busting, so you can check back to my blog for more of those.
- The Rowntree Society — Bridget Morris at the Rowntree Society has created a fantastic website and you can rely on the information there to be accurate and meticulously well researched.
- Yorkshire Film Archive — The Yorkshire film archive have some great archive films that you can watch online
- History of York map — One of my favourite York history resources on the internet. I love it!
- Nestle blog — I write all kinds of things for Nestlé; check out the photos, some of them date back to the earliest days of the Rowntree’s chocolate making business in York (*possibly* as early as the 1860s).
- Reminiscence pack — Also take a look at the Reminiscence Pack on the Nestlé UK website. It’s intended for care homes who have patients living with dementia, but there are some great craft elements that children can use with older relatives or neighbours to help prompt reminiscences.
Books to download from Archive.org: