Chocolate: The British Founding Fathers

When chocolate arrived in Britain it did so more or less simultaneously with two other stimulants, tea from Asia and coffee from Africa. Coffee was the first to catch on in British society as it was relatively cheaper but chocolate soon followed.

Documentary evidence of the first chocolate house in London appeared in 1657. The most famous chocolate house was White’s Chocolate House near St James’s Palace. A rival establishment was The Cocoa Tree in St James’s Street. By chance rather than design the two establishments catered to different political loyalties – The Cocoa Tree was the favourite haunt of members of the Tory party while the Whig aristocrats and the literary set frequented White’s. White’s was the inspiration for some of the scenes from William Hogarth’s famous series of paintings The Rake’s Progress.

White's Chocolate House c.1708

White’s Chocolate House c.1708

For the wealthy upper classes, both the coffee and chocolate houses were the places to be seen. They were hotbeds of vicious gossip and political intrigue as well as popular gambling venues where vast fortunes were won and lost.

The diarist Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) was an ardent fan of chocolate or “jocolatte” and a regular frequenter of the chocolate houses.

In 1675 Charles II tried in vain to have the coffee and chocolate houses closed down on the grounds that politicians and businessmen were frequenting them too often and were in danger of neglecting their families. It is also possible that he was trying to suppress the kind of talk that could potentially lead to a rebellion similar to the one that caused his father’s execution in 1649.

The manufacture of drinking chocolate in Britain was transformed by the Industrial Revolution and the cultural, social and economic changes that followed in its wake.

During the 18th century the pioneering chocolate manufacturers was still using primitive manufacturing methods, similar to those used by the Aztecs. Technology gradually entered the scene with two key developments: a hydraulic grinding press, invented in 1728 by Walter Churchmen, and in 1765, James Watt’s steam engine which changed the food industry overnight. Another crucial development in chocolate manufacture was a revolutionary type of chocolate press invented in 1828 by a Dutch chemist, Coenraad Van Houten.

Van Houten's Cocoa Press

Van Houten’s Cocoa Press

In 1853 the taxes on drinking chocolate were reduced because the volume of imports had grown enormously. By then the new railways had made transport easier and power-driven machinery had largely replaced the old slow method of making chocolate by hand. These changes radically brought down the price of chocolate meaning that drinking chocolate could potentially be enjoyed by all.

It was during this era that several eminent Quaker families – the Frys, the Cadburys, the Rowntrees and the Terrys – became involved in chocolate manufacturing. These families established themselves as the main producers in Britain and succeeded in transforming chocolate from the drink of the aristocracy to the drink of the people.

John Cadbury

John Cadbury

It was undoubtedly the Quakers evangelical outlook which was behind the decision to choose chocolate as a commercial venture. As the beverage was so wholesome, the Quakers hoped it would provide a means of weaning the poor off beer and gin which were their favourites tipples, and improving the quality of their life in general.

The Quakers will also concerned for their employees’ welfare. They created exemplary working conditions and built model villages where education, healthcare and community services were provided for the workers, both active and retired, without charge. Cadbury’s Bournville Village near Birmingham and Rowntree in York are famous examples.


The Frys were the sole suppliers of chocolate to the Navy, making them the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world. However the rival Cadbury family gained the Royal seal of approval by gaining the privileged title of purveyors of chocolate to Queen Victoria.

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About Alan Philippe

Describing himself as an extraordinary guy doing ordinary things, Alan Philippe is the epitome of a people's person and it's no suprise that this perfect host is a typical ESFJ. Before starting his publishing career, Alan graduated with Joint Honours from University College London having read Physiology & Pharmacology. He worked for many years in Learning & Development, although his experience spans much more than this. Indeed, he was even once a recruitment consultant although Alan says he left the Dark Side relatively unscathed! Alan Philippe has a passion for fashion, interior design and all things vintage. When he's not busy in his role as Creative Editor of City Connect, you'll find him in either socialising in his favourite hotspots, getting a culture fix in the world of Art & Theatre, following the latest fashion and design trends or simply enjoying the best that life has to offer at home and abroad. Follow him on Twitter @A1Philippe
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