Rowntree’s and razor wire

What would Mr Rowntree have said? Razor wire by the Memorial Library, Sept 2016

Razor wire by the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library, Sept 2016

After a summer break it’s time for a wander. Let’s start on Haxby Road, with a look at the old Rowntree factory buildings, again. This seems like a good idea for several reasons:

— it follows on nicely from Alison Sinclair’s guest contribution on the city’s other famous chocolate factory, Terry’s
— because of a recent comment in response to one of my earlier pages on these buildings
— and because of the rolls of razor wire decorating the Haxby Road frontage, which I’ve been meaning to mention since I first noticed them, back in May.

Roll out the razor wire ... Nestlé/Rowntree Conservation Area, Sept 2016

Roll out the razor wire … Nestlé/Rowntree Conservation Area, Sept 2016

These buildings here, the remnants of Rowntree’s, were designated a Conservation Area some years back.

According to the council’s own guidance:

Conservation areas have extra planning controls applied to them to help preserve or enhance their character and protect their settings.

These controls apparently mean permission is needed for a range of alterations, including minor details like installing satellite dishes. There’s no specific mention of whether permission is needed to unravel great long rolls of razor wire all around buildings in a Conservation Area, but personally I found it didn’t really enhance the character of this important group of buildings.

I’ve popped by every now and then over the years to take photos here. The main factory entrance, as it was, some years apart:

Rowntree factory main entrance, March 2012

Rowntree factory main entrance, March 2012

Rowntree factory main entrance, September 2016

Rowntree factory main entrance, September 2016

It hasn’t looked impressive for many years now. But the main difference between the two images above, four years apart, is the razor wire.

Closer view: former factory entrance, and razor wire, Sept 2016

Closer view: former factory entrance, and razor wire, Sept 2016

Perhaps this is one interpretation of ‘protecting a setting’? It’s clearly intended to protect the property from potential trespassers. But just look at this vicious stuff. All around a place famous for its fairness and kindliness.

Behind the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library: buddleia and razor wire, Sept 2016

Behind the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library: buddleia and razor wire, Sept 2016

The site is overflowing with foliage, including the ubiquitous buddleia. The local wildlife will have benefited from its fenced-off emptiness. Birds, bats, bees, possibly larger beasts like hedgehogs and urban foxes. I’m a bit worried about any hedgehogs snuffling about in there, with the razor wire all around it, across the grass and through the bushes.

Presumably Nestlé still own the site, or at least have some interest in it. They did a fine and thoughtful thing in the work on the old factory clocks, a few years back. There has been some management of the weediness around the entrance. Personally the weediness didn’t bother me: at least it was wildlife-friendly. The razor wire really isn’t though, is it.

Hard to imagine that massive factory building finding a new use, and if it is to find one, it will presumably take years before work even starts. So rolls of razor wire around the place for years then?


Former Rowntree factory buildings, Sept 2016

In front of the massive factory block is a much smaller and more handsome building. I’ve written about that before too.

While it’s understandable that the huge factory building is still empty, it’s harder to understand why this building still is. The Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library, as it states proudly above the door. I wonder what he’d think about our lack of action in finding a new use for this. Years now it has been sitting there empty. Now with rolls of razor wire around it.

Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library, Sept 2016

Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library, Sept 2016

So much is said so often about the city’s proud chocolate-related heritage. We’re really good at promoting it to visitors, selling it. In recent years we’ve also become really good at recording the oral history part of it, collecting the stories of people who worked in the chocolate factories. And over at the Terry’s site there’s a lot of interest in what happens to its landmark clock tower, seen as iconic.

This factory remnant isn’t as pretty, and doesn’t have a clock tower visible for miles around. What remains of the factory block is still a landmark in the local neighbourhood, and particularly from Haxby Road, as I fully recognised when approaching it to take these photos, last week.

But more important, and very different from Terry’s, is its clustered effect, onto the street. Buildings together telling the story of what the Rowntree family aimed for and achieved, a community of buildings for the workforce. A collection of buildings recognised as important because of that, and therefore designated a Conservation Area.

Nestlé presumably have enough funds to pay for security guards, if that’s what’s needed to protect the premises. So why the razor wire?

And the empty library …  if it was in a different part of the city, it might it have been reused already. It’s only small, it’s Grade II listed, it’s handsome inside, apparently. It could be reused in a way that would benefit the wider community, celebrating the legacy of the Rowntree family, and Joseph Rowntree in particular. It could be reused as … well, a library seems the most obvious.


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  1. Deborah Roberts

    Nestles should be shamed into acting to remove the barbed wire and then once again take on the task of maintenance of the entrance to the Cocoa Works .
    They are a multinational company , worth no doubt billions in both financial and holdings .
    The cost of regular clearance of weeds , plants etc and bringing at least some resemblance of its past glory would be like a midge bite to this company.
    As for the City Council, what on earth are they playing at allowing all this , its a severe dereliction of its duties and powers ( I myself am an elected district councillor so know the pressure they should be putting on the owners to comply with conservation area rules )
    If I recall the leadership is of those who would normally be recalling the efforts of the past workers and who should be expected to be fighting to retain the dignity and ethos of these fine building not let them be trashed and neglected ( I’m an Independent )
    My father worked there most of his adult life and was for many years employed as a brickies labourer , he therefore helped to build many of the buildings , he would be horrified at its present state.

  2. I agree with Deborah my father worked at Rowntrees for 50+ years and was proud of it. It is a shame the building has been left to deteriorate like this. York City council should do some thing about it. There is a saying’What the eye does not see the heart does not grieve’ York City Council do something.

  3. Shameful.Nestle should be locked up.

  4. Elizabeth Hardcastle

    It is so depressing to see what has happened to Rowntrees, a once great philanthropic business. Its Quaker principles now long gone. Years ago I found an article on the internet about how Rowntrees looked after its workers at the turn of the century, particularly the women workers. Why are the Cabinet papers about the take-over of Rowntrees not available? Cadburys seems to have gone down a similar road as well as Terrys. Why do we allow our businesses to be sold abroad?

  5. Deborah Roberts

    I decided to go for the direct route today and phoned and was put through to Nestles Head of Property on Haxby Road.
    Explained my concerns as well as my background past and present.
    I told him that there was no excuse for the dereliction of duty to maintain the general fabric and areas around certainly the Haxby Road entrance.
    And that its present state was a bad reflection on Nestles who could do well to understand they still have a duty as the area is within a conservation area as well as the history of care for community in its Quaker past.
    I hope the message sunk in as I did explain that failure to act might require the matter to be taken further or elsewhere.
    We will see , he did indicate that plans were afoot though no details given.
    Security might have been an issue but trashing the site is not a solution.

  6. Thanks for your comments on this. I think it has to be said that Nestle did tidy up the site in the past when concerns were raised, and as mentioned above, they’ve done a fine job with the factory clocks. I thought about trying to contact them directly, and also the council, but it seemed appropriate just to note and photograph and record it here, to add to what is now a small collection of pages and many photos going back some years. I’m glad you’ve contacted them Deborah, let’s see if there’s a positive outcome from that.

    I’m surprised this hasn’t been mentioned elsewhere, perhaps it has been. Clearly there’s a lot of feeling still about Rowntree’s and the Rowntree legacy, as there should be. But this site seems to be ‘at risk’, so I hope a solution and a suitable reuse can be found soon.

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