Cadbury: How it put Bournville on the map, literally

In the first of a series of articles about the history of Bournville and Cadbury, Abigail Thomas-Brown looks at how the chocolate manufacturer created Birmingham’s garden suburb.
1898 bournville
Cadbury, the second largest confectionery company in the world. The company operates in more than 50 countries worldwide, and is renowned for its catchy advertisement campaigns. It’s been a household name since the 1800’s, and where did it all start? Right here, in Birmingham.

In 1824, John Cadbury opened a grocer shop on Bull Street, in Birmingham city centre. He began preparing (using a pestle and mortar), producing and selling tea, coffee and of course, drinking chocolate. He was passionate about his drinking chocolate which he believed to be the healthy alternative to alcohol.

He later moved his production into a factory in Bridge Street, and began producing various cocoa and drinking chocolates. Soon after, his brother Benjamin partnered with him to form a company called Cadbury Brothers of Birmingham. Only the wealthy were able to purchase his wares as the production cost was so high, but in 1850, import taxes on cocoa were reduced, making chocolate more affordable for everyone.

John’s sons took over the business in 1861, and decided in 1878 that they needed new premises to receive milk shipped by canal, and cocoa brought via rail from London. After considering many English cities for the job, they acquired the Bournbrook estate, on the outskirts of Birmingham. They renamed the estate Bournville and opened the factory the following year.

Bournville as we know it now, was then a vast countryside. Birmingham architect, George H. Gadd drew up plans for the factory, and 16 houses were built nearby for foremen and senior employees. The factory was nicknamed as ‘Bournville factory in a garden’.

George Cadbury began to purchase more land as his business expanded. As such he built more cottages. His designs were specific as he wanted to ‘alleviate the evils of modern more cramped living conditions’. Midland houses at this time were traditional ‘tunnel back’ designs. Cheap, large scale housing complying with the public health acts. They were built in long rows with entrances to the back through passageways. George wanted to bring light to his houses and chose rectangular houses with large gardens.

Bournville was called a ‘model village’ when plans to build began, but by 1895, 143 cottages were built and it was called a ‘garden village’ as he wanted to keep the rural feel, by ensuring that gardens were not overshadowed. He said that a tenth of the estate should be ‘laid out and used as parks, recreation grounds and open space.’

Thus, the foundations of the Bournville we know today were laid. It would seem that a nice bar of chocolate after a hard day is not all we have to be grateful to Cadbury for. He founded the Bournville Village trust, to maintain housing estates and preserve it for future generations. Remember to thank him next time you have a cup of cocoa before bed.