Today marks the wedding anniversary of George and Elizabeth Cadbury. To celebrate the lives of this wonderful couple that did so much for Bournville and Birmingham, we wrote blog post about them. Often it is the philanthropic and business side of George and Elizabeth that is highlighted, so today we wanted to shed some light on their relationship and family life.
On a visit as a teenager to Birmingham to meet her aunt and uncle, George and Caroline Barrow, Elizabeth Taylor first met George Cadbury. Elizabeth instantly liked George, with his worldly experience and similar interests. She particularly appreciated that he spoke freely to her, despite the fact she was a teenage girl.
Elizabeth wrote of their meeting, ‘He and I struck up a friendship as we walked over the hills and talked.’
‘I had little experience of industrial life or conditions, or of house defects or poverty, but had read a good deal. Here was a man who knew, and who had a vision of a future with opportunities for all, good homes and the amenities of life; and I listened eagerly to all he had to say. Besides this I was much flattered that a man, much older than myself and with so much experience should talk thus to a girl, immature though enthusiastic.’
Elizabeth and George saw each other sporadically over the next 10 years when she was visiting her family in Birmingham. When Mary, George’s first wife died, he expressed his sense of loss to Elizabeth and they renewed a closer friendship. Soon afterwards their engagement was announced.
George had 5 children with his first wife Mary and was very concerned that they should get on with Elizabeth, so he thoughtfully arranged for Elizabeth to spend holidays with his children and for them all to visit her before their marriage. These visits were a success and his children soon grew to love Elizabeth.
Throughout their engagement George and Elizabeth wrote to each other every day, often twice a day. Their letters were affectionate and warm. On 8th June, 1888, 11 days before their marriage, George wrote to Elizabeth:
‘Thou wast so sweet and loving. I had been under a very dark cloud, but that has passed away and instead I have the sweet and peaceful assurance again granted that thou art given of the Lord.’
On 19th June 1888, Elizabeth Taylor and George Cadbury married in the Quaker Meeting House at Hanover Street, Peckham, in the presence of a large gathering of Friends. There was a lunch afterwards and then the couple went off on a honeymoon to Scotland – where they travelled all over the country.
The year after the wedding George and Elizabeth had a son, Laurence John (1889), and they had four more children in quick succession – George Norman (1890), Elsie Dorothea (1892), Egbert (1893) and Marion Janet (1894). Their youngest daughter Ursula was born nearly 12 year later in 1906. By marrying George, Elizabeth faced the formidable task of taking over his first wife’s role at Woodbrooke and it wasn’t always easy – some of the staff resented the changes she tried to make. Nevertheless, Elizabeth was a great success! All of George’s children were brought up together and with the help of George Junior, who was great with his younger siblings, Elizabeth and George welded the families together with good humour.
But by 1894 Woodbrooke was getting cramped for the large family, so George bought the Manor House in Northfield. They made some renovations to the building and that was their home for the rest of their lives. There was a large lawn and a lake, as well as some separate enclosed gardens. There was also a dairy farm. George and Elizabeth’s family grew up in the same free environment their parents had. The children were encouraged to take up outdoor sports and be very active; George even build a nine hole golf course at the manor to this end! George and Elizabeth did not believe in mollycoddling their children. One occasion shows this very well: when Dolly and Molly were sent to bed disgraced for climbing on the roof of the Manor, Elizabeth’s reaction was ‘Excellent, it will teach them to use their heads and give them a sense of balance. Get them up again at once’.
Both George and Elizabeth were very busy with their philanthropic work and business ventures, however they were very dedicated to their children and enjoyed a loving and affectionate relationship with them. Elizabeth, for example, always made sure she made it home to read her children a bedtime story before they went to sleep. The family also enjoyed quality time during their summer holidays when all the children – from the oldest teenagers to the youngest baby would go away together. Sometimes they went to Yorkshire, Scotland or Cornwall and sometimes to Europe, but always together.
As the children grew up and left home, George and Elizabeth continued to be close and affectionate parents. When they only had Ursula at home they missed their other children greatly.
George died on 24th October 1922. Tributes to George poured in from people around the world including from the Queen and from the Prime Minister and sixteen thousand people came to his memorial service on the village green in Bournville. Elizabeth was widowed aged 64 and was the head of a large and growing family, with the responsibility of carrying on some of George’s interests as well as her own. The most important role she took on was as Chairman of Bournville Village Trust, ensuring the interests of the model village she and George had invested so much time in. Elizabeth continued being influential in Bournville, Birmingham, Britain and abroad throughout the rest of her long life. Elizabeth died peacefully on 4th December 1951, aged 93.
I will leave you with these words: ‘George and Elizabeth Cadbury were great in purpose and great in achievement; but it was nevertheless a greatness of heart and mind that created the high purpose, and made all that marvellous outward achievement possible.’