Rowntrees warehouse by the River Ouse c1900

In the latter half of the 19th century the railways brought York into the industrial age.

The repair and manufacture of engines and carriages became as important to the city as the railways themselves.  In 1839 a small repair shop was opened on Queen Street.  This expanded until, by 1849, it was repairing engines to the tune of £15,000 a year.  The work on engines was carried on in York until about 1905.

Of even greater significance though was the wagon and carriage works, also at Queen Street, which could produce a 100 wagons a week by 1864.  In the 1880s North Eastern Railway decided to concentrate more on carriage building in York.  A new works was constructed in 1880-1 in Holgate.  This rapidly expanded until by 1910 it covered an area of 45 acres.

In 1855 the 1,200-strong workforce was calculated to be earning £1,350 a week for the city’s economy.  By the end of the 19th century, York had around 5,500 railway employees, half of whom were employed in the wagon and carriage works.  The York Carriageworks finally closed in 1996.


The Western world discovered the cacao bean in the 16th century. But it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that the complex process of turning the beans into cocoa and chocolate was mastered.

For any number of reasons York became a centre for the production of confectionery and cocoa in the 19th century.  Two Josephs, Terry and Rowntree, and Mary Craven were three entrepreneurs who independently moved into production of chocolate and sweets.  First the rivers then the railway brought raw ingredients like cocoa, sugar and fruit rinds, into the city, and allowed the finished product to be sold far beyond York.

By this time workers had a little disposable income and could treat themselves to the bars, pastilles and assortments created in the factories.

By the end of the 19th century, the confectionery industry was second only to the railways as an employer in York. And unlike the railways, it was a major source of employment for young women.

The wealth generated by the new industries helped to create a class of citizens who were hungry for the finer things in life - including education and culture.

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