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New Earswick, York: King Albert’s Refugees

York soon became a refuge for Belgian citizens fleeing the conflict abroad

The peaceful garden village of New Earswick, built by the York businessman and philanthropist Joseph Rowntree to house his employees at his world-famous chocolate factory, became home to a number of Belgian refugees during World War One.

After fleeing the brutality of war and enduring many hardships, these individuals and families were welcomed, housed and employed within the city when they began arriving as early as December 1914.

Minutes taken from the Cocoa Works Magazine in October 1914 show that a number of meetings took place to discuss how the refugees would be accommodated. It was agreed that 1d from each employee’s weekly wage packet would go towards a relief fund. This generosity was continued when the Rowntrees Company designated nine houses in the village to home the refugees whilst its staff furnished and prepared them.

The hospitality must have been much appreciated after the ordeals many of the refugees had withstood, some of which are documented in the staff magazine. One such example is that of the Van Eeckhout family, who, after hiding in a well for three days to avoid capture, walked 150 miles to reach Calais in order to get safe transport to the British Isles.

Location: New Earswick, York, North Yorkshire YO32 4AL
Image: New Earswick during the war, courtesy of Imagine York, York City Archive
Presented by Jonathan Cowap

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