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Cadbury’s dark secret: How founder’s war hero great-grandson imported drugs to 1920s Britain

Richard Cadbury Butler as a child left, with his father, Arnold

The war hero great-grandson of the founder of Cadbury’s chocolate was a convicted drug smuggler, it can now be revealed.

Richard Cadbury Butler made thousands importing narcotics into 1920s Britain until he was caught with a pound of cocaine stashed in a Cadbury’s chocolate box, leading to a spell in prison.

However, in court he went by his father’s name, Butler, and after leaving jail was shipped off to Jersey to avoid further disgrace to the family name. 

In 1931 he was the only family member not to be included in a photo celebrating Cadbury’s centenary. 

Cadbury Butler was the great-grandson of the Quaker John Cadbury, who founded the chocolate company in 1824, which went onto become a British icon before its controversial takeover by US food giant Mondelez International in 2016.

The Cadbury’s Quaker beliefs meant they shunned alcohol, with pubs banned from the company’s model village of Bourneville, Birmingham, while the family embraced a frugal, moralistic lifestyle. 

This would have made Cadbury Butler’s misdemeanours even harder to bear, and the family successfully hid their dark secret for generations. 

It has now been uncovered by author John Lucas, whose book book, Dope Kings of London: Brilliant Chang, Eddie Manning, and the Secret History of the First War on Drug, investigates Britain’s first drug dealers who proliferated after cocaine and opiates were criminalised in 1920.

It tells of Richard’s early career at the heart of the Cadbury chocolate empire, his service with the Royal Flying Corps in WWI, and then a near-fatal accident and subsequent break-up that put him on the path to prison. 

Richard was excluded from a photo taken for Cadbury's centenary in 1931 that showed all the other members of the family. The company chairman at the time, Edward Cadbury, is seen second from left

Richard was excluded from a photo taken for Cadbury’s centenary in 1931 that showed all the other members of the family. The company chairman at the time, Edward Cadbury, is seen second from left 

The 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act criminalised a range of narcotics including cocaine, heroin and opium, which had previously been legal for medical purposes.

But because many of these drugs were still being produced in European factories it was easy for smugglers like Richard Cadbury Butler to obtain supplies.

However, there was little in Richard’s early life to point towards his future infamy.

He was born in April 1898, the son of Arnold Butler, a magistrate and social reformer, and Edith Cadbury. 

Edith was the daughter of the late Richard Barrow Cadbury, the second son of the chocolate company’s founder John Cadbury.

Richard and his brother George took over the business in 1861, and soon dramatically increased the profits as they started importing cocoa beans.

In 1905, the company launched Dairy Milk – in its distinctive purple wrapper – with vastly more milk than previous chocolates. It was an immediate success.  

Richard’s father Arnold was a leading light in Birmingham’s civic society, where the chocolate company was based.

A Cadbury's cocoa tin similar to the one he used to hide his drugs

A Cadbury’s cocoa tin similar to the one he used to hide his drugs

From a young age Richard was very ill, he suffered from St Vitus’s Dance.

This was a condition that caused involuntary nervous shaking of the hands and face, and was usually brought on by rheumatic fever.

He was sent to Tanzania for school aged 17, where it was hoped the African climate would cure his ‘nerves’.

On the outbreak of war, Richard first joined the artillery and fought in Ireland before volunteering with the Royal Flying Corps, the forerunner to the RAF.

He attained the rank of captain, but suffered a horrific accident in 1918 when his plane caught fire and plummeted in a field.

He spent five months in hospital while doctors pieced his jaw back together with silver and ivory, and almost all of his teeth had to be replaced.

After the war, Richard met and married a Leeds-born actress, Mary ‘Queenie’ Hall, and also tried to get involved with several failed business projects.

At this time – during the Roaring Twenties – cocaine would have been a regular fixture in London nightlife.

Upper class men like Richard, who frequented the West End, would certainly have had access to it.

‘It sounded like he had quite a few female friends,’ Lucas said. ‘He had at least one male friend who he spent weekends with.

‘He wasn’t always faithful to his wife, but his military service was impeccable.’

Richard's father Arnold was a leading light in Birmingham's civic society, where the chocolate company was based.

Richard's father, Arnold

Richard’s father Arnold (pictured) was a leading light in Birmingham’s civic society, where the chocolate company was based

Huge crowds of employees gathered at the Cadbury site in Bourneville, Birmingham, to celebrate the company's centenary in 1931 - but Richard was excluded

Huge crowds of employees gathered at the Cadbury site in Bourneville, Birmingham, to celebrate the company’s centenary in 1931 – but Richard was excluded 

Eventually Queenie left him for a mysterious Belgian man called Leon Cornelis.

Hoping to reconcile with his wife, Richard went into business with Cornelis and took the modern day equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds out of the family trust.

It later turned out that Cornelis was involved in the cocaine trade, and when he died of a lung condition Richard took over his smuggling operation. 

He was busted in 1926, after an undercover sting at a notorious Covent Garden café.

Almost one pound of cocaine was found – ironically – hidden in a Cadbury’s chocolate tin.

As the only newspaper report of the next day’s court case read: ‘A tin containing a little less than a pound of cocaine, worth about £400, at a rate of £25 per ounce asked for it, was mentioned by the police in evidence at Marlborough-street Police Court yesterday.’

Richard got just four months in prison and the name Cadbury was not mentioned, much to the family’s relief.

However that was enough for the illustrious family and they shipped him off to Jersey, where he lived for the rest of his life.

In 1931, Cadbury had its joint centenary with Bourneville based around the opening of its first factory.

Barrow Cadbury - who ran the chocolate factory - meeting workers during the 1931 centenary celebrations

Barrow Cadbury – who ran the chocolate factory – meeting workers during the 1931 centenary celebrations  

Cadbury's quickly expanded from a Birmingham grocer's shop to become one of Britain's most recognisable businesses. Pictured is a Cadbury van crossing Westernise Bridge in an undated photo

Cadbury’s quickly expanded from a Birmingham grocer’s shop to become one of Britain’s most recognisable businesses. Pictured is a Cadbury van crossing Westernise Bridge in an undated photo  

Every living family member – more than 100 people – posed for a photo.

Except Richard.

He had been erased from the family history, and for almost 100 years they had kept hidden their dirty secret.

‘It’s quite sad as he seemed like quite a decent guy in terms of what he volunteered to do during the war,’ Lucas said.

‘He was a pioneering pilot for the RAF. But they were obviously so ashamed of what he had done that they just packed him off and never spoke to him again.

‘In the interview process with the cops, his father said when Richard is out it is my intention to send him to live abroad. Which he obviously followed through on.’

Despite the ongoing successes of the chocolate dynasty – it was sold in 2010 for £11.5 billion – Richard Cadbury Butler was never heard of again.

MailOnline contacted Cadbury’s new owners, Mondelez International, to ask if they would like to comment. They declined.

Cadbury’s history: From a Quaker-run Birmingham grocer to its controversial 2010 takeover by US food giant Mondelez   

1824: John Cadbury, a Quaker, opened a grocer’s shop in Bull Street, a fashionable part of Birmingham. Goods include cocoa and drinking chocolate.

1831: John Cadbury moved into manufacturing, renting a small factory in Crooked Lane, Birmingham, to make cocoa and drinking chocolate.

1847: With business booming, a larger factory was rented in the centre of Birmingham on Bridge Street.

1861: Richard and George Cadbury took over the business from their father John who was in poor health. They were aged just 25 and 21.

1866: The brothers launched Cocoa Essence after George bought a revolutionary cocoa press from Dutch manufacturer van Houten.

Workers wrap Dairy Milk chocolates at the factory in Bournville in 1930

Workers wrap Dairy Milk chocolates at the factory in Bournville in 1930

1879: Production began at the new ‘factory in a garden’ in the countryside at a greenfield site, four miles outside Birmingham, which they named Bournville.

1893: George Cadbury bought more land in Bournville in order to build a ‘model village’ for industrial workers.

1897: Cadbury launched its first milk chocolate for eating ,created by adding dried milk powder to cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar. The Bournville Almshouses, a group of cottages round a central garden, were built for pensioners who had worked at Cadbury.

1900: The Bournville Village Trust was created to create a community and safeguard the area from other developers.

1905: Cadbury Dairy Milk was launched to compete against the leading brands of Swiss milk chocolate.

1906: A pension fund was launched for workers, with a capital gift from the company.

1915: Milk Tray was launched in this year: a stylish but no-frills box of chocolates for every day eating.

1918: Democratically elected ‘works councils’ for men and women were set up to discuss factory issues.

1919: Cadbury merged with J.S. Fry & Sons Limited in order for both companies to compete against Rowntree.

1921: Cadbury opened their first overseas factory in Hobart, Tasmania, followed by New Zealand in 1930.

1939: The Second World War begins, rationing is enforced and the making of chocolate and cocoa comes under Government control.

1955: Cadbury move into TV advertising on the launch night of commercial television on September 22, 1955.

1969: Cadbury merged with Schweppes in order to give better value to the customer, boost its foods arm and gain the resources to enter international markets. The new company is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

2003: Cadbury becomes the world’s No 1 confectionery company after buying up various chewing gum brands, such as Trident and Stride.

2008: Cadbury and Schweppes demerged, splitting its confectionery and drinks business.

2009: Cadbury Dairy Milk becomes Fairtrade.

2010: Cadbury is taken over by US owner Kraft in a controversial deal worth £11.5billion. 


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