Manchester Politicians, Law & Social Reformers
Joseph was born at Whittington, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire
on 22nd May, 1783, the son of John Brotherton, an excise collector.
In 1789 John had moved with his family to live in Salford and
had started his own cotton manufacturing business – on leaving
school Joseph went to work in his father’s factory. By 1802
he had become a partner in the company. In 1805 Joseph and his
wife Martha had joined a Nonconformist movement known as the
Bible Christian Church, which preached strict vegetarianism
and total abstinence from alcohol. Martha was to write one of
the very first cookery books ever devoted to vegetarian recipes
and Brotherton himself was to write numerous religious books
and tracts including in 1816 “Facts Authentic in Science
and Religion” , in 1821 “Letters on Religious Subjects”
and also in that year “On Abstinence from Intoxicating Liquors” .
Brotherton believed that alcohol was the cause of all of society’s
evils and he frequently delivered sermons on this topic.
By 1815, he had become an avid supporter of parliamentary reform
and was a member of a group of Nonconformist liberals that included
John Potter, John Edward Taylor, Archibald Prentice,
John Shuttleworth, Absalom Watkin, William Cowdray, Thomas
Potter and Richard Potter. The group was instrumental in lobbying
for parliamentary representation for emerging industrial cities
like Manchester, and made numerous representations to parliament;
it also supported the Nonconformist schools movement, advocating
religious tolerance as well as Catholic Emancipation, as well
as speaking out against the abuses of child labour in the textiles
industry. The group eventually drew up the petition demanding
that the government grant Manchester and Salford three Members
of Parliament, and in 1832 they were successful – Joseph Brotherton
was elected MP for Salford and served in the House of Commons
for the next twenty-four years – such a popular representative
that it was almost impossible to find anyone willing to stand
against him in Salford elections.
Brotherton was also to play an important role in factory legislation;
he stood out against the 1834 Poor Law and spoke in favour of
the repeal of the Corn Laws.
He also argued passionately for the abolition of the death penalty.
He was a strong advocate of the Municipal Corporations Act that
was passed in 1835 and was active in the National Public Schools
Association. He helped set up vegetable soup kitchens in Manchester
during the food shortages in 1847 which resulted in the setting
up of the Vegetarian Society. In 1849 he was instrumental in
making Salford the first municipal authority in Britain to establish
a library, a museum and an art gallery, and later with William
Ewart persuaded Parliament to pass the Public Libraries Act.
His belief in clean living and a clean environment for working
people made him a prime motivator in the establishment of Peel
Park in Salford. Brotherton died of a heart attack in Manchester
on 7th January, 1837. After his death, the people of Salford
donated a bronze statue of Brotherton in Peel Park.
John Owens was born in 1790. His father, Owen Owens, came from
Holywell in Flintshire, and had set up business as a hat lining
maker in Manchester. John had a private education in Ardwick,
after which, in 1817, he joined the family business. The company
flourished and was to become one of the biggest and most prosperous
of all of Manchester’s cotton industry. They made a fortune
by buying in coarse woollens and calicoes from local manufacturers
and personal friends like John Fielden and Thomas Ashton and
exported them to India, China and North America. They also imported
cotton, hides and corn.
On his father’s retirement, John took over the running of the
company and was to become a major investor in the new railways.
Owens was a strict Nonconformist member of the same liberal
reform group as Joseph
Brotherton and John
Shuttleworth, and objected to the dominant position that
the Church of England held in British education. On his death
he had left the bulk of his wealth to help establish a further
education college for men that would be open and available to
all no matter what their creed of religious conviction. In his
will he left �96,654 for the establishment of Owens College,
the forerunner of the University
of Manchester, which was opened in 1851. Owens
died at home in Chorlton-upon-Medlock on 29th July 1846. Fielden
and Ashton, were amongst other Unitarian friends who, on Owen’s
behalf, purchased the former home of Richard
Cobden in Quay Street, Manchester, which was the college’s
Thomas Ashton, who was born in Hyde in 1818, was a close friend
of John Fielden, the
owner of a large textile company in Todmorden. Ashton started
a similar business in Hyde and would eventually became one of
Fielden’s main competitors. Like Fielden and other Nonconformist
radicals of the period, he was a Unitarian and an active member
of the Liberal Party and held strong personal views on social
reform. Ashton worked closely with John’s son, Samuel Fielden,
in 1870 raising money for the creation of Owens College, (later
to become the University of Manchester), which was founded by John Owens. By
1870 Fielden and Ashton had raised �200,000 for the college.
Ashton died in 1898.
John Fielden was born on 17th January 1784 at Todmorden, (then
in West Yorkshire), the third son of Joshua Fielden, a Quaker
who owned of a small textile business. By 1794, aged just ten,
John began work in his father’s cotton factory. By the time
he had completed his apprenticeship his father made him and
his four brothers, partners in the Joshua Fielden & Sons company.
Every week Joshua and his sons would take their cloth the 20
miles to Manchester and return with bags of imported cotton.
Later, from 1804, materials and goods would be transported via
the newly opened Rochdale Canal. Joshua Fielden died in 1811
and by 1816 the partnership of Fielden Brothers had been formed,
based at Waterside Mill in Todmorden and the business expanded
rapidly over the following years. By 1832 the Fielden Brothers
were to own one of the largest textile companies in Britain.
John was to become an important figure in the social, political
and economic history of the region.
Fielden was a practising Unitarian and in 1832 he and William
Cobbett were elected MPs for Oldham. Fielden was known for his
radical politics, his involvement in the movement to reduce
working hours for factory workers and arguing for a minimum
wage for handloom weavers. Amongst his political activities
were factory reform and the Ten Hour Bill. In 1816 the four
Fielden brothers petitioned Parliament with legislation for
the protection of child workers.
In 1811 John married Ann Grindrod, the daughter of a Rochdale
grocer; she gave birth to seven children and was to die of a
heart-attack in 1831. He was a founder member of the Todmorden
Unitarian Society, a religious group devoted to the social reform
movement, and had funded the building of the Unitarian Chapel
as well as establishing and teaching at the Unitarian School
in the village. Fielden advocated the introduction of a minimum
wage as essentially good for the British economy and he always
paid good wages to his workers. Fielden was also instrumental
in the formation of the Society for the Protection of Children
Employed in Cotton Factories. He believed that all men should
be politically aware and educated and to this end in 1831 he
established the Todmorden Political Union – along with William
Cobbett he was selected as a candidate for Oldham; these two
were to be crucial to the passing of 1832 Reform Act. Cobbett
and Fielden both won easily and were to become leaders of the
reform movement in Parliament.
the 1840s, John Fielden’s son, Samuel took over the running
of the Fielden Brothers company and in 1845 John retired to
a small country house which he had purchased at Skeynes, near
Edenbridge in Kent.
died on 29th May 1849 at Skeynes and is buried at the Unitarian
Chapel in Todmorden. Fielden Park in Didsbury is named after
John Shuttleworth was born 1786 at Strangeways and was to become
one of Manchester’s most successful wholesale cotton manufacturers.
Shuttleworth was also a supporter of the same parliamentary
Nonconformist reform group as Joseph
Brotherton and John Edward Taylor. Shuttleworth himself
was a Unitarian and was a backer of the Nonconformist school
that was opened in Manchester in 1813. Like the rest of the
group, Shuttleworth advocated religious tolerance. Like Brotherton,
he pressed for a public enquiry into the so-called Peterloo
Massacre of 1819 in St Peters Fields in Manchester. Along
with other like-minded liberals, Shuttleworth was outraged at
the government’s inaction and felt that Manchester needed some
powerful way to express its opposition. He and ten other textile
businessmen raised �1,050 for the setup of a new newspaper to
be called the Manchester Guardian – it was to promote
tolerance and the principles of civic and religious freedom.
The first four-page edition, edited by John Edward Taylor, appeared
on Saturday 5th May 1821 and was soon selling a thousand copies
a week. Taylor split from the rest of the group later over conflicts
of principle, and Shuttleworth decided that he could no longer
rely on the Manchester Guardian to represent his political
views. He and Archibald Prentice purchased the Manchester
Gazette as a rival journal.
John Shuttleworth continued to campaign for the parliamentary
reform measures proposed by the Whig government. In and persuaded
100,000 Manchester people to sign a petition for reform. Shuttleworth
proposed that the seats of rotten boroughs should be transferred
to industrial towns. As a result the ensuing 1832 Reform Act
gave Manchester two Members of Parliament, Mark
Philips and Charles Poulett Thomson – both friends of Shuttleworth.
Joseph Brotherton and Richard Potter also became Members of
Parliament for Salford and Wigan respectively in 1832. Shuttleworth
continued to be involved in politics and was one of the first
aldermen to elected to the borough. Shuttleworth retired in
1860 and died on 26th April 1864.