Greater Manchester Politicians, Law & Social Reformers
Joseph Brotherton MP
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 first premises.
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 MP
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. By 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. Fielden died on 29th May 1849 at Skeynes and is buried at the Unitarian Chapel in Todmorden. Fielden Park in Didsbury is named after him.
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.