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British Industrial History

Robert Peel (1750-1830)

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Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet, (1750–1830), father of the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, was a politician and industrialist and one of early textile manufacturers of the industrial revolution.

1750 April 25th. Born the son of Robert Peel (1723-1795)

For most of the 1780s, Livesey, Hargreaves and Co of Preston was the largest of the Lancashire calico printers, but the collapse of this leviathan of the trade in 1788 left Peel, Yates and Co of Bury as undisputed leaders.

1783 July 8th. Peel married firstly Ellen Yates (the daughter of his partner William Yates) and they had eleven children, including:

  • William Yates Peel, born at Chamber Hall, Bury, August 3, 1789. He owns an extensive property in various cotton-factories and warehouses in Lancashire, all of which are leased to manufacturers. He married, in 1819, Jane Elizabeth, daughter of the Earl of Mountcashel, and by her has had sixteen children, most of whom are alive, and some married.
  • Edmond Yates Peel, born at Chamber Hall, Bury, August 8, 1791. He married in 1812, Jane, daughter of John Swinfen, Esq., of Swinfen, Staffordshire, and has issue three sons. This gentleman resides at Bonehill, near to Fazeley and Tamworth, and holds in his own occupation extensive bleach-works and spinning mills. He is also distinguished for his agricultural experiments and his successful breeding of race-horses.
  • John Peel, LL.B., Dean of Worcester, born at Chamber Hall, August 22, 1798. He married in 1824, Augusta, fifth daughter of John Swinfen Esq., of Swinfen. After an absence of forty years from Bury, he was present at the inauguration of Sir Robert Peel's statue, 8th September, 1852.
  • Jonathan, a major-general in the army, but not recently employed. He is the 'Colonel Peel' so well known for many years on the turf as a successful horse-racer, in connection with the late Lord George Bentinck. He was born at Chamber Hall, October 12, 1799. He married, in 1824, Alicia Jane Kennedy, youngest daughter of Archibald, marquis of Ailsa. Their issue are five sons and one daughter; several of the sons, as also their cousins, sons of William and Edmund, are in the army, and some in the church.
  • Sir Lawrence Peel (1801-), born at Chamber Hall (date uncertain), made a knight in 1842; married, in 1822, Jane Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond.
  • Mary Peel, born at Chamber Hall; married, in 1816, to the Right Hon. George Dawson, of Castle Dawson, county of Derry, Ireland.
  • Elizabeth Peel, born at Chamber Hall, died in 1828; was married, in 1805, to the Very Reverend William Cockburn, Dean of York.
  • Harriet Eleonora Peel, born at Chamber Hall, was married, in 1824, to the late Lord Henley, a Master in Chancery, and had a family.

1787 Peel was the foremost partner in an integrated spinning, weaving, and finishing operation at three sites in Bolton. The other partners were the Ainsworths, already noticed as pioneers of muslin manufacture and then of chemical bleaching in the area. Hand-loom weavers were in short supply, so Peel, Ainsworth and Co employed them as far away as Warrington, Burnley, Chorley, Wigan, and even Paisley in Scotland.

Like many others, he joined partnerships in order to raise the capital required to set up spinning mills. These were water powered (usually utilising the water frame invented by Richard Arkwright), and thus located by rivers and streams in country districts. Thus Peel and Yates set up a mill and housing for their workers at Burrs near Bury. As elsewhere, the shortage of labour in the rural districts was mitigating by employing pauper children as 'apprentices', imported from any locality that wanted them off their hands. They were housed in a kind of hostel.

Peel became quite rich, and lived at Chamber Hall in Bury, where his more famous son was born.

In politics, he was a staunch 'Church and King' man - in other words, a Tory. This was unusual, as many of the Lancashire mill owners were nonconformist and radical in their outlook.

He was a paternalist towards his workforce. When elected Member of Parliament for Tamworth, he carried these principles into political life. He was responsible for the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, legislation that tried to limit the number of hours the children worked in the mills, and obliged the mill owners to provide some form of schooling.

In later years, he purchased property near Tamworth and started to adopt the lifestyle of a country gentleman, far removed from his roots.

1805 October 18th. After the death of his first wife, Peel married Susanna Clerke (sister of Sir William Clerke). The marriage was unsuccessful and the couple eventually separated, with Susanna moving to Warwickshire. She died on 10 September 1824. Sir Robert was at the time unwell and his children represented him at the funeral.

1831 May 3rd. Died


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