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Richard Oastler

Richard Oastler


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Richard Oastler, the son of a clothing merchant, was born in Leeds on 20th December, 1789. Richard attended a Moravian boarding school from 1798 to 1810 and became a commission agent. Oaster did this job for ten years and in 1820 was appointed as steward for Thomas Thornhill, the absentee landlord of Fixby, a large estate near Huddersfield.

In 1830 Oastler met John Wood, a worsted manufacturer from Bradford, who agonised over the need to employ children in his factory. After a lengthy meeting Oastler decided to join the struggle for factory legislation.

Unlike most of the people in the factory reform movement, Oastler was a supporter of the Tory Party. However, Oastler believed it was the responsibility of the ruling class to protect the weak and vulnerable. For example, Oastler thought the 1834 Poor Law was too harsh and campaigned for it to be reformed.

Oastler thought the best way to protect children was to obtain a maximum ten hour day. He argued: "Very often the children are awakened by the parents at four in the morning. They are pulled out of bed when almost asleep. The younger children are carried on the backs of the older children asleep to the mill, and they see no more of their parents till they go home at night, and are sent to bed."

On 29th September 1830, Oastler wrote a letter to the Leeds Mercury attacking the employment of young children in textile factories. John Hobhouse, the Radical M.P. read the letter and decided to introduce a bill restricting child labour. Hobhouse proposed that: (a) no child should work in a factory before the age of 9; (b) no one between the ages of 9 and 18 should work for more than twelve hours; (c) no one aged between the ages of 9 and 18 should work for more than 66 hours a week; (d) no one under 18 should be allowed to do night work.

After details of Hobhouse's Bill was published, workers began forming what became known as Short Time Committees in an effort to help promote its passage through Parliament. The first Short Time Committees were formed in Huddersfield and Leeds but within a few months, with the help of Richard Oastler, they were established in most of the major textile towns.

Parliament was dissolved in April, 1831 and so Hobhouse's Bill had to be reintroduced after the General Election. Hobhouse's proposals for factory legislation were discussed in Parliament in September 1831. Richard Oastler and the Short Time Committees were furious when Hobhouse agreed to make changes to his proposals. Although Hobhouse's Bill was passed it only applied to cotton factories and failed to provide any machinery for its enforcement.

Unhappy with what Hobhouse had achieved, the Short Time Committees continued to work for factory legislation. A magnificent orator, Richard Oastler soon became leader of what was now known as the Ten Hour Movement.

In 1836 Oastler began advocating workers to use strikes and sabotage in their campaign for factory legislation and changes in the poor law. When Thomas Thornhill heard about this he sacked Oastler from his post as steward of Fixby. He also began legal proceedings against Oastler for unpaid debts. Unable to pay back the money he owed, Oastler was jailed for debt in December 1840. His friends began raising money to help him but it was not until February 1844 that the debt was paid and Oastler was released from Fleet Prison. Once released, Oastler returned to his campaign for the ten hour day.

In 1847, Parliament passed an act that stated that children between 13 and 18 and women were not to work for more than ten hours a day and 58 hours a week. However, the 1847 Factory Act only applied to parts of the textile industry. It was not until 1867, six years after the death of Richard Oastler, that the existing Factory Acts applied to all places of manufacturing.

John Wood turned towards me, reaching out his hand and in the most impressive manner pressed my hand in his said: "I have had no sleep tonight. I have been reading the Bible and in every page I have read my own condemnation. I cannot allow you to leave me without a pledge that you will use all your influence in trying to remove from our factory system the cruelties which are practised in our mills." I promised I would do what I could. I felt that we were each of us in the presence of the Highest and I knew that that vow was recorded in Heaven.

Very often the children are awakened by the parents at four in the morning. The younger children are carried on the backs of the older children asleep to the mill, and they see no more of their parents till they go home at night, and are sent to bed.

The mill-owners obtained their wealth by overworking and by defrauding the factory children. They were praying people, but took care their work people should neither have time nor strength to pray. These hypocrites pretended it was necessary to keep these poor infant slaves at this excruciating labour just to preserve them from "bad company" and to prevent them learning "bad habits".


Looking at History

238pp., rrp 㿄 paper , ISBN 978-1-86218-107-6. The book is also available at 㿀 from www.store.hud.ac.uk.

In Kirkheaton churchyard near Huddersfield there is a fifteen-foot stone obelisk topped by a flame that commemorates ‘The dreadful fate of 17 children who fell unhappy victims to a raging fire at Mr Atkinson’s factory at Colne Bridge, February 14 th 1818.’ All the dead were girls the youngest nine, the oldest eighteen. The fire started when at about 5 am a boy aged ten was sent downstairs to the ground floor card room to collect some cotton rovings. Instead of taking a lamp, he took a candle that ignited the cotton waste and fire spread quickly through the factory turning it into a raging inferno. The children were trapped on the top floor when the staircase collapsed. The entire factory was destroyed in less than thirty minutes and the boy who had inadvertently started the fire was the last person to leave the building alive. It is not surprising that child labour and the need to regulate it became a national issue in the early 1830s. There had been factory acts in 1802 and 1819 and further agitation between 1825 and 1831 but the legislation was too limited in scope and its enforcement proved difficult. There were, for instance, only two convictions while the 1819 Act operated. It was at this stage that Richard Oastler, a Tory land steward from Huddersfield, burst upon the scene when his celebrated letter on ‘Yorkshire Slavery’ was published in the Leeds Mercury on 16 October 1830.

It is over sixty years since Cecil Driver published his study of Richard Oastler and fifty years since Ward’s study of the factory movement in the twenty years after 1830 appeared. This excellent volume, a fitting conclusion to the University of Huddersfield Archives’ Heritage Lottery-funded Your Heritage project, re-examines Oastler’s impact and draws parallels between the campaign to abolish transatlantic slavery and the campaign to restrict the use of child labour in Britain. Written by some of Yorkshire’s leading historians, the collection of essays provides a rounded assessment of the contribution of Richard Oastler to both the emancipation of children from the horrors of factory labour and the broader emancipation of society from the evils of slavery whether in Britain or in its Empire. The book is introduced by University of Huddersfield historian and Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Tim Thornton and the foreword is from the Methodist minister Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE, who chaired the initiative Set All Free that marked the bi-centenary of the act to abolish the transatlantic slave trade. The volume begins with an elegantly written introduction by John A. Hargreaves who positions Oastler and the subsequent chapters within the context of the four decades from the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and the passage of the Ten Hours Act for factory workers in 1847. This is followed by James Walvin, the doyen of the abolition movement, on William Wilberforce, Yorkshire and the campaign to end transatlantic slavery from its inception in 1787 to the end of the apprenticeship system in 1838. It is a succinct, synoptic analysis not only on what happened and why but also an acute critique of the prevailing historiography especially in its discussion of the impact of the abolition movement on reforming movements from factory reform to Chartism. It was Oastler who maintained that the cause of anti-slavery and Chartism were ‘one and the same’.

The remaining chapters focus on Oastler and provide important reappraisals of different aspects of his life. D. Colin Dews examines Oastler’s Methodist background between 1789 and 1820 demonstrating that his association with evangelicalism stimulated and sustained his commitment to the ten-hour movement while John Halstead explores the Huddersfield Short Time Committee and its radical associations between c1820 and 1876, a particularly valuable discussion of generational differences with Huddersfield radicalism. Edward Royle considers the Yorkshire Slavery campaign between 1830 and 1832 through a close consideration of coverage in the regional press. Janette Martin examines Oastler’s triumphant return to Huddersfield in 1844 after he had served more than three years in jail for debt relating this to Oastler’s skills as an orator and the importance of processions to nineteenth century radicalism for instance, John Frost’s equally triumphant return to Newport in 1856 after over a decade as a transported felon. The volume ends with a chapter reassessing Oastler and his impact on the factory movement and on radical politics more generally.

Oastler and other reformers may have been successful in their campaign for the ending of child labour but coerced labour remains an important problem in a global economy where labour costs need to be kept low to meet consumer demands for affordable products. The ‘Yorkshire Slavery’ that Oastler so eloquently exposed can still be seen not just in the developing world but, as recent cases of ‘slavery’ brought before the courts demonstrate, in Britain as well. This excellent volume, beautifully illustrated and presented by the University of Huddersfield Press shows not simply the contribution Oastler made to achieving a sense of childhood largely devoid of economic exploitation but that the campaign he initiated in late 1830 remains a campaign that has yet to be concluded. After nearly two centuries as a global community we have yet to eradicate economic inhumanity and exploitation for profit.


Church History Timeline

Richard Oastler was outraged. Born into a Wesleyan Methodist family and educated by Moravians, he was a man of conscience who believed words should be matched with deeds. That is why he took up his pen to write a letter. The letter, blasting “Yorkshire Slavery” was published on this day, September 29, 1830 in the Leeds Mercury.

“It is the pride of Britain that a slave cannot exist on her soil,” he began. Richard declared himself in complete sympathy with efforts to end slavery. However, slavery was not limited to the colonies, he said: “Let truth speak out, appalling as the statement may appear. The fact is true. Thousands of our fellow-creatures and fellow-subjects, both male and female, the miserable inhabitants of a Yorkshire town, (Yorkshire now represented in Parliament by the giant of anti-slavery principles) are this very moment existing in a state of slavery, more horrid than are the victims of that hellish system ‘colonial’ slavery.”

Their slavery took a different form, to be sure, but slavery it was, all the same. “Thousands of little children, both male and female, but principally female, from seven to fourteen years of age, are daily compelled to labour from six o’clock in the morning to seven in the evening, with only–Britons, blush while you read it!– with only thirty minutes allowed for eating and recreation.”

Action was needed. “‘Vow one by one, vow altogether, vow with heart and voice, eternal enmity against oppression by your brethren’s hands Till man nor woman under Britain’s laws, nor son nor daughter born within her empire, shall buy, or sell, or HIRE, or BE A SLAVE!” his long, passionate letter thundered.

From that day forward, Richard was as good as his word. He labored without ceasing to get conditions improved. That very September, one of the factory owners, John Wood, approached Richard, saying, “I have had no sleep tonight. I have been reading the Bible and in every page I have read my own condemnation. I cannot allow you to leave me without a pledge that you will use all your influence in trying to remove from our factory system the cruelties which are practiced in our mills.”

Richard promised to do what he could. “I felt that we were each of us in the presence of the Highest and I knew that that vow was recorded in Heaven,” he said.

His letter was read by John Hobhouse, a radical member of Parliament. Hobhouse immediately introduced a bill that would not permit children under nine to work, eliminated night work for children, and limited their hours of employment to ten a day. A modified bill without teeth in it soon passed, but Richard had to fight for a stronger act, enforced by penalties.

In another letter written four years later, he said, “The mill-owners obtained their wealth by overworking and by defrauding the factory children. They were praying people, but took care their work people should neither have time nor strength to pray. These hypocrites pretended it was necessary to keep these poor infant slaves at this excruciating labour just to preserve them from ‘bad company’ and to prevent them learning ‘bad habits’.”

Richard helped form Short Time Committees in major industrial cities to improve hours of work. He advocated sabotage of machinery in cases where employers were especially cruel. Rejecting laissez faire capitalism, he insisted that producers follow St. Paul’s injunction that “The husbandman [i.e.: worker] who labors, must be the first partaker of the fruits.”

Next time that you have to work no more than an eight hour day, remember Richard Oastler and his “Yorkshire Slavery” letter which fired the shot that changed your world.


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Richard Oastler's opposition to the Poor Law Amendment Act

Richard Oastler was born in 1789, the son of a Leeds clothier. He became the land steward for an estate at Fixby near Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire and was a leading campaigner in the Ten Hours movement for the reduction of working hours in factories. Oastler was a paternalistic Evangelical and a Tory radical. After the passing of the 1833 Factory Act, he turned his attention to the campaign against the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. In 1838 he was dismissed by his employer and later served a prison sentence for debt. He wrote prolifically on 'Yorkshire Slavery' as part of the Ten-Hour Campaign and produced many pieces opposing the Poor Law Amendment Act, of which the following are some examples.

What, Sir, is the principle of the New Poor Law? The condition imposed upon Englishmen by the accursed law is, that man shall give up his liberty to save his life. That, before he shall eat a piece of bread he shall go to prison, under circumstances which I shall speak of hereafter, in prison he shall enjoy his right to live, but it shall be at the expense of liberty, without which life itself becomes a burden.

The Rights of the Poor to Liberty and Life

Be not alarmed at the sound of the title. I can not bless that, which GOD and NATURE CURSE. The Bible being true, the Poor Law Amendment Act is false! The Bible containing the will of God, - this accursed Act of Parliament embodies the will of Lucifer. It is the Sceptre of Belial, establishing its sway in the Land of Bibles!! DAMNATION, ETERNAL DAMNATION to the accursed Fiend!!

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Slavery in Yorkshire: Richard Oastler and the campaign against child labour in the Industrial Revolution

Slavery in Yorkshire: Richard Oastler and the campaign against child labour in the Industrial Revolution - John A. Hargreaves and E. A. Hilary Haigh, (eds.) (University of Huddersfield), 2012 238pp., rrp £24 paper , ISBN 978-1-86218-107-6. The book is also available at £20 here.

In Kirkheaton churchyard near Huddersfield there is a fifteen-foot stone obelisk topped by a flame that commemorates &lsquoThe dreadful fate of 17 children who fell unhappy victims to a raging fire at Mr Atkinson's factory at Colne Bridge, February 14 th 1818.' All the dead were girls the youngest nine, the oldest eighteen. The fire started when at about 5 am a boy aged ten was sent downstairs to the ground floor card room to collect some cotton rovings. Instead of taking a lamp, he took a candle that ignited the cotton waste and fire spread quickly through the factory turning it into a raging inferno. The children were trapped on the top floor when the staircase collapsed. The entire factory was destroyed in less than thirty minutes and the boy who had inadvertently started the fire was the last person to leave the building alive. It is not surprising that child labour and the need to regulate it became a national issue in the early 1830s. There had been factory acts in 1802 and 1819 and further agitation between 1825 and 1831 but the legislation was too limited in scope and its enforcement proved difficult. There were, for instance, only two convictions while the 1819 Act operated. It was at this stage that Richard Oastler, a Tory land steward from Huddersfield, burst upon the scene when his celebrated letter on &lsquoYorkshire Slavery' was published in the Leeds Mercury on 16 October 1830.

It is over sixty years since Cecil Driver published his study of Richard Oastler and fifty years since Ward's study of the factory movement in the twenty years after 1830 appeared. This excellent volume, a fitting conclusion to the University of Huddersfield Archives' Heritage Lottery-funded Your Heritage project, re-examines Oastler's impact and draws parallels between the campaign to abolish transatlantic slavery and the campaign to restrict the use of child labour in Britain. Written by some of Yorkshire's leading historians, the collection of essays provides a rounded assessment of the contribution of Richard Oastler to both the emancipation of children from the horrors of factory labour and the broader emancipation of society from the evils of slavery whether in Britain or in its Empire. The book is introduced by University of Huddersfield historian and Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Tim Thornton and the foreword is from the Methodist minister Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE, who chaired the initiative Set All Free that marked the bi-centenary of the act to abolish the transatlantic slave trade. The volume begins with an elegantly written introduction by John A. Hargreaves who positions Oastler and the subsequent chapters within the context of the four decades from the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and the passage of the Ten Hours Act for factory workers in 1847. This is followed by James Walvin, the doyen of the abolition movement, on William Wilberforce, Yorkshire and the campaign to end transatlantic slavery from its inception in 1787 to the end of the apprenticeship system in 1838. It is a succinct, synoptic analysis not only on what happened and why but also an acute critique of the prevailing historiography especially in its discussion of the impact of the abolition movement on reforming movements from factory reform to Chartism. It was Oastler who maintained that the cause of anti-slavery and Chartism were &lsquoone and the same'.

The remaining chapters focus on Oastler and provide important reappraisals of different aspects of his life. D. Colin Dews examines Oastler's Methodist background between 1789 and 1820 demonstrating that his association with evangelicalism stimulated and sustained his commitment to the ten-hour movement while John Halstead explores the Huddersfield Short Time Committee and its radical associations between c1820 and 1876, a particularly valuable discussion of generational differences with Huddersfield radicalism. Edward Royle considers the Yorkshire Slavery campaign between 1830 and 1832 through a close consideration of coverage in the regional press. Janette Martin examines Oastler's triumphant return to Huddersfield in 1844 after he had served more than three years in jail for debt relating this to Oastler's skills as an orator and the importance of processions to nineteenth century radicalism for instance, John Frost's equally triumphant return to Newport in 1856 after over a decade as a transported felon. The volume ends with a chapter reassessing Oastler and his impact on the factory movement and on radical politics more generally.

Oastler and other reformers may have been successful in their campaign for the ending of child labour but coerced labour remains an important problem in a global economy where labour costs need to be kept low to meet consumer demands for affordable products. The &lsquoYorkshire Slavery' that Oastler so eloquently exposed can still be seen not just in the developing world but, as recent cases of &lsquoslavery' brought before the courts demonstrate, in Britain as well. This excellent volume, beautifully illustrated and presented by the University of Huddersfield Press shows not simply the contribution Oastler made to achieving a sense of childhood largely devoid of economic exploitation but that the campaign he initiated in late 1830 remains a campaign that has yet to be concluded. After nearly two centuries as a global community, we have yet to eradicate economic inhumanity and exploitation for profit.


Richard Oastler - History

Report from the Committee on the Bill to regulate the labour of children in the mills and factories . . . 1832: Parliamentary Papers , 1831-1832, xv, pp. 454-5 [Added by Marjie Bloy, Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore]

Richard Oastler was active during the campaign for a ten-hour working day in the factories of the north of England. He gave evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee, where he said that conditions in England were worse than those on the plantations of the West Indies.

Question: Has your mind been latterly directed to the consideration of the condition of the children and young persons engaged in the mills and factories of this country, with a view to affording them permanent legislative relief?

Answer: It has . . . : The immediate circumstance which led my attention to the facts, was a communication made to me by a very opulent spinner that it was the regular custom, to work children in factories 13 hours a day and only allow them half an hour for dinner that that was the regular custom, and that in many factories they were worked considerably more. I had previously observed a difference in the working classes of the West Riding of the county of York, I mean in the clothing districts. I had observed an amazing difference from what they are now, in comparison of what they were when I was a youth but I must say that my attention had not been particularly called to the subject of the factory system, until I had that fact communicated to me . . .. I resolved from that moment that I would dedicate every power of body and mind to this object, until these poor children were relieved from that excessive labour and from that moment, which was the 29th of September 1830, I have never ceased to use every legal means, which I had it in my power to use, for the purpose of emancipating these innocent slaves.

The very day on which the fact was communicated to me, I addressed a letter to the public in the Leeds Mercury upon the subject. I have since that had many opponents to contend against but not one single fact which I have communicated has ever been contradicted, or ever can be . . .. I have refrained from exposing the worst parts of the system, for they are so gross that I dare not publish them. The demoralising effects of the system are as bad, I know it, as the demoralising effects of slavery in the West Indies. I know that there are instances and scenes of the grossest prostitution among the poor creatures who are the victims of the system, and in some cases are the objects of the cruelty and rapacity and sensuality of their master. These things I never dared to publish, but the cruelties which are inflicted personally upon the little children not to mention the immensely long hours which they are subject to work, are such as I am very sure would disgrace a West Indian plantation.

On one occasion I was very singularly placed I was in the company of a West India slave master and three Bradford spinners they brought the two systems into fair comparison, and the spinners were obliged to be silent when the slave-owner said, "well, I have always thought myself disgraced by being the owner of black slaves, but we never, in the West Indies thought it was possible for any human being to be so cruel as to require a child of 9 years old to work 12½ hours a day and that, you acknowledge, is your regular practice."

I have seen little boys and girls of 10 years old, one I have in my eye particularly now, whose forehead has been cut open by the thong whose cheeks and lips have been laid open, and whose back has been almost covered with black stripes and the only crime that that little boy, who was 10 years and 3 months old, had committed, was that he retched three cardings, which are three pieces of woollen yarn, about three inches long. The same boy told me that he had been frequently knocked down with the billy-roller, and that on one occasion, he had been hung up by a rope round the body, and almost frightened to death but I am sure it is unnecessary for me to say anything more upon the bodily sufferings that these poor creatures are subject to. I have seen their bodies almost broken down, so that they could not walk without assistance, when they have been 17 or 18 years of age. I know many cases of poor young creatures who have worked in factories, and who have been worn down by the system at the age of 16 and 17, and who, after living all their lives in this slavery, are kept in poor-houses, not by the masters for whom they have worked, as would be the case if they were negro slaves, but by other people who have reaped no advantage from their labour.

These are the particular facts which I wish to state and one which I would also call the attention of the Committee to, is the domestic system of manufacture which obtained in the West Riding of Yorkshire, when I was a boy it was the custom for the children at that time, to mix learning their trades with other instruction and with amusement, and they learned their trades or their occupations, not by being put into places, to stop there from morning to night, but by having a little work to do, and then some time for instruction, and they were generally under the immediate care of their parents the villages about Leeds and Huddersfield were occupied by respectable little clothiers, who could manufacture a piece of cloth of two in the week, or three or four or five pieces, and always had their family at home: and they could at that time make a good profit by what they sold there were filial affection and parental feeling, and not over-labour but that race of manufacturers has been almost completely destroyed there are scarcely any of the old-fashioned domestic manufacturers left, and the villages are composed of one or two or in some cases of three or four, mill-owners, and the rest, poor creatures, who are reduced and ground down to want, and in general are compelled to live upon the labour of their little ones it is almost the general system for the little children in these manufacturing villages to know nothing of their parents at all excepting that in a morning very early, at 5 o'clock, very often before 4, they are awakened by a human being that they are told is their father, and are pulled out of bed (I have heard many a score of them give an account of it) when they are almost asleep, and lesser children are absolutely carried on the backs of the older children asleep to the mill, and they see no more of their parents generally speaking, till they go home at night, and are sent to bed. Now that system must necessarily prevent the growth of filial affection. It destroys the happiness in the cottage family, and leads both parents and children not to regard each other in the way that Providence designed they should. . ..

With regard to the fathers, I have heard many of them declare that it is such a pain to them to think that they are kept by their little children, and that their little children are subjected to so many inconveniences that they scarcely know how to bear their lives and I have heard many of them declare that they would much rather be transported than be compelled to submit to it. I have heard mothers, more than on 10 or 11 occasions, absolutely say that they would rather that their lives were ended than that they should live to be subjected to such misery. The general effect of the system is this, and they know it, to place a bonus upon crimes because their little children, and their parents too, know that if they only commit theft and break the laws, they will be taken up and put into the House of Correction, and there they will not have to work more than 6 or 7 hours a day. Such being the general state of things in the manufacturer's cottage, I think we need not be surprised at the present discontented, nay, one might almost say the disaffected state of' the working classes. I think that arises from no other circumstance but that complete inversion of the law of nature making the little children into slaves to work for their fathers and mothers, and leaving their fathers destitute in the streets to mourn over their sorrows I believe that is the foundation of the disaffection and unpleasantness of the present age . .


Oastler, Richard

Oastler, Richard (1789�). Factory reformer and anti-Poor Law agitator. Born in Leeds, the son of a leading Wesleyan, Oastler was educated by the Moravians at Fulneck, but became Church of England when he succeeded his father in 1820 as steward for Thomas Thornhill, the absentee landlord of Fixby Hall near Halifax. He was a romantic Tory, defending old values against utilitarian radicalism and political economy, attacking the vicar of Halifax over tithes in 1827, criticizing the employment of children in Bradford worsted mills in 1830, leading the Ten Hours campaign for factory reform, and denouncing the New poor law of 1834. His extreme language and immense popularity alienated his employer who had him imprisoned for debt (1840𠄴). As a staunch protestant, he opposed catholic emancipation but supported the movement to restore convocation for the government of the Church of England. His motto was 𠆊ltar, Throne and Cottage’.

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Richard Oastler – the Factory King

Richard Oastler was born in Leeds on 20 December 1789 and is remembered as a campaigner against slavery and the maltreatment of children in mills and factories. He was inspired to take up the cause of child labour following a visit to John Wood’s worsted mill near Bradford in 1830. The following day, Oastler wrote an impassioned letter to the Leeds Mercury pointing out the hypocrisy of those who campaign for the abolition of slavery in the colonies whilst overlooking the abuse of children at home:

The very streets which receive the droppings of an ‘Anti-Slavery Society’ are every morning wet by the tears of innocent victims at the accursed shrine of avarice, who are compelled (not by the cart-whip of the negro slave-driver) but by the dread of the equally appalling throng or strop of the over-looker, to hasten half-dressed, not half-fed, to those magazines of British infantile slavery the worsted mills in the town and neighbourhood of Bradford.

On 19 June in 1831, Oastler agreed the Fixby Hall compact with local businessmen by which they pledged to reduce the working hours of children employed in their factories, following the defeat of proposed legislation in Parliament. It was the start of a long and bitter campaign for better treatment of child workers during which Oastler continued to compare their treatment in factories with that of slaves in the colonies.

He organised strikes, protests and sabotage and committed so much of his own money to the cause that he was imprisoned for debt in 1840 for three years. He was mockingly dubbed the “Factory King” by his opponents but Oastler happily accepted the soubriquet.

His campaign culminated in the reforms of the Factory Act 1847 which improved the conditions of children in cotton mills (and was the first piece of modern health and safety legislation). The main provision of the Act was to limit the working week of women and children to 58 hours. However, those reforms were not extended to all factories until after Oastler’s death in 1861.

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Richard Oastler: The Factory King (1913) by Arthur Greenwood

Richard Oastler: The Factory King was a booklet written by Arthur Greenwood. The second edition was published in 1913.

Read Online

Richard Oastler: The Factory King

Richard Oastler, the Factory Reformer, was born in St. Peter’s Square, Leeds, and spent over thirty years of his life in the town, during which period he became closely identified with several philanthropic movements of the time. It was in 1830 that he first heard from the lips of Mr. Wood, a Bradford manufacturer, of the terrible conditions under which factory children worked, and the long hours they were kept at their employment. With characteristic vigour, he wrote a long letter to the “Leeds Mercury,” which inaugurated a great campaign on behalf of the factory workers. In the following year, in a letter to the “Leeds Intelligencer,” he laid down a policy for the working classes, and about the same time entered into what became known as the “Fixby Compact” with the representatives of the workmen of Huddersfield, whereby he and they, without sacrificing religious or political beliefs, agreed to work together to improve the lot of the factory operatives.

In both Lancashire and Yorkshire he addressed large meetings in favour of the “Ten Hours’ Bill,” and encouraged the numerous “short time committees,” formed for the purpose of influencing legislalion. Wherever he went he was received with unbounded enthusiasm. His journeyings were like a Royal progress, and the term “Factory King,” flung at him in derision by his opponents, was applied to him by the working classes with affection and gratitude. "King” Richard’s name became a household word, and his appearance in the manufacturing towns of the North was generally the occasion of processions and monster demonstrations.

Oastler was a fluent and vigorous speaker, full of earnestness on behalf of the factory children, for whom he forcibly appealed at the same time, that he delivered himself of burning denunciations of the exploiters of child labour. As he became more and more immersed in his great campaign, his language became more unmeasured in its terms, and his enthusiasm greater.

Richard Oastler was keenly opposed to “The New Poor Law” of 1834, and when it was proposed to put the Act into operation at Fixby, his objections — made with his usual earnestness and vigour — led to his dismissal from the post of Steward at Fixby Hall, which he left considerably in debt, owing to his generous hospitality and the expenditure incurred in administering the Estate, on an inadequate salary. As a result he was sued for the amount and a verdict was returned against him, though it was made quite clear that no reflection was cast upon his personal character. Being unable to pay, he was committed to the debtors’ prison — “The Fleet” — where he remained three years, during which time he edited and published a weekly, under the title of “The Fleet Papers,” thus continuing his work on behalf of the Ten Hours’ Movement. He was released in 1844, as a result of a public subscription list, which liquidated the debt, and his entry into Huddersfield on February 20th of that year was, one may imagine, such a day as Huddersfield had never seen before, eclipsing even the royal farewell given him when he left Fixby in 1838.

From this time onward until 1847, when Lord Ashley’s Act was passed, he flung himself into the work of agitation, though his physical energy had become somewhat impaired. With the passage of Lord Ashley’s Act his public career practically came to an end. During his declining years — which were chiefly spent at Guildford, in Surrey — he lived in retirement, occupying himself between 1851 and 1855 with the publication of a paper called “The Home” — in which are to be found many reminiscences of his campaigning days. He died at Harrogate in 1861, and his body lies in Kirkstall Churchyard, Leeds.

He was a very voluminous writer, and many of his pamphlets on the factory workers are characterised by burning indignation, and such thorough denunciation as one rarely sees at the present time. With Michael Thomas Sadler, John Fielden, Parson Bull, and others, he stands as one of a band of humanitarians who did much to overthrow the sterile and inhuman laissez-faire policy of the Early Victorian era.

There is a stained-glass window to the memory of Richard Oastler and his wife in St. Stephen’s Church, Kirkstall, Leeds, placed there by their adopted daughter, the late Miss A. M. Tatham  while at Bradford there is a statue of him, which was unveiled by Lord Shaftesbury in 1869. In Woodhouse Churchyard, Huddersfield, there stands a monument bearing an inscription indicating the high regard in which Oastler was held. During his lifetime, and afterwards, there was no man in the length and breadth of England who was regarded so deeply by the working classes. A new generation has arisen, which knows not his name, though they have benefitted by his work.

Richard Oastler was not a great thinker  he was not a statesman  but he certainly was a great agitator  who ungrudgingly gave the best that was in him to the service of the downtrodden and helpless factory children who needed protection.

Leeds possesses no public memorial of Oastler, and a Leeds Oastler Committee has been formed to devise means whereby Oastler’s name and work shall be perpetuated in the city of his birth.

The Committee suggests the following methods :–

  1. The Erection of a Tablet in the Parish Church, Leeds, which is in the vicinity of Oastler’s birthplace, St. Peter’s Square.
  2. The Presentation of a Portrait of Oastler to the Leeds City Art Gallery.
  3. The Erection of a Tablet at Kirkstall Church.
  4. The Establishment of an Oastler Annual Prize Essay Competition.

Donations towards the above objects are earnestly desired, and may be sent to the Hon. Treasurer, Mr. J. R. Bell, 16, Cranbrook Avenue, Beeston Hill, Leeds.


Frank Richard Oastler collection

The Frank Richard Oastler Collection consists of photograph albums, lantern slides, movie film, and photographic negatives documenting his interest in wildlife and conservation, from 1908-1938. The Collection is comprised of four series: Photograph Albums , Lantern Slides , Photographic Negatives , Motion Picture Film and is housed in 254 boxes. The collection does not include any significant collection of Oastler's personal papers. There are a few letters preserved with the photograph albums, and a few instances of writings in them as well.

Series I, Photograph Albums , 1912-1935, undated (boxes 1-69), consists of albums documenting the Oastlers' trips to the West and elsewhere and is arranged chronologically. Many of the albums are captioned, in manuscript, by the Oastlers. There are a small number of hand-colored photographs. While most of the photographs in the albums were taken by Oastler, a few commercial photographs and photographic postcards are also present. Commercial photographers whose work appears in the albums include Cross & Dimmitt Asahel Curtis T. Davis Foster Photo Co. (Miles City, Montana) E.R. Freeman Photo F. Gowen Gurr Photo Byron Harmon (Banff, Canada) Kiser Photo Co. (Portland, Oregon) L.D. Lindsley Smith's Photo Thieman [?] (Kalispell, Montana) Jim Thompson Co. (Knoxville, Tennessee) A. Wilkes and Winter & Pond Co. (Juneau, Alaska).

The albums include items laid in loose their presence has been noted in the finding aid. Those items which when flattened were too large to fit into the album have been removed to a separate box at the end of the series, or have been placed in Oversize, as appropriate. The early albums also occasionally include other textual material: a typescript account of a trip to Glacier National Park, Montana (box 3), a holograph poem for a drowned horse (box 8), a list of a guide's vocabulary (box 10).

Series II, Lantern Slides , consists of approximately 6400 lantern slides used for Dr. Oastler's lectures on the West. (Scripts for these lectures, however, are not present.) Most of the slides are hand-colored some duplicate images in the photograph albums. The hand coloring was done by Mildred Petry, under the direct supervision of Dr. Oastler. The lantern slides are organized into two subseries: Lantern Slides in Oastler's Classification (ca. 5500 slides), and Unclassified Lantern Slides.

A combination of classification indices and topical indices, portions of which are replicated in this finding aid, provide detailed geographic and topical subject access to the slide collection. A key to the classification system can be found in a bound typescript in box 80. The first letter and number of the classification (e.g. A2) refers to the place in which the photograph was taken for convenience, the finding aid includes these places as headings in the box listing. This listing, therefore, provides fairly detailed geographic access to the slides. A card index to the slides (boxes 70-79) provides more detailed topical subject access, by animal, plant name, etc. The cards also include the text of captions for each slide, which also appear on the slide casing. The card index appears to be very nearly complete, and includes cards for slides present in the collection but not included in the classification index. There are also cards for slides which are not now present in the collection. These missing slides have been noted in the corresponding box description in the finding aid. The topical headings employed in the card index, including types of flora, fauna, and place names depicted have been listed in Appendix I . Both the classification system and card index were received with the collection, and presumably were created either by the Oastlers or under their direct supervision.

The Unclassified Lantern Slides are organized into Panoramic Lantern Slides and Other Lantern Slides. There are nine panoramic lantern slides, which measure 8 x 25 cm. Other Lantern Slides include three sets of slides still in the traveling cases that Dr. Oastler used for his lectures (boxes 233-235). These traveling cases, labeled "Alaska Lecture," "Canadian Rockies Lecture," and "Isle Royale National Park, Michigan" include a few slides of other places as well. Not all of the slides in the traveling cases are captioned, but all are arranged and numbered in order of presentation during the lectures.

Series III, Photographic Negatives , 1920, undated (box 237), is organized into two subseries: Glass Plate Negatives and Cut Film Negatives. The glass plate negatives are a miscellaneous assortment of forty-five glass plate negatives. In addition to the contents of box 237, there are approximately eight boxes of cut film nitrate negatives, which are restricted. They are presumed to correspond to the prints assembled in the albums (Series I). For further information, contact the Western Americana curator.

Series IV. Film Surrogates contains four copies of films made by Frank Richard Oastler that record undated trips to Glacier National Park and to Yellowstone National Park, a trip down the Colorado River in 1925, and a trip to Alaska in 1927. The original films were badly deteriorated and the Beinecke Library pursued extensive conservation of these four prior to the transfer of the films to the Library of Congress.

Oversize , broadside folders 294-295a, contains material from Series I and II, and is arranged in box order.

Restricted Fragile Material in Box 239 consist of originals for which preservation copies have been made.

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Material: Cut film negatives, glass negatives (box 239), and films (boxes 241-252) may be consulted only with permission of the appropriate curator.


Watch the video: Richard Oastler Yorkshire Saint January 2021 (June 2022).


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