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  • July 10, 2023 3 min read

    Who was Robert Owen?

    Robert Owen was born on 14th May 1771 in Newtown, Montgomeryshire in mid Wales. He was the sixth of seven children born to Robert Owen (Senior) who was an ironmonger, saddler and postmaster. At the age of 19 he started his own business. He borrowed £100 and began his life as an entrepreneur and social reformer.

    He became known as the ‘Father of British Socialism’ and Owen was, in many ways, centuries ahead of his time with his ideas of a workers’ utopia, socialist reform and universal charity. He had been an avid reader from a young age with a questioning intellect and a thirst for industry and improvement. He died on 17 November 1858 aged 87. Although he travelled extensively during his life, he returned home and died in Newtown, the place of his birth. 

    Robert Owen - 10 Facts

    1. Robert was born on 14 May 1771.
    2. He left school aged ten to train as a draper or cloth merchant. A draper's shop would sell cloth for people to buy and make their own clothing.
    3. At 21 he was managing a cotton mill in Manchester.
    4. Owen saw working people had a very hard life and thought they would work more productively if they had better welfare and were happier.
    5. At New Lanark mill in Scotland, he gave workers shorter days, free healthcare and education from childhood to adulthood, a creche for working mothers and free medical care.  Today, it is possible to visit the historic village of New Lanark in Scotland which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and his legacy of ideals continue to inspire others worldwide. 
    6. He became one of the most influential early 19th-century advocates of socialism
    7. His belief in improving the lives of workers helped improve conditions in workplaces all over the world.
    8. He later moved to America to start up new working communities and established the New Harmony community in Indiana.
    9. After 1834 Owen devoted himself to preaching his ideas on education, morality, rationalism, and marriage reform. At the age of 82 he became a spiritualist.
    10. Robert Owen died in Wales on 17 November 1858 aged 87. On his deathbed, a church minister asked if he had any regrets. Owen replied: “My life was not useless; I gave important truths to the world, and it was only for want of understanding that they were disregarded. I have been ahead of my time.”
    Robert Owen Statue in Newtown, Monthgomeryshire

    Robert Owen - His Legacy

    On his return to Britain in 1828, Owen became, for a time, a recognised leader of the working-class movement. He helped to set up the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union and in 1832, established the National Equitable Labour Exchange in London. Aged 64, Owen founded the Association of All Classes of All Nations. This was later known as the Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists or, more briefly, The Rational Society. By 1840 it had around 50,000 members and its weekly newspaper, the New Moral world, ran for over ten years with circulation peaking at 40,000. Owen also became involved with various attempts to establish model communities.

    Although he was opposed to organised religion, in his last years, Owen converted to spiritualism. He continued to write and make speeches but was not taken particularly seriously.

     

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    Last update 8th July 2023

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