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Leaders of the Factory Campaign

Michael Sadler was born in 1780 at Snelston, Derbyshire. He was an importer of Irish linen in Leeds and was the Tory MP for Newark from 1829 to 1832. He lost his seat in the 1832 general election to Gladstone, and died in 1835. Sadler wrote copiously on Irish social questions and led the campaign for factory reform in parliament until 1832. He died in 1835.

Richard Oastler was born in Leeds in 1789 and was known as 'the Factory King' because of his work in the Ten-Hour Movement. He was a Tory land-steward for the Fixby estates near Huddersfield from 1820, and was an honorary member of the London Working Men's Association. He campaigned against slavery and 'Yorkshire slavery', a campaign which opposed the employment of children in factories. He wanted to see a ten hour working day for all and his work led to Fielden's Act of 1847. Oastler resisted the implementation of the Poor Law Amendment Act and as a result was dismissed by his employer and was imprisoned in the Fleet prison for debt between 1840 and 1844. From prison, he published the Fleet Papers between 1841 and 1843.

After Sadler, Shaftesbury was the most prominent person in the Commons. His personal limitations brought Fielden, the Todmorden factory owner, to the fore. Shaftesbury used the Bible as the foundation for his reforming activities and he was involved in most Victorian 'good causes'. His passions and emotions often got the better of his good sense because he wanted Utopia - immediately. Shaftesbury was often a liability to the government. He was a Tory, without Peel's backing. It has been said that Shaftesbury took up the Factory Question as much from a dislike of the mill owners as from sympathy with the mill workers.

Sadler and Oastler, with the help of Joseph Rayner Stephens (a Tory Wesleyan preacher and Chartist leader) conducted a massive campaign for factory legislation across the north of England, based on public support. They organised Short-Time Committees, which sent petitions to parliament for factory reform. They were all Tory radicals - paternalists with a smack of Christian socialism. Oastler said, 'Shall the Bible be forgotten because Malthus has written a book?'

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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