Robert Owen

The statue of Robert Owen sits outside of the Cooperative Bank Headquarters on Corporation Street.  Manchester's statue of Robert Owen is a copy of the one erected in Owen's birthplace, Newtown in 1956. This was designed by Gilbert Bayes and completed by W. E. King.

Robert Owen was born in 1771 in Newtown in Wales. At the age of 16 he moved to Manchester to take up a position with a wholesale and retail drapery business. Owen was a fast mover. At the age of 19 he borrowed £100 to set up a company to manufacture spinning mules. Two years later he moved on to become manager of Drinkwater's large spinning factory in Manchester. Exercising the 18th century equivalent of "networking", he got to know David Dale the owner of the Chorton Twist Company in New Lanark, Scotland, at the time Britain's largest cotton spinning business. The two men became good friends and in 1799 Owen married Dale's daughter. With financial assistance from other Manchester business men, Owen paid Dale £60,000 for his four textile mills in New Lanark.

Here is where Owen's reputation as a social engineer began. He was of the opinion that all people were basically good and that the more negative aspects of their behaviour were forced upon them by the difficulties they faced in life. He believed that in the right environment people would be rational, good, and humane. He also saw education as a vital part of this process. In his New Lanark mills he changed the practice of children as young as 5 working 16 hours days. He introduced a minimum age of 10 and provided nursery and infant schools for the under 10s. He also provided a secondary school for his older child employees. He banned physical punishment in the mills and the schools.

Owen travelled the country talking about his ideas, wrote books and even sent his proposals on factory reform to Parliament. He advocated the setting up of new communities, which he called "Villages of Co-operation". He believed that in time such a movement would eliminate capitalism and replace it with a "Co-operative Commonwealth".

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