Letter from Thomas Whitaker to Robert Owen

Scope and Content

Manuscript note from Whitaker advising Owen that "By order of the Central Board I forward the enclosed copy petition". Written on the back of the "Prospectus of a Metropolitan Building Club (Established December 1850)", which proposes the erection or purchase of a large hall or institution to be called the "Temple of Free Thought" and invites potential supporters to purchase a share in the venture, this document appears to have no direct connection to the mentioned petition. Read and adopted on July 2nd 1851 by the Central Board of the Rational Society, the petition refers to the establishment by Robert Owen in 1835 of "a society for the practical carrying out of his views on co-operation". Legally ratified in 1837 as the National Community Friendly Society (renamed the Rational Society in 1843), it consisted of upwards of sixty branches spread throughout the cities and towns of England and Scotland. With a membership of several thousand, mainly working-class men, the society encouraged them to subscribe money in order to be able carry out its objects.As part of this remit it purchased an estate in Queenwood, Hampshire, with the intention of establishing it along the lines of the New Harmony community in America (the estate was renamed Harmony Hall in deference to this). However, following its purchase and renovation certain financial irregularities became evident resulting in members and their families on the estate being compelled to leave at great personal financial loss. This, together with certain actions taken by John Finch, a prominent Liverpool iron merchant and one time president of the society, e.g. breaking into the estate in order to obtain official books, papers, documents and correspondence belonging to the society, resulted in the petition being presented to the Houses of Parliament. Through this the society urged the House to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made therein, hoping to clear its name whilst obtaining an acceptable settlement on behalf of those member s who had suffered financial loss and hardship.


Stamped number: 1931