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Letter to John Foster of 1 Vincent's Square, Westminster, referring to hiswork on factory legislation and friend Michael Sadler.

Administrative / Biographical History

Richard Oastler 1789 - 1861

Richard Oastler, the son of a clothing merchant, was born in Leeds on 20thDecember, 1789. Oastler attended a Moravian boarding school from 1798 to 1810and became a commission agent. In 1820 he was appointed as steward for ThomasThornhill, the absentee landlord of Fixby, a large estate near Huddersfield,West Yorkshire.

Unlike many of the people in the factory reform movement, Oastler was asupporter of the Tory Party. He opposed universal suffrage and trade unions.At the same time, Oastler believed it was the responsibility of the rulingclass to protect the weak and vulnerable. He thought the 1834 Poor Law wastoo harsh and campaigned for reform. Oastler believed the best protection forchildren was to implement a maximum ten hour day. On 29th September 1830,Oastler wrote a letter to the Leeds Mercury attacking the employment ofyoung children in textile factories. John Hobhouse, the Radical MP read theletter and decided to introduce a bill restricting child labour. Afterdetails of Hobhouse's Bill was published, workers began forming what becameknown as Short Time Committees in an effort to help promote its passagethrough Parliament. The first Short Time Committees were formed inHuddersfield and Leeds but within a few months, with the help of RichardOastler, they were established in most of the major textile towns.

Hobhouse'sproposals for factory legislation were discussed in Parliament in September1831. Richard Oastler and the Short Time Committees were furious whenHobhouse agreed to make changes to his proposals. Although Hobhouse's Billwas passed it only applied to cotton factories and failed to provide anymachinery for its enforcement. Unhappy with what Hobhouse had achieved, theShort Time Committees continued to work for factory legislation. Known forhis oratory, Richard Oastler soon became leader of what was now known as theTen Hour Movement.

In 1836 Oastler began advocating workers use strikes andsabotage in their campaign for factory legislation and changes in the poorlaw. When Thomas Thornhill heard about this he sacked Oastler from his postas steward of Fixby. He also began legal proceedings against Oastler forunpaid debts. Unable to pay back the money he owed, Oastler was jailed fordebt in December 1840. His friends began raising money to help him but it wasnot until February 1844 that the debt was paid and Oastler was released fromFleet Prison. Once released, Oastler returned to his campaign for the tenhour day.

In 1847, Parliament passed an act that stated that children between13 and 18 and women were not to work for more than ten hours a day and 58hours a week. However, the 1847 Factory Act only applied to parts of thetextile industry. It was not until 1867, six years after the death of RichardOastler, that the Factory Acts applied to all places of manufacturing.


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