Francis Jones explores the life and work of Robert Owen, the Welsh businessman, philanthropist and social reformer who was born in Newtown, 250 years ago.
Hailed as the father of the cooperative movement, and often as ‘the first socialist’, Owen was responsible for the huge advancements in working conditions and education that led to radical improvements in the lives of workers and children across the world, and which saw him become one of the most important and revered figures of the industrial revolution.
As manager of a large Manchester cotton mill at the age of just 19, Owen was dismayed by the appalling conditions which the workers, including children as young as 5 years old, were forced to endure. So when he purchased the New Lanark cotton mill with business partners in 1799, he set about putting his ideas fully into practice. He reduced the number of hours in the working week and prevented children from working until they reached the age of ten. He introduced a system of free education which included a nursery, so that mothers could continue to work, and the world’s first infant school, in which corporal punishment was banned, and where singing and dancing were established as important facets of education – something that was frowned upon by contemporary educational practitioners.
It was this radical, progressive mixture of humanitarianism, good business practice and altruism that had people flocking from all over the world to see Owen’s methods in action, and which continue to inspire people across the world to this day.
In a programme that takes us to Owen’s birthplace and to the UNESCO World Heritage site that New Lanark has now become, Francis explores the life and work of one of our most celebrated and revered compatriots.
(On BBC website until 4/10/21)