Robert Owen and the architect Joseph Hansom

(3 customer reviews)


Robert Owen and the architect Joseph Hansom – An unlikely form of co-operation

Llyfr newydd gan Penelope Harris
a new book by Penelope Harris

Price £14.95 incl. P&P  (Free postage UK only – see Cart for International rates).

Penelope has agreed to make a donation to the museum on each book sale.

3 in stock

SKU: Robert Owen and Joseph Hansom book Categories: , Tags: , , , , ,


Robert Owen and the architect Joseph Hansom – An unlikely form of co-operation

Llyfr newydd gan Penelope Harris
a new book by Penelope Harris

ISBN number : 9781858587172
Price : £14.95 incl. postage. (Free postage UK only –  see Cart for International postage).

Penelope has agreed to make a donation to the museum on each book sale.

Robert Owen was a charismatic pipe-dreamer, bound to unrealistic expectations. Though born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, by the time he met Joseph Hansom in Birmingham, he had become a self-taught manager of successful cotton mills in Manchester and New Lanark, Scotland. It was here that he developed his theories of early education and campaigned for factory reform. Lacking the support he needed to advance his plans, he purchased a community in America, only to lose all his money. The much younger Hansom was an ambitious architect, who fast-tracked his own career by winning the competition to design Birmingham Town Hall. Birmingham was a proactive town, open to Thomas Attwood’s efforts to bring about the Great Reform Bill, and the advancement of newly-formed trade unions. Along with his partner, Edward Welch, Hansom became so involved in politics that his attention was diverted away from the Town Hall, which resulted in both their bankruptcies. Nevertheless Hansom re-established his career, while Owen strove to develop his master ‘Plan’, the building of a self-sufficient community. He leased a property in a remote part of Hampshire and appointed Hansom. Despite Herculean efforts (as Hansom described the Town Hall), the community collapsed. Under different ownership, it became home to the most prestigious scientists in Britain.

Format : Paperback
Pages : 152
Dimensions : 240mm x 170mm
Illustrations : 49 colour and black & white

About the Author
Dr. Harris is an authority on Hansom and the development of the architectural profession in the early nineteenth-century. She is an active member of the Victorian Society and Education Officer of the Robert Owen Museum. The author has agreed to make a donation to the museum on each book sale.

Additional information

Weight 400 g
Dimensions 23.9 × 17.1 × 1.3 cm

3 reviews for Robert Owen and the architect Joseph Hansom

  1. Andy Newham

    ‘Father of British Socialism’ meets ‘Socialist Architect’
    A review of Penelope Harris’ new book ‘Robert Owen and the architect Joseph Hansom: An unlikely form of co-operation’ – by Colin Laker (Curator of Robert Owen Museum)
    New book by Penelope Harris. Available for sale in the online shop.
    Dr Harris, the Museum’s Education Officer, has combined her knowledge of Joseph Hansom (1803-1882) (on whom she did her PhD and produced her first book) and her research on Robert Owen (1771-1858) to produce an interesting joint study of the two very different characters, set against a backdrop across which flit other interesting characters, such as Thomas Attwood and Daniel O’Connell (rather like David Cameron’s fleeting background appearance at the time of Norman Lamont’s announcement of the withdrawal of the UK from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on ‘Black Wednesday’ in 1992). Neither Owen nor Hansom, it would appear, were easy characters for others to get on with, and neither were strangers to failure or debt. Both, rather oddly, also ended up probably being more famous for things that were not at the core of their interests – Hansom for the design of the hansom cab rather than for any of his architectural exploits and Owen for being a successful businessman rather than initiating his ‘New View of Society’, the New Moral World. Their joint story is also almost exclusively based in two contrasting landscapes; the industrial urban environment of Birmingham and the rural utopia of East Tytherley on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border.
    Harris sketches out the early years of both Owen and Hansom before concentrating on the first key period in which they co-operate together, ‘between 1829 (Owen’s return from America) and 1834 (Hansom’s bankruptcy)’. It is during this period that Hansom and his business partner, Edward Welch, won the competition to design the Birmingham Town Hall and ‘succumbed to Owen’s influence and became radicalised’. They were just two of the ‘numerous devoted followers’ that ‘Robert Owen’s charismatic personality enabled him to gather’. However, it should also be noted that the hundreds, probably thousands, of people who were actively involved in the organisations which Owen, Hansom and Welch became involved in, especially the Equitable Labour Exchanges (which had a branch in Birmingham as well as London), the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (and its forerunner the Operative Builders’ Union) and the campaign to try to save the Tolpuddle Martyrs from being transported to Australia and Van Diemen’s Land for their involvement in trade unions, were not attracted to Owen’s personality, but to his ideas, especially those contained in his Report to the County of Lanark of 1820. It was this document, with its statement that ‘Manual labour, properly directed, is the source of all wealth, and of all national prosperity’, that led to an upsurge of interest in and action around Owen’s ideas in Britain during his absence in America setting up New Harmony. These were mostly working class, or at least artisan, men and women, who, on their own initiative, founded, as Harris notes, the first Co-operative Society in Birmingham and the Ralahine Owenite community in County Clare. Dealing with other people’s perceptions of your protagonist’s ideas and with movements that career along almost independent of your subject’s influence (as happened with both the Labour Exchanges and the GNCTU) is difficult in any biography, never mind a double one, and acknowledging this ‘history from below’ is probably the least effective part of this book.
    Owen, on the white horse, at the head of the protest in Copenhagen Fields against the Tolpuddle labourers’ sentence, in 1834
    However, the second time that Owen and Hansom link up, over the creation of the Harmony Hall (sometimes known as Queenwood) community at Tytherley in the 1840s, is much more successful in this format, partly because it is much more about the building of the community – and the problems associated with it – which was very much in the hands of Owen and Hansom, rather than any putative mass movement. Harris charts in detail the attempt to move Owen’s ‘vision for Tytherley’ from the ‘totally nebulous’, through his ‘unfettered, and slightly self-defeating, ambition to have “nothing but the best”’, to Hansom’s task of creating ‘buildings for residents and a school “on the most magnificent scale”’. The ambition of both Owen and Hansom was immense, summed up in the letters carved over the entrance door, C M – the Commencement of the Millennium: Harmony Hall was to represent nothing less than Hansom’s architectural embodiment of Owen’s New Moral World. As Harris shows, more than £40,000 was spent on the Tytherley project; George Holyoake noted on a visit in 1844 that Harmony Hall was ‘more like Drayton Manor, the residence of Robert Peel, than the home of pioneers’. ‘Right to the bitter end’, Harris notes, ‘money was being spent on Social Halls (Halls of Science)’, but eventual financial crisis in 1845 meant that it was sold to Quaker educationalist George Edmondson (who had co-incidentally employed Hansom as architect for work on his own property in Lancashire, Tulketh Hall). The book guides the reader through a period in which ‘events occurred in rapid succession, in several directions at once’, especially in the 1830s, and has all the things you could ask to help it do so – a clear and informative timeline, a good set of mini-biographies of relevant figures such as Attwood, William Pare and George Holyoake, and sections which focus on the wider politics of, for instance, the Birmingham Political Union and the Derby Lockout. It is well, and informatively, illustrated throughout, with many illustrations of Hansom’s architectural work, both before and after his involvement with Owen, such as Beaumaris Gaol and the Bulkeley Arms Hotel on Ynys Mo ̂n, St Bueno’s College and Todmorden Town Hall.
    Penelope Harris’ book shows how Owen and Hansom were remarkable characters, who were, in different ways, both atypical and representative of their times, with Owen, in her words, being, ‘a man of ideas… by no means void of imagination or easily swayed by convention’ and Hansom having a design approach which was ‘perverse with rebellious touches of defiance’. Both had more failures than successes, but both deserve to be remembered and read about, and this is a good place to start to encounter them both.”
    Colin Laker (Museum Curator)

  2. Norman Davies

  3. Rex Shayler

    “The inclusion of Birmingham and Hansom adds a new dimension to the complexities of Robert Owen’s life … a great bit of research … should grace the shelves of any museum or library where his name rests”. Charles Rex Shayler, Chairman of the Robert Owen Museum and relative of the architect who designed the building in which it is housed.

Add a review
Translate »
error: Website content is protected.. Please contact us for permission to use any text or image from this website. Thank you.
Scroll to Top Skip to content