(20 December 1789 – 22 August 1861)
Born in Leeds, Richard Oastler, known as ‘the Factory King’ was a campaigner.
In 1830 after being a witness to the horrific treatment and 16 hour days of children in the textile mills of Bradford, Oastler worked for the reform of working conditions. As part of his campaign for the ten-hour working day he described the use of children in the mills as ‘Yorkshire slavery’. The Factory Acts of 1833 and 1847 which reduced working hours for women and children owe much to his efforts. He also campaigned against the Poor Law amendment act which set up tougher conditions for the poorest in society.
Brought up in a Methodist family, Oastler was a devout Christian, and a ‘Tory radical.’ He was led by his understanding of the Bible rather than a belief in the supremacy of market forces and free trade. He was also a well-known abolitionist supporting Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery.
In 1836 after campaigning tirelessly Oastler’s health broke down. Then in 1840 after a series of disagreements fuelled by the heated politics of the day, he was dismissed by his employer and spent over 3 years in a debtor’s prison. Friends paid his debts and he was later vindicated.
The Oastler Statue
Oastler Square, Bradford 1, Grade II listed, Bronze, Sculptor- John Birnie Philip. The sculpture shows Oastler standing protectively by two factory children.
After Oastler’s death, it was decided that a permanent memorial to him should be created. A national subscription raised the money for a statue and Bradford was chosen as the most suitable site.
The statue was unveiled in Forster Square, on Whit Saturday 1869 by Lord Shaftesbury.
Church bells were rung and all places of business in Bradford were shut for the occasion. It was estimated that the crowds at the ceremony and along the procession route totalled over 100,000. In 1929 the statue was moved to Rawson square and in 1968 it was transferred too it present site
Today Oastler is celebrated for fighting a long hard battle against the establishment to improve the lives of poor children during Victorain times. Sites across the Bradford district including the shopping centre next to the statue and schools bare his name.
However, as an abolitionist who would have known in detail the crimes against humanity involved in enslavement of black people in the Caribbean and at a crucial time in the abolitionist movement, he co-opted the cause to focus the lives of children in the mills. Describing them as ‘Yorkshire slaves’ and asserting that they suffered –
in a state of slavery, more horrid than are the victims of that hellish system ‘colonial slavery’ …in the worsted mills in the town and neighbourhood of Bradford!!!