Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet

(5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850)

Peel was a British Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1834–35 and 1841–46) and twice as Home Secretary (1822–27 and 1828–30).

He is regarded as the father of modern British policing, owing to his founding of the Metropolitan Police Service leading to a new type of officer known in tribute to him as “bobbies” and “peelers”. Peel was one of the founders of the modern Conservative Party.

He played a central role in making free trade a reality and set up a modern banking system. His government’s major legislation included the Mines and Collieries Act 1842, the Income Tax Act 1842, the Factories Act 1844 and the Railway Regulation Act 1844 join with Whigs and Radicals to repeal the Corn Laws led to his resignation as Prime Minister in 1846.

In the 20th century Peel was idealized in heroic terms. – The Great Conservative patriot… a conciliator who put nation before party and established consensus politics.

The Peel Statue

Peel Park, Bradford 3, Grade II listed, Bronze, Sculptor- William Behnes

Created in 1855, the Peel statue was the first public statue erected in Bradford and was originally located in what was Peel Place on Leeds Road, but re-erected post 1926 in Peel Park.
Peel was popular with local industrialists for encouraging free trade which benefited the textile industry. In 1850 funding was raised from Sir Robert Milligan, Sir Titus Salt, Forbes and Company and by numerous other private subscriptions to create Peel Park.
However, in the years before he repealed the corn laws he was extremely unpopular in Bradford and a life-size effigy of him was burnt – on the very spot where his statue was later erected. This initial protest may have been linked to his being PM at the time of the famine in Ireland.

The Peel Statue Today

Following the Black Lives Matter campaign in 2020 and the call to remove statues linked with slavery, such as the statue depicting slave-trader, Edward Colston, the focus shifted to Sir Robert Peel and a petition emerged to remove the statue celebrating him in Peel Park.

However, Sir Robert Peel (second baronet) is often confused with his father (first baronet), who shared the same name and benefited (through the use of cotton in his textile mills) from the slave trade. The first baronet raised a petition in opposition to the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill which he saw as a threat to the cotton industry and merchants’ trade interests.

Whilst Peel’s father campaigned fervently against the ending of slavery, Peel made several speeches in Parliament warning of the dangerous consequences of abolition; that it could cause conflict and civil war in the West Indies. It is also clear that the younger Sir Robert Peel’s education privilege, power and position as an MP were funded by cash generated through his father’s businesses which benefited from slavery.

The initial petition which called for Peel’s statue to be removed also called for Peel Park itself to be renamed. But, a counter-petition, to keep the statue, was quickly created in response. There were 125 signatures on the petition to remove the statue, while 1,308 people signed to say they want to keep it. The person who set up the initial petition then removed it and said: “I’ve decided to delete the petition and come up with another way to make a change.”