On 28 April this year, we celebrate what would have been Anthony Ashley-Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury’s 218th birthday. We mark this occasion by focusing this blog post on Lord Shaftesbury as a social reformer and a philanthropist, and his papers at Southampton.Born on 28 April in 1801 in Grosvenor Square, London as Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury was the fourth and eldest child of Cropley Ashley-Cooper, who became sixth Earl of Shaftesbury in 1811, and Lady Anne Spencer-Churchill, daughter of the fourth Duke of Marlborough.
Shaftesbury begun his education at Harrow School from 1813-1816, and afterwards attended Christ Church College at the University of Oxford, graduating with a first-class degree in Classics in 1822, a Master’s Degree in 1832, and becoming a Doctor of Civil Law in 1841.On 10 June 1830, Shaftesbury married Lady Emily Cowper, daughter of Emily, Countess Cowper, at St George’s Hanover Square in London. The marriage was a steady and ardent one, leading to the birth of sixth boys, which include (Anthony) Evelyn Melbourne Ashley, politician and biographer, for whom we hold papers, and four girls, born between 1831 and 1849. Following his father’s footsteps, who was MP for Dorchester 1791-1811, and Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords from 1814-1851, Shaftesbury was first elected to Parliament in 1826 as MP for Woodstock, Oxfordshire.
A serious-minded and ambitious young man, Shaftesbury made his first notable speech supporting a Bill to amend the Lunacy Laws in 1828. This was a result of there being little legislation in place to regulate asylums and their treatment of the mentally ill. At this time, the safety of communities came first, and the role of asylums was to protect the public from the mentally ill and to keep the mentally ill secure, leading to abuse and neglect of the patients becoming normality.
In June 1827, Robert Gordon brought to the attention of the House of Commons the state of pauper lunatics, which led to a report issued by an appointed Committee of Inquiry, that revealed failings and cruelties. On 19 February 1928, Gordon brought in a Bill to amend the law for the regulation of lunatic asylums. He brought attention to cases of illegal confinement and intimidation of sane persons, as well as neglect and abuse to the mentally ill. He also pointed out how legislation prevented the College of Physicians of acting on discoveries they had made from the inspections on asylums that they were permitted to conduct. Shaftesbury supported Gordon’s motion, and made his first important speech in Parliament, emphasising the necessity that something should be done in relation to the treatment of the mentally ill, citing several instances that had come within his own awareness. Shaftesbury briefly refers to his first speech in his diary:
“Feb 20th-Last night I ventured to speak, and, God be praised, I did not utterly disgrace myself, though the exhibition was far from glorious; but the subject was upon Lunatic Asylums…Gordon had requested me to second his motion… I did not decline, more especially as I had heard that from certain circumstances my support in this affair would render some small service to the cause. And so, by God’s blessing, my first effort has been for the advancement of human happiness. May I improve hourly!” [MS 62 SHA/PD/1, p36]Following this speech, a Bill transferring powers of lunatic asylums from the College of Physicians to fifteen Metropolitan Commissioners appointed by the Home Secretary, and the condition of private patients having two medical certificates, was passed on 15 July 1828. Shaftesbury became one of these commissioners, and went on to become Chairman in 1833.
Taking over Michael Sadler’s seat in the parliamentary leadership for the campaign for factory reforms and shorter hours of work in January 1833, was where Shaftesbury made his greatest achievements.
During the 1820s and 1830s, factory work was prioritised over education for children. In some areas with populations of over 100,000, there was not a single public day school for poor children, leading to parents sending their children to work for more than 12 hours a day in factories and mills. These “apprentices” were worked cruelly in extremely hot conditions, and in the fumes of oil.
Shaftesbury placed great importance on education for moral and spiritual reasons, and so his first motive was to limit the time worked by children and young people in factories to ten hours a day. He was met with strong opposition, but following a Royal Commission completing investigations, the Factory Act of 1833 was passed on 17th July. In many ways, this new government measure represented a great improvement on previous legislation. The new Act applied to not just cotton mills, but to woollen worsted, hemp, flax, tow, linen, and silk mills unlike previous legislation. No person under the age of eighteen was to be employed for more than twelve hours a day, or sixty-nine a week. The regular factory day for all over twelve and under eighteen was fixed at thirteen and a half hours, and these hours were to be taken between 5.30am and 8.30pm. Children of the protected age were to attend school no less than two hours daily.
However, the legislation did not provide the higher limits and measures of regulation that Shaftesbury and the Ten Hours Movement had advocated, much to his disappointment. The shift system could not be adopted by several employers, and registration of births did not begin until 1837. In addition, the schooling element was not practical in many cases, due to there being no schools in many places. Shaftesbury achieved success in 1842 with the passing of the Mines Act. He continued to work tirelessly towards supporting legislation to protect children into the 1870s.
“24 January 1842-Have written twice to Peel to obtain his final decision respecting the Factory Bill. It is manifest how the tide is setting. I must persist, and we shall break asunder. But it is a formidable step. God alone can strengthen me.” [MS 62 SHA/PD/2, p.88]In August 1840, Shaftesbury advocated for a Commission to enquire into the employment of the children of the poorer classes in mines and collieries. The first report was issued in May 1842. Most workers underground were aged less than thirteen, with some as young as four or five. Children would work up to twelve or fourteen hours a day in damp, dark and hot conditions, often accompanied by rats, and other vermin. Numerous workers would develop heart and lung disease early on in life, and education was completely neglected. The discoveries voiced in the May 1842 report, which included illustrations, awakened the outrage of the whole country.
On June 7th 1842, Shaftesbury introduced a Bill to exclude all females, boys under thirteen, and all parish apprentices, and to forbid the employment of anyone as an engineman under the age of twenty-one or over fifty. The Mines and Collieries Act was passed on 14 July 1842, prohibiting all underground work for women and girls, and for boys under 10. Shaftesbury went on to secure legislation in 1845 to control the employment of children in cotton printworks.Shaftesbury had also turned his attention to chimney-sweep children, known as “the climbing boys”. Children would be bought and sold to a life of grime and hardship, ending for many either from a form of cancer, or from suffocation in a flue. In 1840 Shaftesbury supported a Bill that prohibited the climbing of chimneys by any person under the age of twenty-one, and the apprenticeship to a sweep of any boy under sixteen. Penalties and fines were also proposed for those who broke these rules. Shaftesbury advocated the Bill in the House of Commons by reporting that the current chimney sweep system had resulted in more deprivation and impoverishment than existed in any other Christian country. He also emphasised that conditions for factory children were currently ten times better than that of chimney sweeps. The Bill was passed and the system was ordered to come into force in July 1842.
In the late 1840s, Shaftesbury soon became a leading figure in Irish church missions to Roman Catholics, and the British and Foreign Bible Society, as well as the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes. He wished to continue to made a difference in improving education opportunities for children. Disappointed at his attempt to legislate for the provision of education in factories in 1843, he became the President of the Ragged School Union in 1844, a post that he was to hold for 39 years. This organisation enabled 300,000 destitute children to be educated for free at what were called ragged schools, or industrial feeding schools. In the late 1840s, Shaftesbury actively promoted schemes for supporting the emigration of young people whose prospects in Britain were poor.In 1848 Shaftesbury was appointed as commissioner of the newly formed Board of Health. He used this position to campaign profusely to improve social conditions in Britain, advocating for the closure of overcrowded city burial grounds, and for the improvement of water supplies for the metropolis. In the late 1860s Lord Shaftesbury (of which he became in 1851), also took up the cause of mission to the costermongers (street traders) of London, and promoted the use of ships for housing and training homeless boys. The Shaftesbury papers form part of the Broadlands Archives. They consist of correspondence, papers, diaries, journals, estate and legal papers, family history papers and various papers on religious reflections of Lord Shaftesbury (of which he became in 1851). Other papers of the 7th Earl remain with Ashley-Cooper family papers at St Giles House, Dorset.