Robert Owen statue, Newtown

Robert Owen statue, Newtown

This statue was erected in 1956 to commemorate Newtown-born industrialist and social reformer Robert Owen (1771-1858). Designed by Gilbert Bayes, it stands in the Robert Owen Memorial Garden. In 1995 a replica statue was erected outside the Co-operative Bank’s headquarters in Manchester.

Robert’s father, also called Robert, was an ironmonger and saddler in Newtown. At the age of 10, young Robert was sent to Lincolnshire as a draper’s apprentice. He progressed quickly up the career ladder, in London and later in the cotton mills of Manchester – where he was a manager by his early 20s. He was appalled by the conditions in the mills and feared that child workers were being psychologically damaged.

In his late 20s, Robert became the co-owner of a cotton mill in New Lanark, south of Glasgow, and sought to create better conditions for the workers and their families. He improved the mills and village buildings. A shop sold goods at fair prices. An infants’ school and evening classes for adults were provided. Visitors included the Tsar of Russia. In 1815 the government asked him for advice on tackling high unemployment after the end of the war with France.

Robert wrote and lectured on his theories for social reform. His argument that the imperfections in every religion were a constant cause of conflict drew opposition from some quarters. His attempt in the 1820s to create a perfect village, called New Harmony, in Indiana, USA, was not a success, but some of his followers in Britain began to set up co-operative movements and shops.

He had three sons by his wife Catherine Dale. They took their mother’s surname and had distinguished careers in the USA.

Robert retired to Newtown shortly before his death. In 1903 the Co-operative Union part-funded the creation of a library in Newtown in his memory. This is now home to the Robert Owen Museum, where you can see many of his possessions and discover more about him.

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