The father of Sir Robert Peel the Prime Minister was in his own way as interesting an historical figure as his son the politician, because he exemplifies the captain of industry who rose from relatively humble origins to acquire both great wealth and a title. As Eric Hobsbawm explains in his chapter on the first stage of the Industrial Revolution, the elder Peel came from a typical family whose members worked at both farming and textiles.
The greatest of the early cotton industrialists was Sir Robert Peel (1750-1830), a man who at his death left almost one and a half million pounds-a vast some for those days-and a son just about to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. The Peels were a family of yeomen peasants of middling status who, like others in the Lancashire hills, combined farming and domestic textile production, at any rate from the mid seventeenth century. Sir Robert's father (1723-95) still hawked his goods about the countryside, moved into the town of Blackburn only in 1750, and even then had not yet quite abandoned farming. He had some-non-technical-education, some gift for simple design and invention (or at least the sense to appreciate the inventions of such as his fellow-townsman James Hargreaves, weaver, carpenter and inventor of the "spinning-jenny"), and perhaps £2,000 - £4,000 worth in land, which he mortgaged in the early 1760s when he formed a calico-printing firm with his brother-in-law Haworth and one Yates. . . . By 1790-at the age of forty and a mere eighteen years after entering business himself-Robert Peel was a baronet, a member of Parliament and the acknowledged representative of a new class, the industrialists. [40-41]
Hobsbawm adds that unlike most such newly rich industrialists, the Prime Minister's father did not retire to a country estate and a life of leisure.
Hobsbawm, Eric. Industry and Empire: The Birth of the Industrial Revolution. rev. ed. New York: New Press, 1999.
Content created March 2001. Last updated 17 September 2002