Lord Shaftesbury was one of the greatest English social reformers of the 19th century. He was inspired by deep religious beliefs and divided his public life between religious work and social reform. He did not become Lord Shaftesbury until 1851, when his father died and he inherited the title. Before that he was Lord Ashley.
He was educated at Harrow School and became a member of parliament in 1826. In 1832 a group of men, mainly working men from the factories of northern England, asked him to be their spokesman in the House of Commons. They wanted to bring about reforms in the factories, where women and children as well as men were working long hours for little money, and they realised that the only way of putting an end to these things was by persuading parliament to pass acts that would make them illegal. Shaftesbury willingly consented to help them, for he was shocked by what he learnt about the factories. He was at the heart of the struggle from then until 1847 when the Ten Hours Act was passed, limiting the working day of women and young people.
He was largely responsible for the Mines Act of 1842, which forbade women, girls, and boys under ten years of age to be employed in coal mines. He also brought about improvements in housing, public health, religious education and the care of lunatics. In 1844 he founded the Ragged Schools Union and he remained its champion for the rest of his life. He also founded the Shoeblack Brigade, and the Refuge and Reformatory Union which provided homes for needy children.
Although Shaftesbury did so much to help working men he did not believe in giving them the vote. He died on October 1, 1885, and the statue of Eros was erected in Piccadilly Circus, London, as a memorial to him.
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