|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
Childhood and Apprenticeship
"I was the best runner and leaper in the school. I had the libraries of the clergyman, physician and lawyer thrown open to me .... I generally finished a volume daily .... I read all the lives I could meet with of the philosophers and great men."
Robert Owen was born in Newtown, Mid-Wales, in 1771, the sixth child of the local saddler and ironmonger. A bright and lively boy he enjoyed all the normal childhood activities, playing football, learning to dance and to play the clarinet. At school he was so advanced for his age that he became a "pupil-teacher" when only seven. Robert was an exceptional boy in many ways. Before he was ten he had read many of the popular classics such as Pilgrims Progress and Robinson Crusoe, as well as books on history and theology normally considered much too difficult for a child.
After leaving school at the age of nine and spending a year as an assistant in the local haberdashery shop, Robert was sent to London to join his elder brother. He soon became apprenticed to James McGuffog, a draper from Stamford in Lincolnshire. His employer was a kind and generous man who encouraged Robert to continue his reading. Robert was happy with the McGuffog family and their liberal views on religion greatly influenced the boy.
The apprenticeship served, Robert returned to London in 1785 to widen his experience and obtain a post as an assistant in a large popular draper's on London Bridge. This was a very different job with long hours and poor conditions. Robert's health began to suffer and after several months he found a new job and moved to Manchester.