Lord Shaftesbury Stands Up for the Abused

This is the day that …Anthony Ashley-Cooper died in 1885 at the age of 84.

Better known as Lord Shaftesbury, he has been described as “the outstanding Christian layman of the 19th century.”

He was born on 28 April 1801 at 24 Grosvenor Square, London, the oldest son of the sixth earl of Shaftesbury. With strong family connections and good academics at Oxford he was well set for a political career. He became Lord of the Admiralty in 1834, but he chose not to run for prominence in any party, in order to more effectively help people in need.

A committed Christian he was active in support of organizations which took the gospel and the Bible to ordinary people, such as the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Church Missionary Society, YMCA and the London City Mission.

His first social cause was the plight of lunatics who were treated most inhumanely. He stuck with that cause and changed the relevant legislation through his life.

His next cause was to limit the working day in mills to 10 hours per day. This was vehemently opposed but he eventually won out. He was a man of action and he strengthened his case on many issues by first-hand investigation of the conditions. He visited hospitals and met many who were maimed and deformed through their working conditions.

He then campaigned against women and children being used in mines. Children as young as four spent 12 hours a day on all fours, pulling carts in the dark. He freed women and any child under 13 years from working in mines.

Then he took on the cause of boys apprenticed to chimney sweeps. Then came education of the neglected poor, leading to the setting up of “ragged schools” through which 10,000 children were assisted in his lifetime.

Then he turned his attention to providing quality housing for underprivileged, creating model villages and establishing thousands of well-equipped homes that were affordable to the working class.

Always the aristocrat he was keen to promote evangelical endeavour where he found it. However he objected to the Salvation Army due to its equal treatment of women in leadership, to which he disagreed. He labelled William Booth as the “antichrist”.

It was he who led the fight against child labour … five year-olds ankle deep in water working pumps in rat-infested mines … children forced to climb and clean chimneys by unscrupulous masters … and the cruelty often inflicted upon small children who worked 12 or 14 hours a day in the mills.

He was chairman of the Ragged Schools Union for 39 years … he supported the newly formed British and Foreign Bible Society … and the Protestant Alliance … and the Church Missionary Society … and the Young Men’s Christian Association (which was Christian in those days!) And more!

On his deathbed he asked for Psalm 23 to be read to him each morning, and “frequently those present heard him murmur his favourite prayer, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’.”

Don Prout recommends: If you can get hold of a copy of John Pollock’s biography of this great man called Shaftesbury, the Poor Man’s Earl, read it! Or Grace Irwin’s The Seventh Earl is equally fascinating. Or, I Stand Alone by Jenny Robertson.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.