Sir Robert Peel 1st Baronet a Prime Minister’s Father

What makes a Prime Minister and a Politican?  How many Sir Robert Peels were successful? How did the Industrial Revolution fuel their success?  What happens in their family history as well as their own individual lives that influences their life and ambitions and drives them? The power of that influence and perhaps root of that motivation impacts not just on a family but the life of a nation. Is there a pattern at play here beyond the historically obvious?

How can we using Intriguing History look at the journey of famous families and see how the journey of their lives reflects on and impacts the lives of our nations, our families and tha places where they lived worked and played? IH is not trying to answer this all in one post but to start a strand of snippets about Intriguing Families that over time might shed light on famous families and how their experience impacts on, reflects or does not the lives of the society and time they were a part of.

Sir Robert Peel (1st Baronet)  (25 April 1750 – 3 May 1830) was a great and successful industrialist in the Cotton Industry. Financially he was exceedingly successful leaving an estate of almost £1.5m which was huge in the 19th century. It was to pave the way for his son in politics and as a future Prime Minister.

  • His father was Robert Peel and his grandfather was William Peel.
  • He married  his first wife Ellen YATES on 8 July 1783 and they had 11 children including, Robert (2nd baronet), William Yates Peel (MP 1818–1820,) General Jonathan Peel, soldier and politician, Laurence Peel (who married Lady Jane Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond) and Harriet Peel (who married the 2nd Baron Henley)
  • The firm was Peel and Yates  which set up a mill and housing for their workers at Burrs near Bury
  • Hobsbawm, cites
    • 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 17th 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. . . . “
  • Textiles and industrial innovation
    • Robert Peel (1st’s father) had  experimented with fabric printing in some outbuildings of the family yeoman farm.
    • “He made the fortuitous acquaintance of a government officer who had been posted from London whose former job involved the responsibility of an India based textile company with a unique process for permanently fixing patterns on fabric but had been refused permission to establish a similar company of his own in London. ” citation from Burton on Trent Local History see links below.
    • The two of them established a small fabric printing company in some outbuildings of the family farm in Lancashire. (This is believed to be why Peel & Yates was formed as the firm.)
    • This is  how the intriguing connection was formed with James Hargreaves the inventor of the Spinning Jenny that was working on a nearby farm.
    • That local (geographic) connection was very significant in enabling the Peel’s to industrialise the process of manaufacture on a previously unseen scale. (location is very significant becuase of needs of the Mills, waterflow and transportation and leads into the history and need for the connecting canal system that was vital pre the Railways.)
    • “It had a rack of 40 spinning jenny’s operating in tandem, each turning eight spindles. This was combined with Peel’s printing process to produce his earliest design which featured a single parsley leaf repeated in diagonal rows. This became widely known as ‘Parsley’ Peel and was a great commercial success. So much so that it became his nickname too.”
    • The fortunes of the Peel family, textile industry in the UK and even the name of Burton & Trent are inextricably connected. Burton and Trent (the people) had the waterways rights that connected the flow of trade and the rest you can explore on the comprehensive Burton and Trent Local History website cited below.
  • By 1790 , age 40, only 18 years after entering business himself-Robert Peel was a baronet, a member of Parliament and the acknowledged representative of a new class, the industrialists. 
  • Lady Ellen YATES PEEL died and Sir Robert (1st) remarried to Susanna Clerke  on 18 OCT 1805 five years after he had been made a baronet.  The marriage was unsuccessful and they eventually separated, with Susanna moving to Warwickshire.
  • Sir Robert (1st) became a Baronet of Drayton Manor and Bury in1800 – 1830
  • She died on 10 September 1824, Sir Robert was unwell and did not attend he was deputised by his children.
The future PM’s father had made astonishing progress in the family fortunes, but it appears that he too had benefitted from the early brave move of his father in originally establishing the business. The wealth transformation in the family fortunes however does seem largely due to his building on the initial enterprise of his father so successfully.
If the family history is correct in that they were working domestic textiles from around 1650 however there had been a lot of hard work put in before Sir Robert transformed their fortunes building on the work of his father and grandfather before him.
So in the first baronetw e see a fusion of hardwork, innovation, industrilisation and the beginnings of the philanthropic employer, motivated by the need to create the environs in which his workers could live as well as work.
The Robert Peels thus far are already showing that their lives is a great reflection of what was happening in England at this time. How they as the fathers of substance provided the security by which the son could take on the mantle of power and politics. Is that so different to the background of our current prime minister David Cameron? The industry was different but is the social process? See what you think as we trace through this particular line of thinking in future posts.
There are a lot of strands to explore from looking at just this one famous family, how might it impact on your history project and/or your family and their social history:
  • what motivates and makes a prime minister?
  • how children of famous families evolve or decline and that wealth health and prior success are not guarantees of success in the generations that follow…
  • how the industrial revolution starts to break down the grip on power of the aristocracy in England
  • the Industrial Revolution how it rapidly impacts on the lives of almost everyone and drives the success of empire
  • the connection of Burton on Trent’s Local History to this family saga and the living legacy that still prevails there
  • not one mention yet of the founding of the Police, we already have a lot to consider for more posts connections and locations from just this one starting point.
The first thoughts around Sir William Peel (2nd Barnets) father seems to be leading towards some more intriguing connections.
If you would like to track these posts then bookmark our Intriguing Families category or Intriguing Features.


Hobsbawm, Eric. Industry and Empire: The Birth of the Industrial Revolution. rev. ed. New York: New Press, 1999. (available on Amazon Kindle and Paperback as link.

Burton on Trent’s Local History


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