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Caleb Wright
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Caleb Wright (1 August 1810 – 28 April 1898) was a factory owner and Liberal Member of Parliament who was born in Tyldesley, Lancashire, north-west England. Wright was a self-made man who started work in a cotton factory when he was nine years old. He attended night schools while working through the day and progressed to be a manager.

In 1845 Wright entered into partnership with H. P. Barton and built the first of the Barnfield Mills,Barnfield Mills, locally known as ''Caleb Wright's'', was a complex of six cotton spinning mills on either side of Union Street in Tyldesley. which contained 20,000 spindles. He was elected to the town’s first local board in 1863 and was invited to stand as the Liberal candidate for the newly created Leigh division in the 1885 General Election, becoming its first Member of Parliament.

Family and chapel


Caleb Wright, born in August 1810, was one of the thirteen children of William Wright, a bookkeeper at J & G Jones’ New Mills in Factory Street, Tyldesley.[1] In 1826 his father hired him to spin for the Jones’ brothers for three years, and the note by which he was bound was a treasured possession. After a twelve-hour working day, Wright attended night classes and Sunday school and taught himself to read and figure.[2]

Wright’s family were members of the Unitarian congregation at Chowbent ChapelAn active Unitarian place of worship in Atherton, Greater Manchester that was built in 1721. , where his father was the organist.[2] Wright played the trombone, but within a month had learned to play the organ so he could replace his father. In 1890 Wright donated a site next to the chapel for Chowbent Sunday School. When in London he attended Bedford Chapel in Bloomsbury, where Stopford Brooke was minister.[3]

Wright married twice, his first wife was Jane Eckersley whose family was also involved in the spinning trade in Tyldesley. Their only son predeceased him. His second marriage to Annie Kirkpatrick who was 27 years his junior in 1859 produced two sons and four daughters.[1]

Cotton


Wright began work as a “piecer” when he was nine years old at J & G Jones’ cotton mill in Tyldesley.[1] In 1826, his father hired him to spin for the Jones’ brothers for three years and the note by which he was bound was a treasured possession. After a twelve-hour working day, Wright attended night classes and Sunday school and taught himself to read and figure.[2] He rose to become manager of the mill in 1830.[1] In 1841 he became manager of Ormerod and Hardcastle’s Mill in Bolton.[2] Four years later in partnership with Henry Barton he established his own cotton-spinning business in Tyldesley and built the first of the Barnfield Mills.[4] The only short-time working in the mill was in 1847 when for a fortnight when a four-day week was in operation.

Their partnership was dissolved in 1855 and Caleb Wright and Company was established. The mills worked full-time during the Lancashire cotton famine when the American Civil War interrupted supplies and inflated the price of raw cotton. Information received from Wrights’s brother who had emigrated to Philadelphia, led him to speculatively buy a large supply of cotton from Egypt which kept the mills operating. The company expanded and by the time of Wright’s death owned six mills. He retired from the company in about 1879 when Charles Eckerley took over. [5]

Politics


Aware of his own humble beginnings, Wright was a sympathetic employer, promoting education, self-improvement and the temperance movement. In his home town he was president of the local Mechanics’ Institute, campaigned to build the public baths and supported the Ten-Hours Movement to reduce working hours in factories.[3] During his time as an employer there was never a pay dispute in his mills.[1] He was involved in Liberal politics, and after the Local Government Act of 1858 was adopted by the township, Wright was elected to the first Tyldesley Local Board in October 1863.[6]

At the 1885 general election Wright was invited to stand as the Liberal candidate for the newly-created Leigh division. His Tory opponent, Lees Knowles, polled 3,725 votes as against Wright’s 4,261,[2] and he was elected as the first member of parliament for the new constituency of Leigh. He was re-elected at the next two general elections, before retiring from parliament in 1895. Politically, Wright supported Home Rule for Ireland and women’s suffrage.[1]

Wright, “Owd Caleb”, died at his home, Lower Oak, in Shakerley, Tyldesley in 1898 aged 87. He is buried in Tyldesley Cemetery.[7]

Citations



Bibliography


Bebbington, D. W. “Unitarian Members of Parliament in the Nineteenth Century A Catalogue.” Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, vol. 24, no. 3, Apr. 2009, p. 54, http://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/Unitarian%20Members%20of%20Parliament%20in%20the%20Nineteenth%20Century.pdf.
LCWDA. “Death of Mr Caleb Wright J. P. of Tyldesley Sketch of His Life Remarkable Career.” Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser, 29 Apr. 1898, p. 5.
LCWDA. “The Late Mr Caleb Wright J. P. of Tyldesley, Imposing Funeral.” Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser, 6 May 1898, p. 8.
Lunn, John. A Short History of the Township of Tyldesley. Tyldesley Urban District Council, 1953.
Staff writer. “Biographies of Candidates Wright, Caleb.” The Times, 29 June 1892, p. 4.