Blue Plaques

PEEL, Sir Robert (1788-1850) & PEEL, Sir Robert (1750-1830)

Plaque erected in 1988 by English Heritage at 16 Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 7EH, City of Westminster

All images © English Heritage

Profession

Manufacturer, Reformer, Politician

Category

History and Biography, Law and Law Enforcement, Philanthropy and Reform, Politics and Administration

Inscription

SIR ROBERT PEEL 1750-1830 Manufacturer and reformer and his son SIR ROBERT PEEL 1788-1850 Prime Minister Founder of the Metropolitan Police lived here

Material

Ceramic

Number 16 Upper Grosvenor Street in Mayfair was the town house of the Peel family for over two decades. It is marked with a blue plaque to both the first Sir Robert Peel (1750–1830) – the manufacturer and reformer – and his son, Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850), Prime Minister and founder of the Metropolitan Police. 

Engraving of Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet, by John Henry Robinson, after Sir Thomas Lawrence
Engraving of Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet, by John Henry Robinson, after Sir Thomas Lawrence © National Portrait Gallery, London

Peel Senior

The first Sir Robert Peel was born into a family of manufacturing and enterprise: his father, also Robert (1723–95), was at the forefront of the early English cotton industry. Peel inherited his father’s ingenuity and started his own business at the age of 22, which focused on the making and printing of calico, a cotton fabric. This grew rapidly and by the early 1790s Peel was an extremely wealthy man. 

From 1800 to 1822 Peel had a lease at number 16 Upper Grosvenor Street in London – a four-storeyed terraced house built around 1730 and stuccoed in 1881. During this time Peel was primarily focused on politics – he had been elected Member of Parliament for Tamworth in 1790. He was also influenced by his interests in manufacturing and industry: in 1802 he introduced the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act. It was effectively the first British factory legislation and sought to improve the conditions for factory workers, especially children. 

Slavery

In 1806 Peel raised a petition against the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill, seeing it as a threat to the cotton industry. Cotton manufacturers relied on sourcing materials from the plantations in the Americas, which exploited enslaved workers and was inextricably linked to the transatlantic slave trade. It made millions for business owners like Peel. His own firm signed the petition alongside other merchants and manufacturers, but they were unsuccessful in blocking the bill which passed in May that year. It appears that Peel's support for the continuance of the slave trade was not discussed when the plaque to him and his son was approved in 1987.

Peel left parliament in 1820, by which time he had also retired from business and only a few peripheral members of the Peel family retained an interest in textiles. He died on 3 May 1830 at Drayton Manor, near Tamworth. 

Portrait of Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, by Henry William Pickersgill
Portrait of Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, by Henry William Pickersgill © National Portrait Gallery, London

Peel Junior

Of Peel's nine surviving children, his heir, Robert, is best known. Born near Manchester and brought up for a career in politics by his father – whom he is said to have resembled in many ways – the younger Peel spent intermittent but important periods of his early life at the house on Upper Grosvenor Street. It was during his time here in 1805, between Harrow School and Oxford University, that he first began to frequent the House of Commons. In 1809, at the age of 21, Peel entered politics. His long and successful career was crowned by two periods as Prime Minister (1834–5 and 1841–6). 

In 1829, during his second posting as Home Secretary, Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force, based at Scotland Yard. Policemen would later be given the nickname ‘bobbies’ or ‘Peelers’ after their founder.

In his second period as Prime Minister, Peel was focused on rebuilding the British economy following the recession which had begun in 1838. He reduced duties on articles of mass consumption and reintroduced income tax. His decision to repeal the Corn Laws (1846) split the Tory party that he had led for so long, and ultimately ended his premiership. 

While Peel did not follow his father into cotton manufacturing, he greatly benefited from his family’s wealth and standing – the elder Peel helped secure him a seat in the House of Commons and he later inherited a huge fortune from him. 

Peel died suddenly in 1850 after sustaining fatal injuries when he was thrown off his horse on Constitution Hill in London. He was buried next to his mother and father in the churchyard of Drayton Bassett.

Nearby Blue Plaques

Nearby Blue Plaques


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