Robert Owen was born in Newtown in 1771 and was one of the most influential thinkers and social reformers of his time. His writing and campaigning were pivotal to 19th century advances in universal education, factory reform, and the development of the co-operative movement. The Museum is in the centre of Newtown just a few feet from where Owen was born. It tells Owen’s story through a collection of pictures, objects and papers. But there are also some play items for younger historians and visitors can explore the museum website or watch videos about Owen.
Owen left Newtown at the age of 10 to be apprenticed as a draper. By his early twenties he was the owner of the largest cotton mill in the world at New Lanark in Scotland. Despite his commercial success, Owen had become concerned about the living and working conditions he had seen in the cotton towns and became convinced that universal education and better living conditions would improve lives ‘a hundred fold’. He built schools, houses and a co-operative shop for his own workers in New Lanark and campaigned throughout his life ‘to promote the well-being and happiness of every man, woman and child without regard … (to)…sect, party, country and colour’.
Robert Owen loved Newtown and records in his autobiography happy days playing in the hills around the town. He returned home in 1858 and in his last hours spoke of his dream “to make Newtown a paradise and all its inhabitants angels”. He is buried alongside his parents in the grounds of the ruined St Mary’s church on the banks of the River Severn.
Robert Owen, son of Newtown and founder of the co-operative movement, is celebrated in the Robert Owen Museum, situated at the top of Broad Street in the centre of Newtown. The museum features paintings, drawings and artefacts which explain his visionary ideas about the relationship between employers and employees.