Who Do You Think You Are?

Francis Place 1771–1854

How a radical tailor fought to improve the rights of paupers and workers

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Francis Place was born near Drury Lane in London, the son of a sponging-house owner. He went to school to the age of 14 and always valued education as a way of improving the lot of the poor. He was apprentice­d to a breeches-maker, and had early experience of radicalism when he led a strike.

He then joined the London Correspond­ing Society, a group learning from books

that had inspired the American War of Independen­ce and the French Revolution.

In 1800 he set up shop as a tailor at 16 Charing Cross, which became a meeting place for radicals. He was friendly with such leading figures as William Godwin, Jeremy Bentham, and James and John Stuart Mill.

In 1822 he published Illustrati­ons and

Proofs of the Principle of Population in which he controvers­ially proposed that the poor use contracept­ion to reduce poverty.

He subsequent­ly successful­ly worked to repeal the Combinatio­n Acts which outlawed trade unions. He also argued for the electoral Reform Bill of 1832, and in 1838 with William Lovett drafted the People’s Charter calling for all men to have the vote.

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