Robert Blincoe was born in 1792. At four years old Blincoe was placed in St. Pancras Workhouse, London. He was later told that his family name was Blincoe but he never discovered what happened to his parents. At the age of six Robert was sent to work as a chimney boy. As Nicholas Blincoe, his great-great-great-grandson, has pointed out: "As coal replaced wood-burning grates, chimneys became narrower to create a more intense draught. This was why small boys were needed, but the work was dangerous - the children risked injury, suffocation, lung disease and scrotal cancer as they climbed the chimney stacks. Robert was warned by older inmates not to put himself forward." However, Robert was not a success and after a few months he was returned to the workhouse.
In 1799, Lamberts recruited Robert and eighty other boys and girls from St. Pancras Workhouse. The boys were to be instructed in the trade of stocking weaving and the girls in lacemaking at Lowdam Mill, situated ten miles from Nottingham. Blincoe completed his apprenticeship in 1813, worked as an adult operative until 1817, when he set up his own small cotton-spinning business. Blincoe married a woman called Martha in 1819.
John Brown, a journalist from Bolton, met Robert Blincoe in 1822. He later explained: "It was in the spring of 1822, after having devoted a considerable time to the investigating of the effect of the manufacturing system, and factory establishments, on the health and morals of the manufacturing populace, that I first heard of the extraordinary sufferings of Robert Blincoe. At the same time, I was told of his earnest wish that those sufferings should, for the protection of the rising generation of parish children, be laid before the world. If this young man had not consigned to a cotton-factory, he would probably have been strong, healthy, and well grown; instead of which, he is diminutive as to statue, and his knees are grievously distorted."
Brown interviewed Blincoe for an article he was writing on child labour. Brown found the story so fascinating he decided to write Blincoe's biography. John Brown gave the biography to his friend Richard Carlile who was active in the campaign for factory legislation. Later that year John Brown committed suicide.
Robert Carlile eventually decided to publish Robert Blincoe's Memoir in his radical newspaper, The Lion. The story appeared in five weekly episodes from 25th January to 22nd February 1828. The story also appeared in Carlile's The Poor Man's Advocate. Five years later, John Doherty published Robert Blincoe's Memoir in pamphlet form.
As a result of a fire in 1828, Robert Blincoe's spinning machinery was destroyed. Unable to pay his debts, Blincoe was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. After his release he became a cotton-waste dealer and his wife ran a grocer's shop.
Blincoe's business was successful and he was able to pay for his three children to be educated. One of his sons went on to graduate from Queens College, University of Cambridge to become a Church of England clergyman.
In January 1837, Richard Bentley, the owner of the journal, Bentley's Miscellany. , agreed to publish Oliver Twist, a serial written by Charles Dickens. It has been argued by John Waller, the author of Oliver: The Real Oliver Twist (2005) argues that he took his story from the memoirs of Blincoe.
Robert Blincoe carried on the business of a cotton-waste dealer in Turner Street. Abel Heywood got to know him in Manchester during this period: "He was a little man in height, his legs being very crooked, the result of his early life in a cotton factory."
Robert Blincoe died of bronchitis at the home of his daughter in Gunco Lane, Macclesfield in 1860.