Joseph Brotherton was born on 22nd May, 1783 at Whittington, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Joseph's father, John Brotherton, was an excise collector and in 1789 the family moved to Salford. John Brotherton became involved in the textile trade and eventually started his own cotton manufacturing business. After leaving school Joseph worked for his father and by 1802 became a partner in the company.
In 1805 Joseph joined the Swedenborg Church in Salford. Four years later the movement became known as the Bible Christian Church. This new Nonconformist movement stressed strict vegetarianism and total abstinence from alcohol. Brotherton and his wife Martha were extremely active in the Bible Christian Church. In 1812 Martha Brotherton wrote Vegetable Cooking, the first cookery book devoted to vegetarian recipes. Brotherton wrote several books on his religious beliefs including Facts Authentic in Science and Religion (1816) and Letters on Religious Subjects (1821). It is believed that On Abstinence from Intoxicating Liquors (1821) was the first teetotal statement to appear in Britain. In this tract, which was also published in the USA, Brotherton argued that alcohol was the source of almost all the evils of society. As well as writing books and pamphlets, Brotherton also frequently delivered sermons from the pulpit.
Brotherton was a supporter of parliamentary reform and in 1815 became a member of a group of Nonconformist liberals that used to meet in the home of John Potter. Others in the group included John Edward Taylor, Archibald Prentice, John Shuttleworth, Absalom Watkin, William Cowdray, Thomas Potter and Richard Potter. Influenced by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Joseph Priestley, the group strongly objected to a system that denied such important industrial cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, representation in the House of Commons.
The group also supported Joseph Lancaster and his Nonconformist schools movement. Brotherton, like other members of the group, was an advocate of religious toleration, and argued in favour of Catholic Emancipation.
Joseph Brotherton was horrified by the Peterloo Massacre and like other members of the John Potter group, campaigned for a Parliamentary inquiry into the events that took place on the 16th August, 1819. Brotherton was also involved in organising the Declaration and Protest petition that was signed by 5,054 people in Manchester.
In 1820 Brotherton joined with John Shuttleworth and Thomas Potter to form the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Brotherton also played an active role in the campaign against child labour in the textile industry.
In December 1830 Brotherton joined a committee of men including Thomas Potter, Absalom Watkin, Richard Potter, Mark Philips, William Harvey and William Baxter to campaign for parliamentary reform. The group were moderate reformers and did not fully support the demands of the radicals who wanted universal suffrage. Watkin was given the task of drawing up the petition asking the government to grant Manchester and Salford three Members of Parliament.
The campaign was successful and in 1832 Joseph Brotherton was elected at the M.P. for Salford. He served in the House of Commons for the next twenty-four years. Brotherton was so popular with the people of Salford that no other candidates stood against him in 1847 and 1852.
In the House of Commons Brotherton played an important role in the campaign for factory legislation. A strong supporter of Richard Oastler and his campaign for the ten hour day, Brotherton argued that government interference was essential because no single employer could reduce hours while others continued to work their employees for long hours. Brotherton criticised those who argued that Parliament should not attempt to control individual freedom. Brotherton pointed out that workers in the textile industry did not have any choice in the matter; either they worked long hours or they lost their jobs.
In Parliament Joseph Brotherton voted against the 1834 Poor Law and in favour of the repeal of the Corn Laws. He was also one of the first members of Parliament to argue against the death penalty. He pointed out that capital punishment was contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and made repeated attempts to persuade the House of Commons to establish a Parliamentary Committee to investigate the subject. Brotherton also argued for a reduction in military spending and favoured the formation of peace groups.
Brotherton supported the expansion of local government powers and was a strong advocate of the Municipal Corporations Act that was passed in 1835. Throughout his political career Brotherton argued for an improvement in working class education. As soon as he arrived in the House of Commons he began making speeches about the need to establish a national system of schooling. He was also active in the National Public Schools Association, an organisation that promoted the idea of a national system of secular education.
Brotherton helped establish the provision of vegetable soup kitchens in Manchester during the food shortages in 1847. As a result of this successful venture, Brotherton and fellow vegetarians in Manchester decided to establish a Vegetarian Society. Brotherton was the chairman of the Vegetarian Society's first meeting in September, 1847. Over the next first few years, the Vegetarian Society used pamphlets written by Brotherton as the main method to promote the organisation.
Brotherton also felt passionately about the importance of adult education. He argued for a national system of public libraries and museums. In 1849 he played an important role in helping Salford become the first municipal authority in Britain to establish a library, museum and art gallery. The following year Brotherton joined William Ewart in helping persuade Parliament to pass the Public Libraries Act.
Brotherton's experiences of the textile industry convinced him that workers desperately needed the opportunities to have good recreational facilities to combat the unpleasantness of factory life. He started his campaign for the establishment of public walks and open spaces in 1835. His efforts resulted in the establishment of Peel Park in Salford.
Joseph Brotherton continued to campaign for his various causes until his death on 7th January, 1837. Brotherton was active to the end, dying of a heart attack on an omnibus while on the way to a meeting in Manchester. After his death, the people of Salford started a Joseph Brotherton Memorial Fund. With some of the money they commissioned a bronze statue of Brotherton in Peel Park. The pedestal includes Joseph Brotherton's motto: "My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions but in the fewness of my wants."
We, the undersigned, without individually approving of the manner in which the meeting held at St. Peter's on Monday, the 16th August was constituted, hereby declare, that we are fully satisfied, by personal observation or undoubted information that it was perfectly peaceable; that no seditious or intemperate harangues were made there; that the Riot Act, if read at all, was read privately, or without the knowledge of the great body of the meeting; and we feel it our bounden duty to protest against, and to express our utter disapprobation of, the unexpected and unnecessary violence by which the assembly was dispersed.
John Shuttleworth and John Edward Taylor could sell their cotton to men who could not buy it cheaper elsewhere. In like manner, Thomas and Richard Potter could sell their fustians, Joseph Brotherton and William Harvey their yarns, Baxter his ginghams and shirtings, and I my fine Glasgow muslins. And yet our position was uncomfortable. We were safe ourselves, but every day brought us report of wrong and outrage done to our humble fellow countrymen - wrong and outrage which we felt could not fully redress. We thought, in our own cheerful homes, of the poor men in prison for alleged political offences - the main offence being that they, like ourselves, were of opinion that our representative system was susceptible of amendment. The whole aspect of society was unfavourable. The rich seemed banded together to deny the possession of political rights; and the poor seemed to be banding themselves together in an implacable hatred to their employers, who were regarded as their oppressors.
Under the present system, every man who knows anything of the matter knows that the labour is too much for children to . I have no hesitation in declaring, unequivocally, that the labour is too much for children to bear. When we consider that between 400,000 and 500,000 persons are immured in factories from half-past five to six o'clock in the morning till eight or nine o'clock at night, and this not upon a few particular occasions only, but day after day, week after week, and year after year, during their whole lives, or as long as they are capable of following their employment, I would ask, whether any person professing the Christian religion can sanction such a system as that, or desire that such a state of things should continue? Of what use can education be to those who are employed.
I hold in my hand a copy of a bill which was brought into parliament in the year 1815 by the late Sir Robert Peel, whose memory will long be held in grateful remembrance by the labouring classes in the manufacturing districts, for the humane exertions to shorten the hours of labour in factories. The object of the bill was, to limit the hours of labour to ten hours and a half a day. We had to struggle with the same difficulties as those who are advocates of his views now. I was a master-spinner at that time, and I believe I stood almost, or quite, alone at Manchester in rendering assistance to those who, with Sir Robert Peel, were endeavouring to accomplish what he had designed; and at last, in the year 1819, he succeeded only in carrying a bill which limited the period of labour to twelve hours a day, or seventy-two a week, for all children under the age of sixteen years. It was soon found that the measure was liable to be evaded; and subsequent experience showed that it was evaded. Numerous frauds are committed, and the provisions of the act are continuously violated. It is a common trick, according to the inspectors' reports, for parents to send children of a healthy appearance and sufficient age to a surgeon to procure a certificate, under a false name, for the younger brother or sister.