George Smith of Coalville
During the Victorian Age, writes Courtney Dainton, when many social reformers came from the upper classes, Smith was a philanthropist who had himself experienced the hardships of the very poor.
Although he never became a Member of Parliament, George Smith was largely responsible for the passing of two Acts which initiated important reforms in the conditions of employment in the brickyards and on the canals of nineteenth century Britain. Yet today, less than ninety years after his death, few people have ever heard of this indefatigable social reformer and lobbyist. But as his biographer, Edwin Hodder, whose George Smith (of Coalville) - The Story of an Enthusiast was published in 1896, wrote:
‘For over a quarter of a century his name was daily before the public. When Parliament was in session he was to be found in the forepart of the day in Paternoster Row and Fleet Street among publishers and press men; and in the evening he was almost as regularly in the lobby as the Speaker was in the chair, of the House of Commons...
For weary years he fought a hand-to-hand fight with hunger, poverty, persecution and distress, while at the same time he was known, respected and on good terms with the highest in the land.
He was praised in the press, on the platform, and in the pulpit more than any man of his day; he was hunted down, persecuted and maligned to a degree that often involved personal violence.
By many he was misunderstood, by some he was over-rated, by the majority the man and his mission commanded a just appreciation.’
George Smith was born at Clay hills, near Tunstall in Staffordshire, on February 16th, 1831. His father was a brickyard worker. The only education he could afford for his son was that provided by the village Dame-school, and even that had to cease when George was only seven years old for lack of funds. He was then sent to work in a brickyard. Years later, when he was addressing a Social Science Congress, he gave the following description of his work: