Lord Shaftesbury was born Anthony Ashley Cooper in 1801. His father was Cropley Ashley Cooper, the Sixth Earl of Shaftesbury, and Anthony’s childhood was one of “great severity, moral and physical.” Anthony’s parents spent their time and money on themselves, and their children were often hungry and cold, left in the care of the servants while the parents went out socialising.
Anthony’s only real friend in his childhood was his nursemaid, a lady called Maria Millis. She was a Christian, and she taught Ashley the Gospel from a young age. She also taught him a simple prayer of repentance, which, though he promised numerous times to repeat it to his biographer, died with him. It was during this time that Anthony came to know the Lord for his own Saviour, and he continued to love and serve Him for the rest of his life.
When Maria died she bequeathed to Ashley a pocket watch. He treasured this simple gift, and would often take it out and show it to those he met, and tell them the story of “the best friend that ever I had.”
At the age of seven Ashley was sent to school at Manor House in Chiswick, where he was beaten and bullied by teachers and peers alike. After five years of this grim existence he was moved to Harrow, which was a far better experience. It was while at Harrow, between the ages of fourteen and fifteen, that he saw the sight which was to motivate his work with the poor and needy in later life.
While walking home late one night, Anthony heard drunken singing coming from a side-street. As he watched, he saw a procession of men emerge, all of them drunk, bearing a coffin on their shoulders. To his horror, the men stumbled and dropped the coffin, spilling the corpse onto the ground. In that moment Anthony resolved to do all he could to ensure that no human being would have to endure such degrading treatment.
Anthony entered politics, becoming a Member of Parliament aged twenty-five, and inheriting the Earldom at the age of fifty on his father’s death. Throughout his life he fought tirelessly on behalf of those who had no voice, passing legislation in support of people with mental illnesses, children working in factories and mines, and chimney sweeps.
He was a pioneer of the Ragged School movement, which set up free schools for children who could not afford an education, and an enthusiastic supporter of the Sunday School movement which has brought the Gospel to many millions of children who would not otherwise have heard it. His advocacy for the poor—which was unusually strong for a man of his position—earned him the informal title of ‘The Poor Man’s Earl’.
Death and Legacy
When he died in 1885, thousands lined the streets to watch his hearse go by. One bystander was heard to cry, “Our earl’s gone!” The Shaftesbury memorial was erected in his memory, and it stands in Piccadilly Circus in London to this day. But perhaps the best and most lasting memorial is the undeniable effect he has had on the education and welfare of children throughout the United Kingdom, and the many hundreds of souls who came to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of his spiritual endeavours.
‘Out of the Smoke’ Available now
Plunged into the criminal underworld of Victorian London, Billy the chimney sweep knows he must fight – or die. But with notorious gang leader Archie Miller closing in on him, every turn he takes only leads to more trouble.
When the ‘Poor Man’s Earl’ offers Billy a chance to exchange his gangland life for an education, Billy must decide if his pride is too high a price to pay, and whether turning on Archie will mean freedom – or certain death.
A thrilling story of faith and survival based on the work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.