Nat Gould

His life and books

Nathaniel Gould 1756-1820

Nathaniel Gould was the son of Joseph Gould 1715-1777 and his wife nee Ellen Gilbert 1722-1792, and the grandson of William Gould of Pilsbury Grange. He was born in Bakewell, a small market town in Derbyshire, where his father kept a draper's shop. He was baptised at the parish church there on 13 August 1756.

Nathaniel Gould became a wealthy Manchester cloth merchant, and was a great philanthropist and benefactor. He lived in a large house in the Crescent in Salford. His wife nee Lydia Gilbert was the granddaughter of John Gilbert 1724-1795, the famous canal builder and industrial entrepreneur. She died aged only 30 years in 1798, greatly loved and lamented by the people of Salford and Manchester. She was buried at St. Stephen's Church in Salford on 30 November 1798. Her widowed husband survived her for the last 22 years of his life.

Nathaniel Gould was a truly great social reformer, much celebrated in the nineteenth century but unjustly now almost forgotten (1). He expended much of his wealth in ameliorating the appalling social conditions in Manchester and Salford, and was a notable benefactor of the children of the poor in those towns, which were then rapidly growing as cotton mills and factories proliferated. His gifts to local charitable institutions (2) were very substantial both in his lifetime and through his Will.

But his charity was not confined to his own neighbourhood. He was the leading mover in securing the passage through Parliament, despite bitter opposition from cotton mill owners, aristocratic estates, and (incredibly) some of the medical profession of the Ten Hour Act in 1818. This act banned the employment of children in mills below the age of nine years and limited the working day of those under sixteen to ten hours. His main parliamentary ally was Sir Robert Peel, who is usually credited with its enactment, although Nathaniel Gould had worked ceaselessly for it and spent around £15,000 in getting it passed (3). Fortunately he lived to see it made law. It now seems a small reform to us today, as it would have done to Gould’s friend Robert Owen, but it brought about a huge improvement in the lives of children and young workers and made it possible for them to be educated.

Nathaniel Gould, unlike Owen, was no proto-socialist. He was a capitalist who firmly believed in hard work and private (rather than state) charity. A devout upholder of the Church of England, he recognised the value of other Christian traditions. He supported the British School (or Lancasterian) system based on religious ethics in distinction to the National Schools. The founder of that kind of school was a Quaker.

He made his Will in 1818, and died in 1820 at Northaw Place in Hertfordshire, the home of his brother Thomas Gould 1752-1829. He appointed as his executors and trustees his nephews Joseph Gould 1784-1833, Richard Gould 1794-1865 and William Gould 1786-1839. They were the sons of his brother Joseph Gould 1754-1821 and Anne Wardle.

Even from a summary of the Will it is clearly evident that many people and institutions received generous legacies.

Of the institutions that received bequests, the Public Infirmary Dispensary Lunatic Hospital and Asylum was what later became Manchester Royal Infirmary and was then situated where Piccadilly Gardens are now.

The House of Recovery in Manchester was situated in Portland Street and later in Aytoun Street, and was an isolation hospital for nursing patients who had no hope of recovery in their crowded homes, particularly fever victims. It was staffed with doctors and surgeons from the nearby Infirmary. Its establishment dramatically reduced deaths from fever.

The Lying-in Hospital in Salford was a maternity hospital for women living in squalid circumstances, and also provided an out-patient service to women who were able to give birth in their own homes. It eventually grew into the now famous St Mary’s Hospital.

The Lancasterian School was established on the principles of its founder Joseph Lancaster. The schools existed throughout England until the state took over provision of elementary education in the late 1800s. They had their own Teacher Training College in south London. The idea was that one teacher could run a class of several hundred by appointing gifted senior children to assist as pupil teachers. (The present day Lancasterian School in Manchester has no connection with the original school. It was set up by the University in 1906 for teaching disabled children, particularly those with sensory deprivation.)

The “Society in London for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge which first met in 1698” is the SPCK, which is still doing sterling work, particularly in publishing Christian books.

In a Codicil dated 1819 to his Will made in 1818 he revoked the £5,000 legacy to trustees Robert Twedell, Thomas O’Gill, Nathaniel Shelmerdine and William Simmons for continuing the campaign to secure the passing of the Ten Hour Act. That was because by then the Act had finally been passed by Parliament and the long battle was over. (Simmons was a surgeon at the Manchester Infirmary and House of Recovery.)

In the Codicil Nathaniel Gould also replaced his cousin and friend James Royds as an executor and trustee. James Royds was by then an old man, and perhaps did not want the considerable burden. Nathaniel Gould would have well understood that, from the lawsuit brought against him in his own old age (as an only surviving executor) by the Earl of Shrewsbury over an alleged neglect of management by a long-dead tenant!

The main beneficiary of his Will was his only child, his daughter Lydia Gould 1796-1869. She was still a spinster when her father died but was married on 12 April in the following year at Melcombe Regis, Weymouth in Dorset. The bridegroom was her cousin, the Reverend Joseph Gould 1797-1866, who became vicar of Burwash in Sussex, later the home of Rudyard Kipling. Together with her husband she continued the charitable work of her father, not least in Manchester.


(1) There is a great deal of literature about the life and works of Nathaniel Gould available on the web in digitised nineteenth century books. The similarly available volumes of verbatim reports of Parliamentary Commissions make particularly interesting reading, notably the lively responses by Nathaniel Gould to questioning and his carefully prepared reports and speeches. He was a great communicator, and a very persuasive lobbyist.

(2) A contemporary guide to the charitable institutions of Manchester and Salford is provided by The New Manchester Guide (1815).

(3) There is recorded a touching incident when Nathaniel Gould was talking with a friend (doubtless a supporter) in the London apartments he rented in Dover Street (just off Piccadilly, convenient for lobbying members both of the House of Commons and House of Lords). Their conversation was interrupted by a young man who spoke privately for a few moments in the corner of the room with Nathaniel Gould, and thrust something into his hand before leaving. Naturally the friend was curious as to what it was. "We shall see", said Nathaniel Gould, and opened his fist to reveal a £50 note - a year's salary to many professional men and several years' pay for a labourer. "Aye, he's a good lad," said Nathaniel, adding that he knew that the youth wanted to emulate his father. He was the son of Sir Robert Peel. Nathaniel Gould told the friend that he didn't want to snub the youth, but added that he little realised just how much the campaign was costing him (over £15,000). A great man indeed, and a good one.