Famous British Social Reformers

Has the society always been the same that we see today? Of course not, it has evolved and underwent many gradual changes through various reform and revolutionary movements. And much of that has been brought about by social reformers who work to make the society a better place to live in. Thanks to their constant campaigning for a better life, we have free trade, improved public sanitation, better educational system, reform of the poor laws, electoral changes and so on. Just like every other country in the world, Britain faced with numerous issues and societal mayhems. However, there were numerous British reformers who not just braved to question the authorities regarding the malpractices and injustice prevalent in the society but fought against the same to establish basic human rights. It is to these national heroes that British today enjoy the societal bliss of equality, high standard of living and equal powers. Much of the same was brought about during the Victorian age which is rightly called the age of reform. Constitutional, economic, political, social reform bills were passed that brought about changes in the structure and processes of the society. With this segment, find out more about the British social reformers, their life and their struggle for reformation and transformation.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 
Florence Nightingale
(Social Reformer & Founder of Modern Nursing and Known as 'The Lady with the Lamp')

Florence Nightingale
18
Birthdate: May 12, 1820
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Florence, Italy
Died: August 13, 1910
The Lady with the Lamp Florence Nightingale is remembered for her relentless efforts in nursing soldiers during the Crimean War. She founded London’s St Thomas' Hospital to train nurses. She also pioneered the use of the polar area diagram and was the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society.

 2 
William Wilberforce
(Abolitionist)

William Wilberforce
10
Birthdate: August 24, 1759
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Kingston upon Hull
Died: July 29, 1833
William Wilberforce, an independent MP from Yorkshire, was a champion for the British anti-slavery movement and made a significant contribution to the passage of the 1807 Slave Trade Act and the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. He supported missionaries in India, founded the Church Mission Society, and was against animal cruelty.

 3 
Annie Besant
(Social Reformer)

Annie Besant
8
Birthdate: April 16, 1847
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Clapham, England
Died: 1933 AD

Annie Besant was a British theosophist, socialist, writer, orator, educationist, women's rights activist, and philanthropist. Despite being British, Besant supported India's freedom movement and even joined the Indian National Congress. She is also credited with co-founding Banaras Hindu University. Besant also helped launch the Indian Home Rule movement to campaign for democracy in the country.

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 4 
James Oglethorpe
(Founder of the colony of Georgia)

James Oglethorpe
6
Birthdate: December 22, 1696
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Surrey
Died: June 30, 1785

Remembered as the founder of the British colony of Georgia in the US, James Oglethorpe was a renowned British soldier, MP, and social reformer. Educated at Oxford, he initially fought for the Austrian army against the Turks. As an MP, he brought in prison reforms. He was also the governor of Georgia.

Charles Freer Andrews
3
Birthdate: February 12, 1871
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: England, United Kingdom
Died: April 5, 1940

Charles Freer Andrews was a Christian missionary and Anglican priest. He was also an educator and social reformer. A close friend of Indian freedom fighters Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, he supported the Indian struggle for independence. Gandhi fondly called him Deenabandhu, or "Friend of the Poor". Even today, Andrews is widely respected in India. 

 6 
Josephine Butler
(Social Worker)

Josephine Butler
3
Birthdate: April 13, 1828
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Northumberland
Died: December 30, 1906

Renowned Victorian-era feminist and social reformer Josephine Butler was a champion for women’s suffrage and also fought against human trafficking. It is believed, she devoted herself to charity after the death of her 6-year-old daughter. She also forced Cambridge to encourage women’s education, which culminated in the Newnham women’s college.

 7 
Granville Sharp
(Abolitionist)

Granville Sharp
3
Birthdate: November 10, 1735
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Durham, England
Died: July 6, 1813

Granville Sharp was an activist who became one of the first English campaigners to support abolitionism in the UK. Sharp devised a plan to settle people in slavery and black people in Sierra Leone. He also established the St George's Bay Company and is thus considered a founding father of Sierra Leone. Sharp also worked towards correcting other social injustices.

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 8 

Samuel Smiles
3
Birthdate: December 23, 1812
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland
Died: April 16, 1904

Though a qualified doctor, Samuel Smiles later never practiced and switched to journalism instead, working for Leeds Times. His best-known work remains Self-Help, a motivational self-improvement guide for the youth, which denounced materialism and advocated thrift. His other significant work was the 5-volume Lives of the Engineers.

 9 
George Lansbury
(Social Reformer)

George Lansbury
5
Birthdate: February 21, 1859
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Halesworth, Suffolk, England
Died: May 7, 1940

British Labour Party leader George Lansbury began his career working for the railways at 14 and then became a timber merchant. He was also a major figure behind the formation of the pro-labor Daily Herald. His overtly pacifist beliefs, however, made him unpopular and caused him to resign from his party leadership.

 10 
Edwin Chadwick
(Public servant)

Edwin Chadwick
5
Birthdate: January 24, 1800
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Longsight, Manchester, England
Died: July 6, 1890

Lawyer and social reformer Edwin Chadwick played a significant role in the passage of the 1848 Public Health Act. He also reformed the Poor Laws, bringing about major developments in urban sanitization. He was eventually knighted for his achievements. His writings include an iconic report on the “Labouring Population of Great Britain.”

 11 

Caroline Norton
3
Birthdate: March 22, 1808
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: London
Died: June 15, 1877

Being the granddaughter of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, author Caroline Norton had her first experience at writing in her teens. Her beauty and charm, however, made her failed barrister husband jealous. The rift in their marriage caused her to successfully campaign for married women’s right to property and their children’s custody.

 12 

Aungier Pakenham, 7th earl of Longford
3
Birthdate: December 5, 1905
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: London, England
Died: August 3, 2001

British politician and Labour Party member Aungier Pakenham was part of an aristocratic family and was also known as the 7th earl of Longford. His brought in prison reforms such as the modern parole system. Though he was instrumental in decriminalising homosexuality, his Christian morals made him oppose homosexual acts.

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury
3
Birthdate: April 28, 1801
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London, England
Died: October 1, 1885
One of the most significant industrial reformers of Britain, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury was instrumental in bringing about many reforms, such as the 1845 Lunacy Act, which treated the mentally ill with compassion. His Mines Act prohibited all women and all children below 10 from mining work.

 14 
Octavia Hill
(Social Reformer)

Octavia Hill
5
Birthdate: December 3, 1838
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Wisbech, England
Died: August 13, 1912

Social reformer Octavia Hill led the British open-space movement, which eventually led to the formation of the National Trust. Inspired by John Ruskin, she established her first housing project in a London slum. She later devoted her life to developing living conditions of the poor and utilizing open spaces.

 15 
Charles Booth
(Social Reformer)

Charles Booth
3
Birthdate: March 30, 1840
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Liverpool, England
Died: November 23, 1916

Charles Booth was not just a shipowner but also a prominent social reformer, best known for his 17-volume Life and Labour of the People in London, which threw a light on the social conditions of the poor in London. He also developed statistical methods to ascertain the social issues of the working class.

Michael Young, Baron Young of Dartington
3
Birthdate: August 9, 1915
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Manchester, England
Died: January 14, 2002

British sociologist Michael Young, also known as Lord Young, or Baron Young of Dartington, not only helped shape the manifesto of the Labour Party but also coined the term meritocracy. A qualified barrister, he was also instrumental in forming the Consumers’ Association and a prototype of the modern Open University system.

 17 
Gerrard Winstanley
(Religious Reformer)

Gerrard Winstanley
3
Birthdate: October 19, 1609
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Wigan, United Kingdom
Died: September 10, 1676

Protestant reformer Gerrard Winstanley is best known for leading the Diggers, a group of English agrarian communists. Initially a cloth merchant, he was later drawn to communism, believing that land should be available to the poor, and penned The Law of Freedom in a Platform. He also advocated for universal religious tolerance.

 18 
Samuel Plimsoll
(Politician)

Samuel Plimsoll
3
Birthdate: February 10, 1824
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Bristol, England
Died: June 3, 1898

Apart from being a politician, Samuel Plimsoll was also a prominent social reformer, who is best known for introducing the Plimsoll line, a line on a ship’s side, which signifies the legal limit till which the ship can be loaded, thus ensuring that no money-hungry shipowner could risk his crew’s safety.

 19 
Rowland Hill
(Teacher)

Rowland Hill
3
Birthdate: December 3, 1795
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kidderminster, England
Died: August 27, 1879

Born to a schoolmaster, Rowland Hill followed in his father’s footsteps to become a teacher and explored subjects such as astronomy and math. He is, however, best remembered for his reform of the postal system, including increasing the speed of letter transfer and introducing the prototype of the postage stamp.  

 20 
Seebohm Rowntree
(Researcher)

Seebohm Rowntree
8
Birthdate: July 7, 1871
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: York, England
Died: October 7, 1954

Though he initially studied chemistry, Seebohm Rowntree soon joined his family cocoa business. He soon introduced employee-friendly policies, such as the 5-day work week and a pension plan, in the company. His pioneering study of working-class homes in York became an iconic sociological treatise on the poor.

Sidney Webb, 1st Baron Passfield
2
Birthdate: July 13, 1859
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: London, England
Died: October 13, 1947

Born to a lower-middle-class family, economist Sidney Webb, 1st Baron Passfield had quit school before 16 but later attended evening classes to clear both the civil service and bar exams. He and his wife, Beatrice Webb, were both part of the Fabian Society and co-founded the London School of Economics.

 22 

Thomas Hughes
8
Birthdate: October 20, 1822
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Uffington, Berkshire,England
Died: March 22, 1896

A qualified jurist, Thomas Hughes was also a renowned author, known for his iconic semi-autobiographical novel Tom Brown’s School Days. He also co-founded the Working Men’s College, as a result of his association with the Christian Socialist movement. He was also a Liberal Party MP, representing Lambeth and Frome.

 23 

Elizabeth Montagu
6
Birthdate: October 2, 1718
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: York, England
Died: August 25, 1800

Part of the 18th-century London intellectual circle, socialite Elizabeth Montagu was a pioneering member of the Bluestockings, a group of women who engaged in evening conversations as a substitute to card-playing. The wife of affluent landowner Edward Montagu, she inherited his riches and later built the Montagu House.

 24 
Mary Carpenter
(Educational and Social Reformer)

Mary Carpenter
2
Birthdate: April 3, 1807
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Exeter, England
Died: June 14, 1877

Educated at her Unitarian minister father’s school, Mary Carpenter grew up to form her own free schools for the poor, known as the ragged schools. Her work later took her to India and North America. She also established the National Indian Association to ease communication between Indian and British reformers.

 25 
John Fielding
(Magistrate)

John Fielding
2
Birthdate: September 16, 1721
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Abergavenny, Wales
Died: September 4, 1780

In spite of being blinded in an accident at age 19, John Fielding managed to become a magistrate. The half-brother of author Henry Fielding, he was nicknamed Blind Beak and was able to recognize criminals by their voices. He established the Bow Street Runners and revolutionized the juvenile justice system.

 26 
Fowell Buxton
(Politician)

Fowell Buxton
2
Birthdate: April 1, 1786
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Essex, England
Died: February 19, 1845

British politician and philanthropist Fowell Buxton was a prominent figure in the campaign for the abolition of slavery and was thus instrumental in the passage of the 1833 Abolition Act. Though the British government sponsored an anti-slave-trade expedition to Africa, inspired by his works, it failed to materialize due to multiple deaths.

 27 
Francis Place
(Social Reformer)

Francis Place
2
Birthdate: November 3, 1771
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London, England
Died: January 1, 1854

Initially a leather breeches manufacturer, social reformer Francis Place participated in various working-class movements, before launching his tailoring shop. His socialist streak pushed him into politics, and he successfully campaigned against the Combination Acts that prohibited trade unions. He also became a Malthusian at one point.

 28 
Richard Oastler
(Abolitionist)

Richard Oastler
2
Birthdate: December 20, 1789
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Leeds, England
Died: August 22, 1861

Nicknamed the Factory King, Richard Oastler was a prominent English social reformer who is known for his relentless campaign for shortening work hours, eventually leading to the 1847 Ten Hours Act. While in prison for opposing the Poor Law Amendment Act, he penned Fleet Papers, a collection of his social theories.

 29 

Horace Plunkett
2
Birthdate: October 24, 1854
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Ireland
Died: March 26, 1932

One of the greatest agricultural reformers of the UK, Horace Plunkett spearheaded the movement for agricultural cooperatives in Britain and the Commonwealth. The son of an Irish baron, he spent 10 years working on an American ranch, before returning to Ireland to work for the agricultural community.

 30 

Samuel Romilly
2
Birthdate: March 1, 1757
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: London, England
Died: November 2, 1818

British lawyer and legal reformer Samuel Romilly is best remembered for bringing about significant reforms in the English criminal law. Known for is campaigns against capital punishment for minor offenses, he was also knighted for his achievements. Unfortunately, distressed at his wife’s death, he committed suicide later.

 31 

Samuel Bamford
2
Birthdate: February 28, 1788
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Middleton, England
Died: April 13, 1872

The son of a weaver, Samuel Bamford quit school and worked as a weaver and a warehouseman. He later penned many poems, expressing his support for the working class. Charged with inciting violence at the Peterloo massacre, he was also jailed for a while. He later became a journalist in London.

 32 
John Cartwright
(British politician)

John Cartwright
2
Birthdate: September 17, 1740
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Marnham, England
Died: September 23, 1824

Known as the Father of Reform, John Cartwright made significant parliamentary reforms, which later became part of the People’s Charter. An English naval officer, he had also been part of the Seven Years’ War. He also worked for universal suffrage and, in his later life, invested in crop trials and agricultural improvement.

 33 

George Henry Evans
1
Birthdate: March 25, 1805
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Bromyard, Herefordshire, England
Died: February 2, 1856

American reformer and trade unionist George Henry Evans is best remembered for his involvement in the 1829 Working Men's movement. He was also instrumental in the passage of the 1862 Homestead Act, was an abolitionist, and was a champion for women’s rights, too. He also owned the newspaper Working Man’s Advocate.

 34 
Beatrice Webb
(Sociologist)

Beatrice Webb
3
Birthdate: January 22, 1858
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Gloucestershire, England
Died: April 30, 1943

Sociologist Beatrice Webb is best remembered for coining the term collective bargaining. Along with her husband, Sidney Webb, whom she met at the Fabian Society, and others, Beatrice co-founded the London School of Economics. In spite of her lack of formal education, she was a prominent educator and an avid diarist.

 35 

Samuel Barnett
1
Birthdate: February 8, 1844
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Bristol, England
Died: June 17, 1913

Apart from being the canon of Westminster Abbey, nineteenth-century Anglican priest Samuel Barnett had built many cultural centers and establishments, such as the Toynbee Hall, in London’s East End. A prominent social reformer, he penned works such as Practicable Socialism and worked on philanthropic projects with his wife, Henrietta Octavia Rowland.

Frederick William Sanderson
0
Birthdate: May 13, 1857
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Brancepeth, England
Died: June 15, 1922

 37 
John Jebb
(Reformer)

John Jebb
0
Birthdate: February 16, 1736
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Unknown
Died: March 2, 1786