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The fourth surviving son of Samuel Unwin and Elizabeth Anne Unwin (née Heathcote), of Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, baptised there on 9th September 1797. The Unwin family had been prominent parishioners of Sutton-in-Ashfield since the early 18th century, and carried on a hosiery business. Edward's father died in 1799 and he was brought up by his uncle Michael Heathcote of Shephalbury, Hertfordshire.
Unwin entered Oriel College, Oxford, in June 1814, aged 16, and took his B.A. in 1819. He then returned to Sutton-in-Ashfield and ran the cotton spinning works (under the name Samuel Unwin & Co) until his death. A related banking business was merged into the Nottingham and Notts. Banking Company, and Unwin became its first Chairman shortly before his death.
Unwin acted as a magistrate for a number of years, was opposed to Reform, and was involved with the maintenance of order during the Chartist period in the late 1830s.
He never married and died at Sutton-in-Ashfield.
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