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After being educated at Bowes Hall in Cleveland, Richard Cobden gained experience working for his uncle’s warehousing business before eventually setting up in partnership with his friends, Sheriff and Gillett. Initially acting as commissioning agents, the firm soon moved into manufacturing, printing calicoes in Burnley. The business went from strength to strength.
By 1834, Cobden had begun to take a great interest in public affairs and was authoring newspaper articles and pamphlets. He became extremely prominent in municipal affairs in Manchester, particularly in the field of education and social enquiry.
In 1838, Cobden became involved in the campaign to repeal the Corn Laws, something which was occupy him for the next eight years as a leading light in the Anti-Corn Law League. By 1841, he had managed to take his campaign into parliament, having been elected M.P. for Stockport.
After the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, Cobden was physically exhausted and departed with his wife on a 14-month tour of the continent. On his return he chose to sit as M.P. for the West Riding of Yorkshire. He became involved in a number of different causes, and sat for the West Riding until he lost his seat in the election of 1857.
Cobden’s absence from politics was not a long one. He was returned as M.P. for Rochdale in 1859 and continued to promote non-interventionist policies - policies which eventually became in integral part of Liberal Party policy under Gladstone.