But in his own way, Peel the Elder played a significant part in the story of the Industrial Revolution.
Born in 1750 at Peelfold, near Blackburn, to the owner of a calico printing firm, Peel had a good London education before joining the company and being made a partner at the age of 23. Very soon he had taken control of the business and began to make full use of the new technology that was transforming the textile industry.
Peel had interests at Woodhill, to the north of Bury and after marrying the daughter of one of his partners, the couple settled at Chamber Hall in the town. It was there that Robert Junior was born, one of 11 children.
Peel was a shrewd businessman and, aware that his introduction of machinery was sure to cause problems among traditional Lancashire textile workers, he built a new factory in Tamworth and manned it partly with pauper children from London workhouses.
Financially, the venture was a complete success and in the last decade of the 18th century, Peel was recognised as one of Britain's leading industrialists, commanding a workforce of 15,000.
In 1790, he was elected MP for Tamworth and 10 years later he was knighted.
NELLIE YATES was the daughter of Robert Peel's business partner. They married in 1783 and she became mother of the future Prime Minister.
But it was only then, after making his fortune largely on the backs of those pauper children, that he seems to have discovered his conscience. Could it be that the words of John Wesley had finally got through to him?
The Methodist preacher had breakfasted with Peel in 1787, and wrote afterwards: "A few years ago, he began with five hundred pounds and is now supposed to have gained fifty thousand pounds. Oh, what a miracle if he lose not his own soul!"
Whatever the reason for his change of heart, Peel argued in Parliament that the state needed to protect the interests of its most vulnerable citizens, and in 1802 he was largely responsible for the Health and Safety of Apprentices Act, which limited the working hours of pauper cotton-mill apprentices to 12 a day.
However, this act was largely ineffective and Peel - aided by reformers like Robert Owen - continued to fight for change until the passing of the 1819 Factory Act, which outlawed the employment in cotton mills of anyone under the age of nine and restricted the hours of older children.