Richard Cobden (3 June 1804 – 2 April 1865) was a British manufacturer and Radical and Liberal statesman, associated with John Bright in the formation of the Anti-Corn Law League as well as with the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty. He has been called "the greatest classical-liberal thinker on international affairs" by historian Ralph Raico."
Cobden was born at a farmhouse called Dunford, in Heyshott near Midhurst, in West Sussex. His family had been resident in that neighbourhood for many generations, occupied partly in trade and partly in agriculture. His grandfather (Richard Cobden, d. 1809) owned Bex Mill in Heyshott and was a maltster, an energetic and prosperous man who served as bailiff and chief magistrate, taking rather a notable part in county matters. His father (William Cobden), forsaking malting, took to farming and sold Dunford. A poor business man, he died while Richard was a child. His mother was Millicient Cobden (née Amber). Cobden was the fourth of eleven children. In 1814 their farm was sold and eventually they settled in West Meon, near Alton in Hampshire.
Cobden attended a dame school and then Bowes Hall School in Teesdale, Yorkshire. When fifteen years of age he went to London to the warehouse business of his uncle Richard Ware Cole where he became a commercial traveller in muslin and calico. His relative, noting the lad's passionate addiction to study, solemnly warned him against indulging such a taste, as likely to prove a fatal obstacle to his success in commercial life. Cobden was undeterred and made good use of the library of the London Institution. When his uncle's business failed, he joined that of Partridge & Price, in Eastcheap, one of the partners being his uncle's former partner.
In 1828, Cobden set up his own business with Sheriff and Gillet, partly with capital from John Lewis, acting as London agents for Fort Brothers, Manchester calico printers. In 1831, the partners sought to lease a factory from Fort's at Sabden, near Clitheroe They had, however, insufficient capital between them. Cobden and his colleagues so impressed Fort's that they consented to retain a substantial proportion of the equity. The new firm prospered and soon had three establishments — the printing works at Sabden and sales outlets in London and Manchester. The Manchester outlet came under the direct management of Cobden, who settled there in 1832, beginning a long association with the city. He lived in a house on Quay Street, which is now called Cobden House. A plaque commemorates his residency. The success of the enterprise was decisive and rapid, and the "Cobden prints" soon became well known for their quality.
Had Cobden devoted all his energies to the business, he might soon have become very wealthy. His earnings in the business were typically £8,000 to £10,000 a year. However, his lifelong habit of learning and inquiry absorbed much of his time. Writing under the byname Libra, he published many letters in the Manchester Times discussing commercial and economic questions.