Three minute review of the book here
The blog contains different material to the book; if you like the blog you will like the book.
In 2014 I retired from teaching History at the relatively young age of 55 and wanted to continue my interest in the subject. In the autumn of that year I attended a WEA ( Workers’ Educational Association) course on great law cases in British History. This was the work of a remarkable tutor called Peter Blood who made it look effortless. One week the subject was Crim. Con.( adultery) cases from late Georgian England. The era of the Regency attracted me immensely I was hooked. Although always a history enthusiast, the late Georgian period had passed me by- until that point.
I started a blog on WordPress ( hi!) and regarded it as a lovely hobby, with a bit of third-party validation as people read my blog. Two of the blogs-adultery and bodysnatching felt like they were chapters of a social history of Regency England. I did nothing for a year, except read about the Regency and write about it. After that year, my wife suggested that I send my work to a publisher.
Much to my surprise it was accepted. I had found one of those elusive gaps in the market that people look for when they are trying to make a success of any venture. I am just sorry I waited a year. If you are in the same situation as me and you are wavering; I suggest that you do it. What can you lose?
The blog contains different material to the book; if you like the blog you will like the book. If you want a copy of the book, try here.
The book is biased in favour of the poor, and is an attempt to seek out their stories. This is difficult; newspapers are by definition “establishment”. However, there is a radical press at the time of the Regency and there is the skill of “reading between the lines” of the more traditional media. You cannot talk about the poor without referencing the rich, so their selfish behaviour runs through the book. Here are the main chapters
THE DARK DAYS OF GEORGIAN BRITAIN
Chapter 1- The Darkness Years
This is an overview of the problems of the period 1811-1820. It was a time of austerity, climate change and poverty, with all the major institutions of the government being rotten and in need of reform. Sound familiar?
Chapter 2- The Poor Weavers
This chapter looks at examples of real people – Thomas Holden of Bolton; the Luddites and their refusal to accept that they should starve to death as industrialisation and the new attitudes of employers made their life miserable. Sound familiar ?
Chapter 3- Making Life Worse
The Tory government made life worse for the poor after 1815 because of their political beliefs. This chapter deals with the rich avoiding income tax, high prices for bread and scandalous National Lottery which took money from the poor and gave it to the rich. We meet MP William ” Billy Biscuit” Curtis, who made a fortune for himself but tried to cut benefits for the poor.
Chapter 4-Why People Rioted
This deals with the rioting of 1816. Some of it was old style rioting that had been common for centuries…but there were new developments.
Chapter 5- Bread and Potatoes
Three thousand words on bread and potatoes? Remember that was a large proportion of the diet of the poor…and it is an interesting story. You will be amazed at how much bread people ate, and how many ways you could justify other people not eating much.
Chapter 6-The Poor Law
The British had a quite a generous benefit system before the Poor Law was made harsher in 1834 – that’s the Poor Law people study at school. The system is explained here, with lots of examples of the poor suffering. One family are evicted by having their roof removed and their house flooded with excrement…and yes, the landlord did get away with it!
Chapter 7- Cold Charity
The rich loved to help the poor…but with huge strings attached. I remain unimpressed throughout this chapter.. hence the title ! You will see William Wilberforce in a new light when you read what he thought was acceptable treatment of Britain’s war heroes.
Chapter 8- Old Corruption- The General Election, 1818
The 1818 General Election is covered in some detail the corruption the collusion, the rioting, the bribery and the intimidation. And it was regarded at the time as a better than average election.
Chapter 9- All About The Money
This chapter shows that in order to achieve anything in the Regency you needed money. Most things were for sale- parishes, army ranks, seats in parliament, everything. You will met a lot of rich people who took taxpayers money for imaginary jobs.
Chapter 10- The Disgusting Prince Regent?
What were the main personal failings of the Prince Regent? Its all in this chapter, which therefore has to be quite long . He also represented a rotten system. He did not know the meaning of money, as it all came from the poor taxpayer. When he died in 1830, they found £10,000 hidden in pockets and notebooks, money that he had simply forgotten about. That’s the same amount of money Mr Darcy had for a year, and he was a rich man!
Chapter 11- Arthur Thistlewood- The Gentlemen Revolutionary
Arthur was born a minor gentlemen and ended up being hanged for trying to assassinate the cabinet. This chapter tells the story of him and his revolutionary friends in the Regency. He may have planned to parade the streets of London with the Home Secretary’s ‘s head in a bag, but you may still like him, albeit as a very flawed human being.
Chapter 12- The New Revolt of the Peasants
In 1817, the poor tried new ways of overthrowing their oppressors, that scared the establishment more because they were “political” riots. So the punishments were more severe.
Chapter 13-Who Killed Joseph Lees?
Joseph Lees died after being beaten up at the mass meeting at St Peter’s Field ( Peterloo). However the government were able to prove “otherwise”. This chapter looks at the victims of Peterloo, how they were treated by the government that was not going to take responsibility for the poor or the actions of their own soldiers.
Chapter 14-The Women of Peterloo
What’s more frightening that a radical? A women radical! Despite the difficulty in finding evidence, here we have the story of Alice Kitchen, Nancy Prestwick and Mary Fildes and others This is my favourite chapter of the book.
Chapter 15- The Freeborn Englishmen?
Britain was freer than most, but in the Regency that was put under great strain. People were imprisoned without trial. We meet William Ogden , 74, manacled in goal without charge for months with a 30 pound weight. His crime- wanting a reform of Parliament.
Chapter 16-The Punishment Didn’t Fit the Crime
This is a well-known regency topic. In my version, real people suffer at the hands of a floundering system that was at the end of its time. Reform did come- just not then. We meet Horace Cotton, who worked at Newgate with those condemned to die. He was a real charmer.
Chapter 17- Retribution
Fancy a trip to Newgate or a Prison hulk? We meet the poor in prison, including one man in gaol for stealing a cucumber.
Chapter 18- Child Labour
Traditionally, this is mostly about textile factories, but there were other, possibly worse jobs. Chimney Sweeping for example, and coal mining. However, people’s attitudes to child labour may surprise you.
Chapter 19- Currency Crisis
The Regency government did little to help people, but when the money and coinage went into crisis, they were happy to get things done. Never have banknotes and old coins been made so interesting!
Chapter 20- Adultery
If your wife had sex with another man, you could go to court and claim compensation. The amount of money depended on how posh you were and how many salacious details you could provide. The newspapers loved it, and so will you.
Chapter 21- Regency Body Snatchers
It was not against the law to steal dead bodies from their graves, as long as you left behind their shroud and personal belongings. That’s why its called body snatching, not grave robbery. Lots of people made a living from it, and some of the best examples are in this chapter.
Chapter 22- Being Irish
The Irish were treated as second class citizens both in Britain and in Ireland. There are lots of examples here, and the prejudice has not gone away. The chapter features the famous brewery flood of 1814, when the press lied about the behaviour and hardly any money was raised for the victims, but the government reimbursed the brewery for their loss…
Chapter 23- A Rash and Melancholy Act?
This is about suicide- how traditional harsh attitudes to suicide where changing into something more humane, but it was still more sympathetic to the rich than the poor.
PS If the English Civil War is more to your taste, try here