Before the Butchery- The Manchester Cavalry before Peterloo

 

image001In March 1817, there was ‘panic’ in the North of England as 30,000 men assembled on Kersal Moor then marched into Manchester, seizing the North Mail, demolishing two factories and setting fire to a whole street of buildings. This was according to the papers. It was untrue; the Manchester Mercury, being a local paper, stopped the panic by pointing this out.

It did not hide the fact that Manchester was undefended by a volunteer force of yeomanry cavalry that existed in other, smaller towns in the United Kingdom; indeed this may have been one of the reasons for the spread of rumours. It was a febrile atmosphere, and there had been real social and political protest.

By late 1817, such a force was being created. The Manchester and Salford Yeomanry cavalry were a new, angry organisation. Most volunteer militias had been formed in the 1790s and had some experience of successful action. The Manchester cavalry was a much more recent militia force, formed in 1817 in a blind panic after the Blanketeers’ meeting at St Peters Field and the social tensions in Manchester and Salford.

An advertisement in the Chester Courant advised that anybody who wanted to be a Sergeant Major or Trumpeter in the new unit should report to a named office of the local constables.This already filtered the type of people who would apply. In May 1818 and (again in 1819) the Officers of the new unit were sponsoring a competition at the Manchester Races for horses belonging to their members. Perhaps they knew that they were recruiting inexperienced riders and soldiers and felt that they need to motivate them to do better.

By September 1818, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry were on official service. Weaver’s strikes in Blackburn had spread to Manchester and the unit was readied for action, but were not needed. Small wage increases were obtained by the weavers and fustian workers of Manchester, Chadderton, Middleton and Failsworth and the Manchester Yeomanry supported the authorities when employers blacklisted 200 weavers. The Leeds Intelligencer, an ultra Tory paper, declared that the Cavalry has ‘marched to ensure tranquillity’ and the rest of the papers followed with exactly the same words the next day. The Cavalry stayed long enough to allow the employers not to honour a second pay rise that had been promised as part of the original settlement.
The Manchester Yeomanry were also involved in assisting the civil power in Burnley in the same month. There were thirty-six of them, under Captain Hindley. Seven men who broke into the Burnley House of Correction to rescue a strike organiser were imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. Their role seemed to involve not much more than merely turning up in the town and allowing the locals to regain control.This was a national, not local piece of news and it is the first time that the Manchester Cavalry made a national impression; the second was much more tragic.

There was more than one Manchester political demonstration led by Henry Hunt in 1819. He was there in January 1819 and some of the events may explain the Cavalry’s hatred of him in August. Hunt was the lead speaker amongst a crowd of 10,000 people carrying red caps of liberty and banners reading ‘Rights of Man’ ‘No Corn laws’ and ‘Hunt and Liberty’. The actually meeting was ‘on the ground near to St Peter’s Church’. Hunt and the other speakers had their hustings on a scaffold near this land, which was actually being used by the Manchester Cavalry for their training. The events of August proved that they did not train particular well there.

I am sure that this did not endear them to him; in any case, after an hour the scaffold collapsed, with no injury except to Hunt’s ego. Hunt then repaired to the local Windmill public house where he tried to continue his ‘harangue’, but he was ejected by the landlord who reminded him that he had a licence to sell beer, not spread sedition. Another possible perspective is that this man’s livelihood depended on a licence issued by the same magistrates who were opposing Hunt today.

Of the 101 members of the Manchester yeomanry present at Peterloo whose occupation is known, thirteen were publicans. Sixteen were involved in the upper echelons of the Manchester cotton trade and were therefore on the side of capital rather than labour, and the rest were high-class workmen and shopkeepers who depended on the patronage of the rich.
In June 1819, the Cavalry were being preening and ornamental at the celebrations for the King’s birthday, still not having taken part in any real action. The newspapers in the summer of 1819 contain mostly sporting news about the officers in the unit; this changed on 13 August 1819 when the radical reformers were back in Manchester. The Morning Post reported that the Manchester authorities were concerned about more men congregating in the hills, marching using bugles and practicing with pikes. This was the insurrectionary army that they partly feared and they partly conjured up for their political advantage. Manchester was tense, according the Tory papers, and ‘the Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry were in arms all today’. All this was done in the belief that Hunt was about to do something in Manchester-but he then left town.

It’s no surprise that when the Yeomanry Cavalry were told to take the leaders from the hustings at Peterloo, they really wanted to get him.

There are two chapters about Peterloo in my bookGoogle it for the best price……..

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Austerity in the Regency – taxation

What does a nation state do when faced with years of unavoidable emergency spending leading to an annual government deficit and a massive historic debt to pay off? That’s still a relevant question today!

It’s a question that the British government had to deal with in 1815. The war with revolutionary and Napoleonic France had led to an accumulated debt of £829 million, mostly held in consuls sold by the British government. The rich had bought the debt on interest bearing bonds that had to be paid back. And there was great political pressure to clear the deficit quickly.
What to do? The most important thing that was done was that income tax was abolished . This was not the doing of the government, but the parliament, who refused the Tory request to maintain the tax for a few more years. The government promised to remove it very quickly, but the House of Commons insisted that it happened immediately.
Income tax (called the Property Tax) had been  an emergency measure, introduced as a war tax in 1799. It was only introduced on the understanding that it would end when the war did. Sir William Curtis, an eccentric Tory MP made the point in the House of Commons when his simple argument was “where is the war now”? Sir William had an ideological opposition to income tax; it involved government officials enquiring into their income, property and lifestyle; it eroded the idea about the sanctity of property. It was “Unnecessary, Unconstitutional and Inquisitorial”.

billy2billyx

Sir William Curtis MP                                            Billy Biscuit

 

It was about protecting  private income, in a way, but it was more complicated than that. Sir William was a prime example. He had gained his knighthood by voting as he was told by William Pitt, and had made his fortune by making hard tack food for the British Navy. He was known, behind his back, as “Billy Biscuit” or sometimes, more politely, “Sir W Biscuit”. He personally would have been better off if government expenditure on feeding the Navy continued, but he was having not of it. He was happy to see income tax abolished and two-thirds of the Navy (90,000 people) demolished to reduce his tax burden. He claimed that he would then be in a position to spend more money on charity for those made unemployed by the reduction of government spending.This position made perfect sense to him. Income tax was compulsory, the spending of the money was outside of his control, and nobody was grovelling grateful. Charity was the opposite.

There was no sense during the Regency that the rich should pay a higher proportion of their income to provide funds for services used by the poor. Another example of this  was the last speaker in the Property tax debate. He accepted that the poor would suffer much more than the rich; he demanded savage cuts in expenditure immediately. His name was William Wilberforce, famous for his liberality towards Negro slaves, but not to the British lower orders.
Where was the money to come from? There was the National Lottery, which is mentioned here;

https://about1816.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/the-first-national-lottery-1816/

The main difference between the UK state lottery today and the Regency version was that the only good cause the proceeds were used for was paying interest on government debt, which was held mostly by the rich.
Taxes on property were replaced by taxes on consumption, which hurt the poor more. Bread was taxed, in the sense that the Corn Law stopped cheap imports entering the country. Coal attracted duty, as did salt, leather, soap, candles, tea, spirits, windows, houses, carts, toll road.
Lord Byron was angry about austerity. It was clear that this belt- tightening was around some people’s waist, but others had it around their neck. From his poem Don Juan

“ To Wellington
…and I shall be delighted to learn who
Save your and yours , have gained from Waterloo?

 

 

For more, new material, try my new book on Georgian Britain

If you are in the UK, please ask your local library to stock a copy. Most regency books are not like this!

Cheapest price in the UK here

http://www.socialbookco.com/book/9781526702548/dark-days-of-georgian-britain

Available in the USA

https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Days-Georgian-Britain-Rethinking/dp/1526702541/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515411644&sr=8-1&keywords=dark+days+of+georgian+britain

 

Thanks for reading

James

 

 

 

The Regency View of the Poor. How much has changed?

There was no concern at all in Regency Britain about people being poor; it was considered a natural state. Poverty encouraged social order – it was believed that people could escape the worst of their condition by sobriety, obedience and constant hard work. People could be as poor as they could bear, and they were obliged by God to bear it. It only became a problem when the people became indigent – unable to survive without help.  The key question was, and perhaps is; how do we help the poor, and who gets that help?

The first principle in the Regency  was the simple, brutal, and  universally held belief that the lower orders in their natural state were idle, would not work at all if they could get away with it, and would do something far worse if they had the spare time. William Hutton, a dissenting bookseller from Birmingham and no particular enemy of the poor, put this comment in his diary (1795): If a man can support his family with 3 days of labour, he will not work six … “If the body is unemployed, it becomes a nursery of disease. If the mind is unemployed, a languor commences, and a man becomes a burthen to himself “.
All attempts to alleviate the poor had this idea in the forefront. Idleness was far more dangerous than poverty. That’s why it was though the a cure for poverty was to encourage the poor to save. During the Regency period there was a rush of new saving banks for the poor, usually run by the rich charitable gentry of the town. This may seem to us to be a paradox; one strong definition of poverty is that it involves having no money. So how could they save?
We need a Regency view of the poor to answer this question. The second principle was to avoid giving the poor money; they would waste it. A correspondent to Stamford Mercury in 1816, says no to “ pecuniary aid”

image002

The legal claim of the poor  to support from the parish was an encouragement to bad habits. These bad habits that lead to poverty. Poor habits are further encouraged by the certainty of aid and the poor become unthankful. It is, therefore, the bad habits that are the root of poverty, and the poor continuing to drink, smoke and try to live a life while poor is a moral weakness. The correspondent is correct that the number of people on poor relief had reached a crisis level in 1816, but the real roots of poverty are ignored- high bread prices due to protectionist trade policies, a fall in government spending after the Napoleonic Wars, the abolition of income tax for higher earners and the imposition of austerity to pay the £800million  national debt.
So the root causes of poverty were moral weakness; not just gin and beer but the belief that the poor were naturally idle; and only the danger of starvation kept them working.
The role of the savings bank was to encourage “industry, economy and sobriety” and allow the surplus created by good habits  to be banked. In times of good employment, money should be saved for the bad times to come. Most workers, it suggested, could save 2 shillings a week if they behaved better. A Manchester weaver would be earning 10 shillings a week, so even a paragon of virtue would be unlikely to achieve this.
A new Act was passed in 1816 to promote savings banks and therefore keep people away from the Poor Law. All the MPs seem to have an anecdote about a poor person they knew who had the necessary good habits. One MP said this;

image002

Many of the banks set up would include the word “INDUSTRIOUS “ in the title and appeal to young unmarried men; many opened on Saturday night, or the normal day of payment of wages, to stop the money being spent in the public house. Another real advantage of the savings banks is that the proceeds were held in Bank of England notes and other securities, while the poor who had savings were likely to hoard £1 or £2 notes from their local bank. If these went broke, their hard-earned savings became worthless pieces of paper.
Many of the establishment tried to dissuade the poor from joining Friendly Societies, which seem at first glance to do the same as the Savings Banks-but the charitable gentlemen found unsettling differences. Firstly, the Friendly Societies often had some imput from the poor themselves; they would often meet in public houses. Some Friendly Societies members drank too much beer; and the fact that some societies had rules about how many drinks you could have “ proved” that they were irresponsible, although exactly the opposite case could be made.
Friendly societies also had a fixed subscription that could not be altered upward if the poor person was doing well and wanted to save more -the savings bank was a vehicle for individual advancement while the Societies were a collective help organisation, so much so that many the of the ruling class( rightly) thought that they were really Trade Unions. Savings banks were not designed to solve the general problem of poverty; they were designed to solve the problems of the deserving individual.

The Friendly Society would support people who were out of employment, thus, the words of the Stamford Mercury correspondent “the discharged workmen had been enabled in nearly all cases to carry out their unjustifiable demands”.

Some of the comments about the Societies were reasonable; unlike the payment of interest, the payment of benefits for unemployment, illness and death were not predictable and could lead to the bankruptcy of the organisation- but his was due to the precariousness of the life of the poor when faced with economic changes that nobody could influence. This was this cause of poverty that the rich refused to acknowledge.
One form of moral weakness was the “improvident marriage” (literally a marriage that had not been adequately provided for). This moral weakness becomes financial when children  were produced. You were meant to save before marriage; newspaper correspondents suggested that if you save from the age of 10 ( the start of the working life in the Regency) you might be able to marry around 25. The real average of first marriage for a man was a little higher than this (about 28)and was done without the unrealistic level of savings suggested by well healed men writing to newspapers.
Some things have not changed in 200 years. We still seem fixated on solving poverty for the individual “deserving poor”; we blame poverty on morality, not economics; and we do not deal with the causes because we still (mostly) believe that poverty is still a natural state……

More like this in my new book-all different material. but with the same philosophy!

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Dark-Days-of-Georgian-Britain-Hardback/p/14191

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Days-Georgian-Britain-Rethinking/dp/1526702541

IN THE UNITED STATES

https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Days-Georgian-Britain-Rethinking/dp/1526702541/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513971471&sr=8-1&keywords=dark+days+of+georgian+britain

DETAILS ABOVE

If you live in the UK or Ireland, could you please recommend the book to your library? I am just as interested in lots of people reading it as buying it…..

 

 

 

Introducing “The Dark Days of Georgian Britain”

The blog contains different material to the book; if you like the blog you will like the book.

This is how the book came about. In 2014 I retired from teaching History at the relatively young age of 55 and wanted to continue my interest. 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 reminded me that somebody famous once said that only a fool writes for free and 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.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Dark-Days-of-Georgian-Britain-Hardback/p/14191

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. Thank heavens that kind of thing doesn’t happen now!

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.

 

That’s it.

Best

James