Introducing “The Dark Days of Georgian Britain”

My book is above. The blog contains different material to the book; if you like the blog you will like the book. It is available  now in most of the world and in February 2018 in the USA.

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

 

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A “man of colour” becomes political and not everyone is pleased; Robert Wedderburn, 1817

“Persons of colour”  were mentioned regularly in the Regency newspapers. If abroad, they were slaves in revolt or in need of liberation; in Britain they were the menservants of plantation owners, dockers, or under-employed sailors in the Royal Navy or the merchant marine. They were not people whose voice was usually listened to in political debate; if they were heard, then they were saying things that the British establishment were ready to hear. Robert Wedderburn was probably the first man of colour to say what he wanted without caring  what the British establishment thought of him.

Wedderburn was present at a packed meeting of the reforming establishment on August 21, 1817 at the City of London Tavern. Many of the” big names” were there; Robert Owen, currently on a tour to promote his own radical view of rural cooperative communities; Terence ( “TJ”) Wooler –journalist, publisher, republican and proto-feminist; William Hone, radical bookseller; “ Major” John Cartwright, who had been making speeches about Parliamentary reform since 1780. Others such a Colonel Robert Torrens was a Malthusian and early proponent of free trade and no friend of Owen or the others; but it did not matter. There was going to be a pleasant debate. The audience was mixed; what they had in common was a belief that the present status quo in Regency Britain was unacceptable.

Owen spoke first, and for a long time. The star speaker arrived to great applause; he was about to talk about the “remoralising of the poor”. Today,” remoralising” is not even a word, but in 1817 austerity and hunger wee so bad that it was felt that the poor were being demoralised and now the alternative process needed to begin. A chair was suggested and then elected. It was bureaucratic meeting Owen made his opening remarks; he was sorry that the last meeting had ended in confusion. He bemoaned the fact that not enough people there had any knowledge of political economy- what today we would call economics.

He went on the give the crowd and economics lesson that they already knew about and agreed with. Government expenditure had fallen since the end of the war; production had followed employment into a downward spiral and the “working classes” were miserable- this may have been one of the first time the expression had been used instead of the “lower orders”. Owen had a radical plan of small communities of villages that worked in co-operation. It bore no relation to any form of society that existed; it did not even include Christianity; Owen could see no connection between the practice and theory of Christianity and a society that helped each other. Owen’s utter scorn of organised religion began to alienate elements of the audience. In any case nothing was actually going to happen today; Owen merely called for a committee to consider the merits of his plan.

There then followed a procedural wrangle about previous resolutions at other meetings, whether they could be discussed if they had not been seconded, and other items of no interest to normal people either now, or then. Colonel Torrens then spoke.  Robert Torrens was a Malthusian who believed that the population was rising much faster than the ability to provide food and that disaster in the form of famine or fights over resources was much more likely than Owen’s utopian communities. He proposed that Mr Owen had not adequately proved his point and suggested an adjournment of the meeting until the third Friday in January of next year.

At this point Robert Wedderburn made his contribution, after first “ begging” the meeting for a mere 10 minutes to speak and at the end apologising many times for talking up their times. We know that Wedderburn made two points. That Mr Owen’s plan was another form of slavery, and he (Wedderburn) knew about slavery and that the Irish Catholic peasant was treated appallingly.

So said the establishment Morning Post, anyway.

Other papers reported it differently. The Suffolk Chronicle reported that the man the Robert Wedderburn who had made his comment about slavery was a “man of colour”. In a Regency newspaper, this word was a warning- some bad news was coming- a murder, a robbery, a revolt or a riot.

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Wedderburn had clearly been trying to make his point for a long time, and seemed to have forced his way onto the podium. This was breaking all the rules .A black man who asked – more demanded- to speak was somebody who scared the ladies. His inability to take a desiccated view of poverty and slavery meant that he was judged insane. He was a man of great anger and emotion, because unlike Owen, Torrens and the rest, he had felt poverty and injustice, not just though deeply about it.

So, in order to get rid of him- in effect to humour him- he was allowed to speak. He was Robert Wedderburn, some of James Wedderburn and slave women called Rosanna. That would have made him, in the ugly language of the day, a “mullato” (“little mule” in Spanish).

That’s all that we know he said. His later writings express the horror of slavery and the unique tragedy of his own situation. His father had, after his birth, sold his mother back into slavery. He may not have said that he was a Unitarian minister who denied the Trinity; a republican and a revolutionary supporter of the Spencean Philanthropists who wanted to overthrow the government. In any case, being a “man of colour ” was enough. Who did he think he was, coming into a meeting, voicing his opinions on injustice, based on real knowledge of injustice?

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A cartoon of Wedderburn in action at the meeting, suggesting a degree of importance not hinted at in the newspapers. Is his stance a little like this one below, without the physical chains?

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My thanks to
eblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/today-in-londons-radical-history-black-revolutionary-robert-wedderburn-disputes-with-utopian-socialist-robert-owen-maybe-1817/

There is more about Wedderburn’s later career in my book, out on November 30th, 2017.

Check lowest price here

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

 

Before she was famous. Jane Austen in the newspapers, 1813-1833

 

Jane makes one of her first appearances in the newspapers in on 6th September 1813. In an event only publicised in the local newspaper   the Hampshire Chronicle   Jane donated one of the lower amounts- half a guinea (10 shilling and sixpence, a week’s average wage for a urban worker ) to the newly established Basingstoke and Alton branch of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge- an organisation which did what it said on the tin. It produced cheap Bibles and tried to encourage moral reformation. To subscribe to it   meant a desire to be respectable. To have your money accepted and publicised in the newspaper was an acknowledgement of your social position.

Jane’s position in   local society can be inferred from the details in the newspaper. All the committee members were male; Jane, like the other women on the list, were not committee members but additional subscribers, who made a donation rather than purchasing a yearly membership. It is highly unlikely that   Jane attended the meeting at the Bolton Arms Inn- and this was an age when many respectable women did attend meetings of charities. Her letters to Cassandra  around that time suggest that she may not have even been in the county

There are two references; a Miss Austen and a Miss Jane Austin. This may or may not be the same person

Jane had to wait until death to become newsworthy again. Once again, it was a   local event. This notice appeared on the last page of the Hampshire Chronicle as news from July 19th 1817, the day after her death

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Perhaps interestingly, this was not a paid for obituary but a piece of local news; her late father was previously a local cleric and it is unlikely that Jane would have received a mention if she had been a daughter of a local shoe maker.

On July 30th, a more or less identical notice appeared in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, with the omission of her home address.

The newspapers are quiet until 1832; on Christmas Day 1832 the national newspaper the Morning Post made a reference to Jane. This was an advertisement- with the heading “Miss Jane Austen’s novels” ( in the plural, so there must have been some understanding that there was more than one.) Richard  Bentley, the publisher was presenting Sense and Sensibility as part of a series called The Standard Novels and Romances; there were two more identical advertisements, both in London papers, in the week before publication.

The Spectator magazine must have got hold of an early copy, as it has reviewed it by December 31st. The Morning Post reported on its findings. The paper noted their length of time since her death  “  the public took time to make up its mind”. It also hints that the general reader was engaged before the critics

The response to Sense and Sensibility meant that 1833 was Jane’s best year in the papers. By January the Hampshire Chronicle was rediscovering one of their own; “the novel affords diversified scenery of real life, and abounds in moral sentiment, conveyed in the most amusing incidents”.

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By March the Morning Post had reached its own, mostly favourable opinion. It took a few pages of reading, but the paper was impressed by her “natural fluency and unsophisticated earnestness”   Her novels rang true- they had “vraisemblance” and knowledge of human character. The was, the reviewer suggested, the ”new novelist of domestic truth”.

In April 1833, Volume 25 of Standard Novels and Romances included Emma. In July, Volume 27 included Mansfield Park and Bentley had sold over 100,000 copies of his series and Austen was clearly his star. The Scotsman liked Mansfield Park – “an admirable domestic tale…at which Miss Austen was has been long acknowledge as unrivalled”-clearly her books were being read in the 1820s by the public before the reviewers in the newspapers.

By August, Pride and Prejudice was the published in Volume 30. In October, all six novels were published in a cheap edition by Bentley, placing Jane on a par with some very well know Regency writers and poets….

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My book on the reality of Jane Austen’s  Britain is out on November 30

 

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“The Dark Days of Georgian  Britain” Pen and Sword

check lowest price here

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

or

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

 

 

 

 

 Child Dropping in the Regency

 

Child Dropping

Child dropping was one way that unmarried women in the Regency   dealt with the consequences of an unplanned   or socially unacceptable pregnancy. A child would be abandoned; it would either perish outside, or much more likely, be found and mostly looked after in the workhouse. Then the authorities would react; sometimes harshly, but sometimes with a degree of compassion that the Regency is not particularly known for

By our period 1810-1820, attitudes were softening a little to child dropping, as it was increasingly seen as a desperate act. It is clear that the children were, in the vast majority of cases, meant to be found before they died. In September 1811 some labourers working in a brick field at first light found a three month old girl carefully placed in a place where the workers would be bound to find her. A genteel, well dressed woman had been 15 minutes earlier in the fields and the child was thought to be hers. The child was then sent to the St Pancras workhouse to be cared for.

 In February 1813, a nine month old child was left in the East India Docks, Blackwall and put next to a large consignment of timber on the quayside. This may seem to be a highly irresponsible place to leave a child; but the truth of the matter is that, just like the Hampstead brick field, it was a place of work were there was a time when it would be deserted, but another time when it was equally certain that it would fill up with people who would find the child. The baby was well “clothed and in a thriving state”; it had not been mistreated until the moment of its abandonment and it was not left there to die. These babies were made to be found; for those who wanted their children dead, the River Thames was a few yards away. Newspaper reports would make indirect judgement on the mother through the clues it had.

 Timing and location were crucial for success. These two examples were babies dropped in the early morning outside a busy work place. The other possibility is to place them outside a busy doorway which would be opened regularly. On a busy Saturday night in New Cut, Canterbury  in July 1813 unknown women left her four month old child ( “respectable clothed” )on the doorstep of a large house and she was found almost immediately by a maidservant. The gentlemen who owned the house took the child in, looked after it and made plans for its future at his own expense. It is very likely that this was exactly what the poor mother would have wished for, and may well have planned it.

In November 1813, another female infant, a new born, was found, once again on a Saturday evening and once again at the front of a gentlemen’s house in Bath. She was well clothed, wrapped in something that looked like her mother’s petticoat. She was placed in a hat box with a hole pierced in the front to allow the child to breathe. The box was not new; there had been a name written on the outside that had been deliberately erased. The child, like others, ended up in the local workhouse and the   Poor Law officers offered 10 guineas for information about the identity of the mother, or the people who planted the baby- their determination of “make a signal   example of all such offenders”. However, they also suggested that if the women came forward and had an adequate appalling story to tell, then “they may depend on being treated with every degree of tenderness and delicacy”. The Overseers of the poor finished their newspaper advertisement with news for the mother

NB The Child is alive in the Walcot Poor-House, and is likely to do well

It was a message to the parent. No serious crime had been committed yet. There was a way out.

When did the women become “unnatural mothers”?  They would normally have to do more than leave their child on the door step. They would have to be flagrant or ungrateful. In another example from Canterbury in October 1813, a nine month old boy was left at the door of  a Mr Hutchinson at the Cattle Market. So far, so good; but it was wrapped in an “old cloak “-that was a judgement- and a reward was put out for the identification of the mother. Any such reward would be cost effective, as otherwise the child would be a burden on the parish. The next day a women called Fitzgerald (“Wife of a sailor”, whose husband may have sailed away somewhere during conception) She came back to claim the child and seemed to be given some money to go away (she would have no right to claim money from the parish, but the child may have been entitled). Instead she took the money, got drunk and broke a window and the child ended up back in the workhouse, this time for good.

It may have been a coincidence, but the use of the expression “unnatural mother” or “inhuman wretch” seems to have been more prevalent in the provincial papers; London papers seem to have been more pragmatic. In November 1816, one child   was left outside the Foundling Hospital, a charitable institution which   would have been the ideal placement for such a child. He was covered in green baize, with a sign saying “ live lumber “ The “fine boy” was wearing a fine great coat with silk cuffs on his shirt. Somebody had written a poem to the officials of the Foundling Hospital perhaps in order to charm the boy’s way through the Hospitals admission system

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It didn’t work. The child was dispatched to the St Pancras workhouse. A reward was offered for the mother; whose poetry and  ability to buy nice clothes meant that she was spared the epithet “ unnatural”

 

My Book ( Pen and Sword November 2017)

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