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British History in the Long 18th Century Seminar
Institute of Historical Research, University of London
14 December 2011
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“Space, place, and popular politics in northern England, 1789-1848″
Katrina Navickas (University of Hertfordshire)
Permalink for this paragraph 0 This paper is about the spaces and places of popular politics in northern England from 1789 to 1848. During this period, and for the first time, hundreds of thousands of Britons became involved in extra-parliamentary political pressure of various kinds. Their aims were principally to press for parliamentary reform and suffrage, but their campaigns also encompassed other issues, especially concerning employment regulations and wages, and welfare and the poor laws. Collective action developed into larger or new forms. Radical societies in the 1790s, the ‘mass platform’ of the 1810s, and ‘monster meetings’ of the 1840s gathered together thousands of working people on particular sites that were to gain political significance. Networks of delegates from across regions and the country attended conventions, committees, and trades unions. Working people developed new methods of self-help, from friendly societies to Owenite Socialist co-operatives to the Chartist Land Plan.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 The popular politics of Britain during the French Revolution has become so well mined by historians that ‘1790s studies’ has almost become a subject in its own right. Most historians of the 1790s focus on loyalist attacks on radicals’ freedom of speech, in particular the legislation against seditious writings, burnings of books and effigies of Thomas Paine, the arrest of radical leaders and shutting down of radical newspapers, and other loyalist outbursts that hit the headlines. This focus on ideas and language is in part a product of the rich wealth of surviving textual material from this decade, from pamphlets to newspapers to correspondence to printed sermons to cartoons. Studies of semiotics were fuelled further by the ‘linguistic turn’ of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which emphasised the agency of words and text. Significantly, much of the debate about the ‘linguistic turn’ was conducted by historians of the popular politics of the ‘age of reform’.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Following the lead of cultural geographers, historians of this period have now begun to take a ‘spatial turn’. One of the pioneers was James Epstein, in his ‘Spatial Practices/Democratic Vistas’ chapter in his In Practice (2003). John Barrell continued Epstein’s examination of London radicalism in his The Spirit of Despotism: Invasions of Privacy in the 1790s (2006) as does Christina Parolin’s new book, Radical Spaces: Venues of Popular Politics in London (2010). Jon Stobart et al have applied the theories of cultural geographers directly to the material and consumer ‘turn’ in social history in their Spaces of Consumption: Leisure and Shopping in the English Town, c.1680-1830 (2005).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 These studies underline the crucial role of space and place in this volatile and revolutionary period. They argue that space is socially constructed, which in itself helps to shape behaviour of those who inhabit or imagine the space. Space was never simply a background to events, a backdrop in a theatre in front of which actions took place, regardless of what was painted on the scene. Rather, space was a cultural construct that influenced collective action. Ideas about what spaces represent, their symbolism and their meanings, shaped the behaviour of those who inhabit or imagine the space.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 I’ll examine the ‘spatial turn’ in history in part III, but this is not the first time that historians have investigated the politics of space. Mark Harrison’s Crowds and History: Mass Phenomena in English Towns (1988) pointed historians towards the importance of both space and time in shaping crowd actions. Eileen Yeo’s chapter on Chartist spaces in her Popular Culture and Class Conflict, from 1981, still stands as the most thorough examination of the relationship between space, popular politics, and power in early Victorian towns. Yeo argued that the 1839 Royal Proclamation against unlawful and seditious assemblies represented the response from the ‘top’ to a longer process occurring ‘below’. Both national government and local authorities imposed an increasing number of restrictions on the right of public meeting during the late 1830s and 1840s. Their main target was Chartism, but the clamp down had wider consequences. Yeo’s language describing this process is instructive: ‘the potential, and to some extent previously existing, landscape for the culture of working-class movements was being enclosed’.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The narrative arc of this paper (and of my book project) is inspired by Yeo, but I extend her argument back to start in the early 1790s. My central argument is that political movements and protests during the age of reform were motivated by an overarching principle: that the liberty to speak was integrally connected to the liberty to meet and to move. Political and social collective action involved ‘movements’, both in the modern sense of groups organising and campaigning for political and social change, and in their activities: processing, parading, delegating, itinerant lecturing, communicating. National and local governments and elites responded to this wave of mass political activity by clamping down not just on the freedom of speech but also on the freedom to move. Popular politics involved conflicts over places as well as pamphlets, spaces as well as speeches. What was happening was a steady enclosure of public space and the civic body politic. Protesters fought over the usages, occupation, and symbolism of sites as well as of words.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Place, and in particular a sense of place, was important too. In recognising the importance of the semiotics of space, historians must not neglect the material and phenomenological experience of place in people’s everyday lives. Protesters expressed their local identities by defending their customary rights and laws attached to particular sites and districts. A sense of place was important in protest as well as a defence of space.
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Permalink for this paragraph 0 Obligatory case study: pubs and the loyalist declaration of 1792
Permalink for this paragraph 3 One space encapsulates political associational life in this period more than any other: the public house. The coffeehouses of the ‘Habermasian public sphere’ and the assembly rooms of the ‘urban renaissance’ were minor venues compared with the ubiquity of the pub. Popular politics of all forms occurred in the pub. This is a, if not the, major continuity in this story. However, the meaning of ‘public’ in the term public house is ambiguous. These were highly differentiated places. The term ‘pub’ covers a wide range of drinking establishments, from large inns to pubs to beershops, distinguished by the nature of their licenses, the class of their clientele and, a feature particularly relevant to political activity, the internal division of space and their geographical location. They also had myriad functions. Pubs were arenas of local government, justice, and civic patriotism. Especially before the ‘urban renaissance’ provided towns with separate impressive court houses, police and magistrates’ offices, town halls, and assembly rooms, pubs were often the only large enough indoor meeting space in a town. Inns had the roomiest and most convivial sites for meetings, business, and dinners to draw up addresses to the king or petitions to parliament. They were sites where gentlemen, merchants, and other ‘principal inhabitants’ of towns established their power through making political and commercial connections; and sites of justice as venues for petty sessions. They remained so in villages. They were spaces for societies, elections, and charity. Back street pubs were predominantly working-class environments, holding friendly society meetings and box clubs. Both loyalist and radical clubs met in their parlours, back or upper rooms – again blurring the distinction between public and private.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Bull’s Head Inn, off the Market Place, was one of the most prominent unofficial political centres in Manchester. The large building was built in the seventeenth century, and became one of the most prestigious trading inns in Manchester in the early eighteenth century. The pub’s situation was significant historically and politically. It was situated at the heart of the medieval remnants of the old town. It was in between church and local government, being near the Collegiate Church but also being near the market cross and pillory. The inn had been a recruiting station for Jacobite militia in 1745, and it was close to the Jacobite-turned-Tory gentleman’s club, John Shaw’s. A nonjuring community survived at the Collegiate Church until the 1770s, and then the fellows of the college remained in general staunchly Tory and High Anglican, with several members on the magisterial bench. The Bull’s Head inn stood as a remnant of this tradition in the midst of rapid social and economic change. A couple of streets south from the inn, the new commercial areas of the town centre developed in the early eighteenth century, around the Exchange and St. Ann’s Square. By the time of the American Revolution, loyalism was an ideology firmly associated with support for the Hanoverian monarchy. The principal inhabitants held a meeting at the Bull’s Head in May 1782 to draw up a letter to the Earl of Shelburne to express their ‘grateful sense of His Majesty’s Confidence in the spirit and loyalty of his people: and to assure His Majesty that they are most firmly attached to his Royal Person and Government, and to our excellent and happy constitution’. The celebrations of the centenary of the Glorious Revolution were held with a military muster in St Ann’s Square followed by a banquet in the Bull’s Head.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Bull’s Head was not solely a loyalist or Tory venue until late 1792. Inspired by the French Revolution, merchant and boroughreeve Thomas Walker and his radical friends formed Manchester Constitutional Society (MCS) in October 1790. Working-class radicals followed suit with their own Patriotic and Reformation societies. The MCS chose the Bull’s Head Inn as the venue for their meetings. For example, on 13 March 1792 they met there to draw up a vote of thanks to Thomas Paine for publishing part two of his Rights of Man. Loyalist reaction however began to mount in 1792, with Tory-Anglican merchants and gentry forming loyalist associations. An infamous Church-and-King riot followed loyalist associations’ meeting in St. Ann’s Square on the king’s birthday on 4 June 1792. In response to the September Massacres in France, the MCS called a meeting at the Bull’s Head for 18 September 1792. Faulkner and Birch, printers of the radical Manchester Herald, opened a subscription for the French revolutionaries.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 These actions by the MCS provoked the loyalist associations into more co-ordinated reaction. A group of publicans held a meeting at the Bull’s Head on 12 September. Walker alleged that this was followed by ‘a tax gatherer and some other persons’ going round the town to ‘all the innkeepers and publicans, advising them, as they valued themselves, to suffer no societies to ours (the constitutional) to meet at their houses. The publicans thought their licenses of more value than our custom, and would receive neither the Constitutional, the Patriotic, nor the Reformation societies’. The local and national newspapers published a list of publicans signing an address against ‘the treasonable and seditious conduct of a well known set of daring miscreants’. The address avowed that the publicans would ‘not suffer any meeting to be held in our houses of any Clubs or Societies, however specious or plausible their titles may be, that have a tendency to put in force what those infernals so ardently and devoutly wish for, namely the destruction of this country’.
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Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Manchester Chronicle newspaper, and the Oldham diarist William Rowbottom, listed 228 innkeepers and victuallers signing the address. I have identified the definite locations of 39 of these pubs, and plotted their locations using Green’s map of 1794. The first three pubs were the biggest and most prominent in Manchester and Salford; the others were mostly clustered in the old part of town around Hanging Ditch, or along Deansgate. I could work out the approximate location of 23 other pubs in Manchester and 15 in Salford. Most were large inns in prominent positions on main roads.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Another significant feature of the address was that it was signed by ten female publicans, including an Ann Bennison, whose pub, the Fox and Goose on Broom Street, can be identified on the map. I am interested in women acting within networks of local authority on the same terms as men, and loyalist female publicans seem to be a good example of this. Pubs were masculine environments, but (as with the similar historical debate about coffee houses), women seem to have overridden this gender boundary in their role in running certain businesses. Another similar group of women in the political context were postmistresses. Women (usually widows of former postmasters) oversaw many of the post offices throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some of these postmistresses were very active in sending on information to the Home Office about radical correspondence and other ‘seditious’ activity. Loyalism seems in these cases to have offered women important roles in local government and a say in the civic body politic.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Bull’s Head and other large pubs enforced loyalist exclusion against radicals, judging from the later meetings that took place. Loyalist associations, both those who had participated in the King’s Birthday meeting/riots of 4 June 1792, and new societies set up in response to John Reeves’s call in November 1792, met in the following pubs: the Black Moor’s Head, Old Church Yard; York Minster, Deansgate; Rose and Crown, Deansgate, and the Hibernian Church and King Club, ‘in fraternal union with the British Church and King Club’ at the Bay Malton, Cockpit Hill. The committee of the Manchester loyalist association at the Bull’s Head issued a vote of thanks on 17 December, ‘to the innkeepers of this Town for their laudable conduct in forbidding all seditious meetings to be held in their houses’. The loyalist associations mirrored the very kind of secrecy enacted by the very the radical societies that they opposed. Ginter notes how: ‘the minute book of the Manchester committee shows that all members had to sign the declaration of secrecy, and a paid man was stationed at the door at each meeting to interrogate those entering the room’. The space of the upper room of large inns was therefore as private as the back room of smaller pubs. Archibald Prentice, later liberal reformer, commented on the effect of the Manchester publicans’ address: ‘The public house was not a most effective auxiliary to the church, the publican to the parson, and they formed a holy alliance against the mischievous press’. The Secretary of the Reformation Society, John Stacey, wrote to the London Constitutional Information Society shortly after the ban: ‘We should have been more numerous had not the influence of the Aristocrats wanted us out of the Public House where we met … We presently rallied our Members and took a private House to meet in’. Walker had to use own house for MCS meetings: ‘The Constitutional Society having now no regular place of meeting, in consequence of being thus excluded from public houses, I offered them the use of my house at Manchester until they could accommodate themselves elsewhere’.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Manchester action seemed to spur loyalist associations in the satellite towns around Manchester to follow their example. During the winter of 1792-93, publicans in Stockport (51 in total); Bury (31); Warrington; Oldham (43) and its surrounding townships of Royton (7), Chadderton (7), Crompton (9); Ashton-under-Lyne (49), and Middleton (12) signed similar declarations disallowing ‘any club or society of persons disaffected to our present happy constitution’ to meet in their premises, nor for seditious books, pamphlets, and newspapers to be read, songs to be sung, or toasts to be toasted. Further afield, publicans in St. Helens and Chester followed suit, in January 1793. The Chester innkeepers included fifteen female innkeepers (out of a total of 74).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Walker had henceforth to use his own house for MCS meetings: ‘The Constitutional Society having now no regular place of meeting, in consequence of being thus excluded from public houses, I offered them the use of my house at Manchester until they could accommodate themselves elsewhere’. The loyalist reaction continued. In December 1792, in response to the second royal proclamation against seditious writings, Walker’s house was attacked and a crowd set fire to Faulkner and Birch’s printing shop. Their former positions on local government were untenable and indeed unthinkable.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Caveats and conclusions:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 1. We cannot, however, take these declarations as ‘genuine’ evidence of a sudden shift towards anti-radical loyalism among publicans. By plotting the locations of the Manchester address, by a process of deduction, it became clear that not only were the pubs concentrated in the old part of Manchester around Hanging Ditch, but also that many of the list were in sequential order of location. Someone must therefore have gone round collecting signatures door to door, as Walker alleged, rather than the publicans having a meeting to draw it up (whereby the signatures would have been in a more random order. Publicans were pressurised into signing the address by magistrates and their agents, in fear of losing their licence. A face-to-face visit was more likely to enforce collaboration with the address.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 2. Manchester and its neighbouring towns appear to have been exceptional in their publicans’ loyalism. I cannot find any evidence of similar publican declarations on the other side of the Pennines – there is nothing similar in the Leeds or York newspapers of this period. In London, magistrates attempted to intimidate publicans into prohibiting meetings of the London Corresponding Society by threatening to remove their licences. However, unlike in Manchester, the publicans did not always co-operate, and a Society of United Publicans was formed to protest against the 1795 Seditious Meetings Act.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 3. It is obvious from contemporary maps and directories that Manchester was not short of pubs. Probably only about half of the publicans signed the address in the areas canvassed. New areas of urban development, such as the working-class districts of Ancoats and Chorlton Row, seem to have had no publicans signing up to the address. Radicals were barred from a large number of pubs and inns in the centres of towns, but it is likely that working-class radicals would not have patronised some of the most prominent inns anyway, preferring rather to frequent back street ‘locals’. Nevertheless, some large inns bucked the trend. The Bridgewater Arms was a large prominent inn off Market Street. It had not signed the loyalist publicans’ address of 1792 and indeed hosted a meeting to draw up a petition against the ‘Two Acts’ of 1795. The loyalist associations drew up their address in support of the bills in the Bull’s Head. A radical handbill symbolised the political identities of the two large pubs, situated within yards of each other: ‘a petition for Liberty and the Constitution at the Bridgewater Arms, one against Liberty and the Constitution at the Bull’s Head’. Though circumscribed, there was still a range of venues for radicals and trade unions to meet, as shown by the continued use of pubs for political meetings throughout the nineteenth century.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 4. The culture of loyalist suspicion was more important than actual repression. Loyalists tried to enforce atmosphere of suspicion but could not keep pace with urbanisation and population growth. This is the central theme of the whole period – local elites reacted to the rise of mass forms of working class collective action, and this involved continued battles over rapidly changing spaces and places.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Iain McCalman notes that government could not use anti-seditious legislation against small meetings and had to rely on the traditional alehouse licensing powers exercised by JPs at the Quarter Sessions. The Chester Chronicle, a radical newspaper, published a sardonic editorial about the loyal declaration in their city: ‘The publicans in some place have associated for the purpose of leveling the republicans for the suppression of immorality! As there is no description of people better qualified to mend the morals of mankind – every praise is due them for their sincerity!’ There was however nothing new in JPs’ use of the brewsters’ sessions to enforce rules or put pressure on publicans. Indeed, this period of loyalist reaction in 1792-3 appears to have involved magistrates politicising a much longer revival of the reformation of manners movement. Even before the publicans’ declarations against radical societies, the reformation of manners movement, combined with civic improvement, had already heightened local elites’ suspicion of low alehouses and started a wider crack down on plebeian culture and behaviour. This process therefore combined with the loyalist reaction from 1792. As Peter Clark identifies, ‘in the 1790s, with moral degeneracy identified as a symptom of radicalism, official and semi-official movements for moral reform had specifically political connotations’.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Although the loyalist publican addresses of 1792 cannot show that radicals were prohibited from all pub spaces, there were longer-term effects of the brief period of loyalist exclusion. Archibald Prentice later claimed: ‘There are numbers of persons now alive who recollect seeing in Manchester taverns, boards stick up with the inscription, ‘No Jacobins admitted here’. So late as 1825 there was one of them in a public house in Bridge Street, as fine as gilding and decoration could make it, but it was removed in deference to the change of opinion’. Robert Poole argues strongly for the continuation of active publican loyalism into the post-war period. In 1816, in response to the emergence of Hampden clubs, 183 Manchester publicans signed a declaration to bar radical meetings from their premises. Furthermore, Poole points to the predominance of publicans among the forces of order involved with the Peterloo massacre. The majority of Oldham’s innkeepers had been sworn in as special constables and on the morning of 16 August ‘paraded at the Spread Eagle, in Martial array’. Seventeen of the ninety-nine Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry at Peterloo were publicans. They included the innkeeper of the Bull’s Head, Mr Ashworth, who (perhaps ironically) was fatally injured by a cavalryman on the field. According to the Manchester Observer, hostile publican special constables met the survivors of Peterloo upon their return home. The general cry was ‘let us abstain entirely from their houses, let us see whether their newly acquired authority will keep them or not; let us, if we need any, brew our own beer’. Henry Hunt promoted a boycott of ‘truncheon ale’. The authorities reported that many innkeepers had ‘lost so much lost their custom, that they must either cease acting or be ruined’.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 So the spaces of politics mattered, not just as venues for political contestation, but as part of the central feature of radical and trade union beliefs and actions in this period: that the liberty to meet and move was integral to the liberty to speak and write. From 1792 to 1848, opponents of mass working-class political action attempted to control both the usage of politically potent sites, and define their ideological and symbolic meanings. But loyalists were unable to keep up with the pace of urbanisation and the strength and ingenuity of radical collective action in challenging their control over space and place.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Part II: Basic narrative, 1789-1848:
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- 1790s: reaction against radicalism
Permalink for this paragraph 0 During the 1790s, William Pitt’s government and local loyalist elites across Britain reacted against the working and lower middle classes’ entry en masse into political collective action. They enacted a series of restrictions and intrusions on who was allowed to meet and where, and who was allowed to represent and sit on local governing bodies. They attempted a process of exclusion of opponents and dissenters from civic spaces, and also instigated forms of intrusion into private political spaces.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The 1795 Seditious Meetings Act (36 Geo III c.8) prohibited meetings of over fifty people called to consider ‘any Petition, complaint … or other address to the King or to parliament, for alteration of matters established in Church or state’. Meetings without notice were deemed to be ‘unlawful assemblies’ and therefore became a felony if the Riot Act, after being read, was ignored by participants. The act in effect defined the membership of the civic body politic, that is, restricted to the Lord Lieutenant and magistrates of a county, and the Mayor or ‘head officer’ of a city, borough or town corporate’. Those trusted with requisitioning a meeting were ‘householders resident within the county, city or place’, thereby excluding the non-propertied from the civic body politic. The clause about advertising in the newspapers emphasised that political meetings had to be ‘public’. However, as the legislation did not apply to meetings of under fifty people, as various historians have pointed out, radical dinners were able to continue in theory at least (although the atmosphere of suspicion and magistrates’ willingness to use common law and laws of conspiracy served to dampen enthusiasm for meeting).
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- 1810s: radical challenges
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The atmosphere of restriction and surveillance engendered by the 1795 Seditious Meetings Act continued into the postwar period. The new generation of reformers in Hampden clubs were acutely anxious to stay within the rules, using unlicensed rooms while carefully ensuring they did not charge for admission or close the doors in order to avoid giving the impression a conspiracy. Lord Liverpool’s government suspended Habeas Corpus again and passed another Seditious Meetings Act (57 Geo III c.19) in response to a crowd attack on the Prince Regent at the opening of parliament in 1817. The 1817 Act was similar to the 1795 act, with the addition of new clauses prohibiting public meetings within one mile of Westminster Hall and prohibiting the republican Spencean societies. Now premises holding political meetings had to be licensed at the quarter sessions. Following the Peterloo massacre, Liverpool’s government passed the Six Acts in late 1819. The legislation included an act (60 Geo III c.6) for ‘more effectually preventing Seditious Meetings and Assemblies’. This illustrated how the government recognised that the locus of popular agitation had shifted northwards. The legislation reiterated the previous restrictions against meetings of over fifty people but extended the definition of what they were prohibited from discussing without permission: ‘any public grievance, or upon any matter or thing relating to any trade, manufacture, business or profession, or upon any matter of Church or State, or of considering, proposing or agreeing to any petition or address’. This addition suggests how the government viewed the post-war radical agitation as being fed in part by trades unions (despite the Combination Acts prohibiting collective bargaining between 1799 and 1825) because of the thin line between working-class political discussion and issues about working conditions and rights.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mass platform radicalism challenged this exclusion, utilising new civic spaces and land marked out for urban development for their meetings and demonstrations.
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- 1820s-30s: re-entry into body politic
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Reformers attempted to enter the civic body politic of local government and in some areas succeeded, allowing for radical and Chartist meetings to take place in sites previously restricted to non-radical purposes.
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- 1830s: new administrative geographies
Permalink for this paragraph 0 These attempts to enter the civic body politic were in some places helped (but in other places hindered) by new administrative geographies imposed from the centre: new electoral boundaries from 1832, factory commissions from 1833, new poor law unions from 1834, municipal corporations from 1836, and the new police from 1839.
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- 1840s: larger conflict and escape
Permalink for this paragraph 0 A renewed clamp down by local elites and the military forced Chartists and other oppositional groups to take to the moors outside town boundaries for their meetings or to construct their own spaces such as Halls of Science or Land Plan settlements. Both types of spaces were challenged by local elites, and failed because of an inability to sustain funding for such ventures.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The key turning points in the narrative arc are 1794-5 and 1819. I’d like to apply John Barrell’s argument here about what was new about popular politics in the 1790s, and then consider why the Peterloo massacre was so significant, not just in the history of radicalism but also in shaping legislation and government attitudes to public assembly.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 John Barrell and James Epstein examine the trial of the prominent London radical John Frost in 1794. They focus on two particular spaces: the coffee house and the London pub. On 6 November 1792, John Frost dined in the tavern above the Percy coffee house, Marylebone. As he left the building through the coffee house he proclaimed, ‘I am for equality’. For these words, Frost was arrested and tried for sedition. Epstein comments: ‘Frost’s case provides a point of departure for thinking about the nexus among sites of sociability, politics and the law, and the behaviour and language appropriate to each’. Together with the theatre of the court house, the arenas of coffee house and the pub shaped a ‘spatial economy of language’ which determined whether the words spoken by Frost were seditious or not. Frost’s prosecution demonstrated that the boundaries of Habermas’s polite coffee house public sphere were irrevocably broken by the government’s fear of sedition in response to the French Revolution. Words said in the pub as well as in the coffee house, and even in between the two sites, could now be regarded as public, and therefore seditious. He argues that the case represented the start of a process of what Richard Sennett termed the ‘fall of public man’. Middle-class reformers retreated from political involvement, ‘the language of ‘equality’ and the spaces that had bred and sustained such language’. In the desire for respectability, ‘gentleman leaders’ segregated themselves from the ‘raucous, dangerous places and tones of plebeian culture’, leaving the coffee house and pub for their private houses and own purpose-built institutions.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Philip Harling has argued that the 400 or so radicals prosecuted for seditious libel between 1790 and 1832 cannot prove that Pitt and Liverpool’s governments engaged in a systematic or continuous policy of repression. Rather, as Barrell argues, Frost’s trial was significant because it demonstrated ‘the cultural effects of that repression, the atmosphere of suspicion it created on both sides of the conflict’. The trial of Frost changed the way in which loyalism operated because of ‘the invasion of private space it appeared to promote and the sense that everything had suddenly been or could suddenly become politicised’. From 1794, loyalists increasingly intruded on private space in a way they had not done before, at least perhaps not since Jacobite times, although arguably there were precedents in the 1780s with the trial of Lord Gordon and the remodelling of the penal system. Where something was said mattered as much as what was said, and no-where now was truly private. The Frost case represented the changing relationship between public and private spaces.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Barrell’s model of understanding the relationship between loyalists and radicals can be extended from the 1790s all the way to 1848. From 1792, and continuing throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, local loyalists attempted the enclosure of public spaces against their political opponents, and intruded upon radicals’ and trade unions’ private spaces: the back rooms of pubs, fields at night, alleyways and courtyards.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 So the spaces of popular assembly mattered, not just as background to the words spoken and debated during this period of heightened political tension, but as a structure shaping the actions of those who met, spoke, protested, and organised for parliamentary reform and workers’ rights. Crucially, however, as William Sewell has shown, oppositional social movements tended to be ‘resource poor’, both in terms of capital and time. So loyalist elites, be they corporations, magistrates, clergy, or whoever owned and controlled sites of meeting, had the upper hand in deciding who could meet where. Much of the activities and agitation throughout this period involved oppositional groups negotiating the meaning and legality of their actions and local authorities’ interpretations of the laws.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The events of 1819 marked a significant turning point in both popular agitation and the legislative response. Legal historian Michael Lobban argues that the government’s approach to dealing with sedition changed from attention to words towards dealing with public order during this period. In the eighteenth century, governments mainly employed the seditious libel laws against extra-parliamentary opposition. During the 1790s, however, Pitt’s government found great difficulty in using seditious libel laws to put down plebeian radicalism (again, as Harling has warned us, Pitt’s ‘reign of terror’ is somewhat of a misnomer). The Peterloo massacre of 16 August 1819 marked the final crisis that persuaded legislators once and for all to shift away from trying to deal with ‘seditious’ words spoken in a coffee house (as had been the case in the trial of Frost and other radical leaders in the 1790s), and towards focusing on the problem of defining and putting down seditious assembly. This shift of focus, moreover, changed the definition of crowd action and political meetings. From the ‘Six Acts’ of late 1819, the unlawfulness of that behaviour now ‘rested on the political signification of the behaviour’. Although there were arguably precedents in the prosecutions of the Gordon rioters in 1781, the trials of Chartists from 1839 onwards were the first to combine concepts of unlawful assembly, conspiracy, and riot.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Yet although radicals and trade unions were increasingly restricted in their choice of sites for meeting, they were still able to meet in some form or another throughout this period. There was not, and could not be, a complete clamp down on public space. Loyalists were not as repressive as radicals made out, but another major reason was that local elites could not keep up with the pace of urbanisation and population growth in industrial areas and the cities. By the end of this period, although Chartists were forced out onto the moors for their ‘monster’ meetings, they nevertheless had the means to build their own meeting halls, schools, chapels, and other spaces, albeit precariously.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Part III: theoretical interlude
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Here, if time, I will discuss the problems with the current ‘spatial turn’, and posit an alternative to the ‘public sphere’ as a model for understanding extra-parliamentary politics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This discussion is in a separate document.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Part IV: Maps and mapping
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Here I will be showing some data of public meetings mapped onto layers of geo-referenced historical maps. The datasets for Manchester and Leeds are currently available in Google Fusion Tables.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 More explanation of the data is available on my blog: http://historytoday-navickas.blogspot.com/#!/2011/10/collating-data-using-google-fusion.html
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Fig 2. Manchester public meetings, 1775-1848:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Fig. 3. Leeds public meetings, 1789-1848:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Fig. 4. Types of venue of public meetings in 8 towns, 1775-1848:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 (Figs k2 and k3)
Permalink for this paragraph 0 NB: These maps are only representative of public meetings and demonstrations advertised in the newspapers or reported to the Home Office by magistrates. Private or secret meetings and riots are not included. The categories used are broad and should not be seen as exclusive; some meetings could be put in more than one category. The data is weighted towards the 1830s and 1840s because of the wider range of surviving sources from this period.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Even from this limited sample, it is clear that the range of public meetings diversified over time, and the sites in which they were held also diversified and widened with urban expansion. Loyalist, patriotic, and local government meetings continued to be held in the older parts of the towns. As new civic buildings were constructed in the 1780s and 1820s, local authorities and ‘principal inhabitants’ also used venues that were no longer multi-purpose but had one or two singular functions and identities, such as court houses, assembly rooms, and commercial exchanges. Leeds local elites used the many new commercial exchanges for a variety of meetings. In Manchester, St. Ann’s Square remained the central venue for patriotic and military meetings and displays. Political meetings were more likely to be held in squares in Manchester than in Leeds, where development of open squares was limited. In Sheffield, by contrast, only one square was used for both loyal and radical meetings, Paradise Square in the centre of the town. Halifax, by contrast, lacked the wealth of specific and distinct public meeting places of other towns, even after various improvement acts and the building of commercial sites. The only large indoor meeting room before 1840 was the Old Assembly Rooms at the Talbot Inn, which had been used by magistrates for petty sessions and loyalist associations for their meetings, but from the 1830s hosted reform, trade union, and Chartist meetings. Pubs remained a continual feature of venues used for public meetings in all towns.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Urbanisation also influenced the choice of venues for outdoor meetings. Radical, Chartist, and trade union meetings were concentrated in the expanding working-class districts and on plots of unbuilt land in between new buildings. In Manchester these included St. George’s Fields in north Manchester, and Granby Row Fields, Camp Field, and St. Peter’s Fields just south of the old town centre.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 By the 1840s, such oppositional groups had constructed their own buildings in the centre of towns, including Halls of Science, working men’s halls, and other venues. In spring 1848, the Chartist campaign reached its peak with the final push for the third petition to parliament. Forty-six Chartists were tried at Liverpool for leading riots and illegal assemblies in Manchester. The prosecution listed the series of meetings and open-air demonstrations in which the men were involved. The list is worth citing in full:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 3 April 1848 – Stevenson’s Square [Stve Sq]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Tues 4 April – New Cross/Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Weds 5 April – People’s Institute [PI]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Thurs 6 April – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Fri 7 April – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sat 8 April – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 9 April – Smithfield Market
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 9 April – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 10 April – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Tues 11 April – Hall of Science, Camp Field
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Weds 12 April – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Fri 14 April – New Cross
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sat 15 April – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 16 April – Smithfield Market
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 17 April – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 17 April – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Weds 19 April – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Good Friday 21 April – Smithfield market
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Good Friday 21 April – Hall of Science
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sat 22 April – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Weds 26 April – Carpenters’ Hall
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 30 April – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Weds 3 May – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 8 May – Hall of Science
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Thurs 18 May – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 21 May – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Weds 24 May – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Fri 26 May – Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sat 27 May – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 28 May – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 29 May – Whittaker’s Temperance Hotel
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 29 May – New Cross/Stve Sq
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 4 June – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Tues 6 June – Hall of Science
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 11 June – Blackstone Edge
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Sun 2 July – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 3 July – Carpenters Hall
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Weds 5 July – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mon 10 July – PI
Permalink for this paragraph 0 There are some obvious but significant points to note about the Manchester agitation. First, the Chartists met almost every day. They concentrated their efforts into co-ordinating small preparatory gatherings before large demonstrations. Second, the choice and types of sites were integral to the action. The Chartists appropriated spaces that did not have prior political histories or meanings, and constructed their own. William Stevenson had Stevenson Square built at the heart of the speculatory development of his estate in north Manchester from the 1780s. Radicals and Chartists alone had used the square for their open-air meetings from 1834 onwards. Smithfield market was opened in 1822 by its owner the lord of the manor, Oswald Mosley, who refused to allow oppositional meetings to be held there. After a bitter struggle with Mosley, Manchester was incorporated in 1838. The new corporation eventually purchased the manor in 1845, including rights over the market, thereby enabling Smithfield to become available for political meetings. The other Chartist meetings took place in buildings recently constructed for the sole use of working-class groups: the People’s Institute (1846) on Heyrod Street, Ancoats; the Hall of Science (1840) on Tonman Street near Camp Field off Deansgate (another site of open-air Chartist and trade union meetings); the Carpenters’ Hall (1838) on Garrett Street, and the Temperance Hotel.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 These sites were physical testimony to the change that had occurred since the 1790s, when radical societies and trade combinations met in grubby back rooms of pubs and private houses (though this still occurred behind the scenes of these arenas). Local authorities challenged these new sites (notably in the case of Bradford Hall of Science, where the Gas company refused to supply the building with gas). Many also failed because they were financially precarious, reliant on subscriptions and donations from their working-class users. Chartists held their ‘monster meetings’ out on the moors such as Blackstone Edge in the Pennines, where they felt freed by the jurisdiction of borough magistrates and police. Nevertheless, the construction of ‘thirdspaces’ or ‘heterotopias’ in brick and stone was a significant achievement.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Epilogue
Permalink for this paragraph 0 In mid-August 1842, the ‘Plug Plots’ industrial disturbances swept through northern industrial England. The front page of the main Chartist newspaper, the Northern Star, however, was devoted not to the potential general strike but to a monument. An obelisk had been erected in Manchester to commemorate Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, gentleman leader and hero of the Peterloo massacre of 1819. The monument was due to be unveiled on 16 August, the anniversary of Peterloo, but the ceremony was postponed because local magistrates prohibited public meetings in an attempt to curb the trade union agitation.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Ian Haywood has examined the Northern Star’s description of the Hunt monument in relation to how radical rhetoric and memory were constructed. Chartists in Manchester and elsewhere in the industrial North infused their rhetoric with references to Hunt and Peterloo. They thereby grafted their own meanings and political aims onto the longer tradition of the reform campaign in an attempt to legitimate their movement with a longer heritage. This was translated into their symbolism of place, most obviously in processing deliberately over St. Peter’s Fields, which became a shrine of martyrdom. The monument to Henry Hunt was an attempt to fix this connection permanently and physically in place, on the significant anniversary of 16 August. As Haywood points out, the Northern Star directly connected the memory of Peterloo with local elites’ attacks on ‘the rights (and rites) of radical commemoration’ in the present day, as the festival arranged to celebrate the opening of the monument had been prohibited.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Yet the Hunt monument was situated not on St. Peter’s Fields but in the chapelyard of the radical Swedenborgian clergyman Rev. James Scholefield. It overlooked Every Street, the main and most ‘respectable’ street in the working-class district of Ancoats, home to shopkeepers and artisans in good quality terraces which contrasted with the poorer labourers and Irish in the surrounding streets. The placing of the monument was therefore representative of the people who funded it, the artisans and workers living in the district. Oppositional movements are often resource poor. The gilded statue of Hunt on top of the obelisk and pictured by the Northern Star was never made. Cheap materials and lack of funds for maintenance meant that the monument crumbled away and was eventually demolished in 1888. The radicals were also resource poor in relation to having a say over where it could be situated. They were unable to erect the monument on St. Peter’s Fields as the new governing elite of the town, the liberal middle classes, claimed the site to legitimate themselves for different reasons. Pulling up the drawbridge of reform and suffrage after their victory of the 1832 Reform Act, members of the Anti-Corn Law League opposed the Chartists and fought for their commercial interests. In 1840, a temporary structure was erected on St. Peter’s Fields to hold free trade meetings, and in 1856 the connection between the liberal elites and the site was made permanent in stone in the form of the Free Trade Hall.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Today the sole public memorial to Peterloo is a red plaque on the side of the Free Trade Hall. The current Peterloo memorial campaign is a vivid example of the continued battle over collective memory and the symbolism of place. It is only relatively recently that the campaign forced the wording of the old blue plaque to be changed from an overly benign description (as favoured by Manchester City Council) that commemorated Henry Hunt addressing a crowd of 60,000 that was subsequently ‘dispersed’ by the military. The new red plaque admits that cavalry ‘attacked’ peaceful pro-democracy campaigners, resulting in fifteen deaths and over 600 injuries. The plaque is nevertheless misplaced. Chartists would perhaps have disagreed with its situation on the side of the Free Trade Hall. The plaque’s small size belies an opportunity to subvert the Anti-Corn Law League’s legacy of claiming the site. The campaign for a permanent and fitting memorial to the victims of the Peterloo massacre perhaps has a space but not a lasting place.
 T.M. Parssinen, ‘Association, convention and anti-parliament in British radical politics, 1771-1848’, English Historical Review, 88 (1973), 504-33; and, although I do not subscribe to his ‘progression’ thesis, Charles Tilly, Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758-1834 (1995).
Permalink for this paragraph 0  See part II, ‘theoretical interlude’. James Vernon, Politics and the People: A Study in English Political Culture, c. 1815-1867 (Cambridge, 1993); James Vernon, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Linguistic Turn? The Politics of Social History and its Discontents’, Social History (1994).
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Christina Parolin, Radical Spaces: Venues of Popular Politics in London, 1790-c.1845 (Canberra, 2010, ANU e-press, http://epress.anu.edu.au/radical_spaces_citation.html); John Barrell, The Spirit of Despotism: Invasions of Privacy in the 1790s (Oxford, 2006).
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Eileen Yeo, ‘Culture and Constraint in Working–Class Movements, 1830–1855’, in Eileen and Steven Yeo, eds., Popular Culture and Class Conflict, 1590–1914: Explorations in the History of Labour and Leisure (Sussex, 1981), p. 160.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Alan Booth, ‘Popular Loyalism and Public Violence in the North-West of England, 1790-1800’, Social History, 8: 3 (Oct., 1983), 298; Morning Chronicle, 9 June 1792; Chetham’s Library, Cambrics scrapbook p. 103.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Ibid., p. 42; Craig Horner, ‘A Set of Infernal Miscreants: Radicalism in 1790s Manchester’, Manchester Region History Review, 12 (1998), 23.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Sources:1794 Green’s map, together with the 1797 Manchester Directory, 1800 Bancks’s Directory (and for the longer-surviving pubs, 1818 Pigot’s Directory and first edition OS maps). There are obvious problems with this approach which means that the locations of many pubs could not be identified: pubs changed their names and landlords frequently; directories were notoriously inaccurate; Green’s map only shows the largest pubs and the names of the courtyards of other pubs.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  For example, the long-serving Jane Lee of Rochdale Post Office, who kept the General Postmaster updated about Luddite movements in 1812 and plans for a radical ‘uprising’ in 1816-17: TNA, HO 33/1, 2. British Postal Museum and Archive database online (via AncestryInstitution.com), British Postal Service Appointment Books, 1737-1969, appointment book, 1827.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  David Eastwood, ‘Patriotism and the English State in the 1790s’, in Mark Philp, ed., The French Revolution and British Popular Politics (Cambridge, 1991), p. 166; Joanna Innes, ‘Politics and Morals’, in Joanna Innes, Inferior Politics: Social Problems and Social Policies in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2010). A Manchester and Salford Society for the Reformation of Manners existed in 1799: Chetham’s Library, Cambrics broadsides, 1799; and on the restoration of peace in 1802, the boroughreeves and constables issued a broadside ‘lamenting some of the evils that peace and plenty have brought with them’, Cambrics 84.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Peter Brett, ‘Political Dinners in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain’, History, 81: 264 (1996), 539; Iain McCalman, ‘Ultra-Radicalism and Convivial Debating Clubs in London, 1795-1838’, English Historical Review, 102: 403 (1987), 311; Parolin, Radical Spaces, 172.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  See Tim Hitchcock’s professorial lecture, ‘Renegotiating the Bloody Code: London in the 1780s’, University of Hertfordshire, 5 July 2010.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  William Sewell, ‘Space in Contentious Politics’, in Ronald Aminzade, Doug McAdam, et al, eds., Silence and Voice in the Study of Contentious Politics (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 51-89.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  London Dispatch, 21 May 1837; Halifax Guardian, 23 January 1838; Northern Star, 9 January 1841; Leeds Mercury, 22 April 1843; Webster, ‘Chartism in the Calder Valley’, p. 56.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Ian Haywood, ‘Encountering time: memory and tradition in the radical Victorian press’, in Laurel Brake and Julie F. Codell (eds.), Encounters in the Victorian Press: editors, authors, readers (Basingstoke, 2005), pp. 69-87.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Northern Ireland is a major site for such manipulations of collective memory in relation to place and symbolism. See Neil Jarman, Material Conflicts: Parades and Visual Displays in Northern Ireland (Oxford, 1997).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 © Katrina Navickas