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Monday, 14 January 2019

Manchester Jacobites

Manchester Jacobites
My latest feature for Highlander magazine is on the story of the Manchester Jacobites. Bonnie Prince Charlie caused uproar when he swept through the city twice in 1745. The ‘Young Pretender’ hoped to reclaim the throne for his father, the self-styled King James III of England and James VIII of Scotland. 

Charles Edward Stuart
Earlier in the century, a Jacobite mob almost destroyed the Presbyterian Chapel in Manchester, and several local worthies supported the abortive 1715 rebellion. In February 1716, peruke-maker Thomas Syddall and four other men were executed at Lancaster scaffold for following the ‘Old Pretender’. 

During the '45, the city's defence was completely bungled. On the afternoon of Thursday 28 November 1745, to its eternal shame, ‘Manchester was taken by a Serjeant, a Drum, and a Woman’. The main Jacobite army arrived the following morning; they marched into St Ann’s Square.  

On 1 December, the Bonnie Prince left Manchester, heading south towards London, along with the newly formed 'Manchester Regiment' composed of enthusiastic local recruits, commanded by Colonel Francis Towneley. Little did the Manchester rebels realize that they would later pay a terrible price for their loyalty to the Prince...

Temple Bar in the 1750s

Images from the author's collection:
Top left: Manchester Jacobites.  Manchester Old and New Vol. 1, Cassell & Co., c.1894. 
Above, right: Bonnie Prince Charlie, the ‘Young Chevalier’. 
Left: The heads of executed Mancunian Colonel Towneley and Salford man George Fletcher on Temple Bar, London, in the 1750s. Old and New London Vol.I, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c.1873

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Peterloo Movie: A Review

I have been fascinated by the tragedy of Peterloo - and its consequences - for as long as I can remember. Next year is the bicentenary of this landmark event for our democracy, which has seemingly never been covered by the movie industry before, so Mike Leigh's new film is very timely. I was not disappointed. 

The action begins four years earlier on the bloody field of Waterloo. Joseph, a young soldier, survives the battle, and begins the long journey home to his family in Manchester. His mum is Nellie (Maxine Peake), who is fighting to keep her loved ones fed during a time of great hardship for the town's workers.

Some of the notable events in the years preceding Peterloo are telescoped with the action in order to provide the necessary historical context. Discontent was growing in the town, which expressed itself in political meetings, and the ill-fated march of the Blanketeers in 1817. Even women had their own societies dedicated to campaigning for parliamentary reform. The speeches of Leigh's characters capture the authentic ring of Manchester's political meetings - and some of the real firebrands of the day - as reported by the authorities' many spies.

Oliver the Spy (Stephen Wight) makes an enjoyable cameo appearance, although actually his identity was compromised in the aftermath of the ill-fated Pentrich Rising two years earlier. 

The meeting at St Peter's Field on 16 August 1819 was organized to hear a speech by Henry 'Orator' Hunt. Rory Kinnear nicely captures Hunt's mixture of bombast and self-importance (and his dedication to reform). Samuel Bamford (played by Neil Bell), who was initially impressed by Hunt, gradually became extremely disenchanted by his attitude. (Surely Bamford is far too well-dressed in the movie? He looks very prosperous).

The main events leading up to the massacre, and the horrifying violence of the day itself, are meticulously covered - right down to the incidents when Hunt helps a fainting woman into his coach, and Hunt is hit on the head by one of Joseph Nadin's thugs after being arrested. A pity that the Cheshire Yeomanry's part in the day was omitted, but perhaps this would have over-complicated the action. 

One seeming inaccuracy which struck me afterwards was the section in the film where Nelly shares out some chunks of bread with another family. Now Nellie's family is depicted as being extremely poor, so they were most unlikely to have been able to afford bread. The Corn Laws (one of the issues which the Peterloo crowd were protesting about) had artificially inflated the price of bread to benefit farmers and landowners. Contemporary accounts of working-class families in this decade in Manchester usually mention that they lived primarily on oatmeal and potatoes. But as gruel and potatoes are not very easy to carry, perhaps the bread was a special treat for the family's 'grand day out'. 

Where this film really hits the nail on the head is Leigh's uncompromising depiction of the enormity of the class divide. The revolting gluttony of the Prince Regent (Tim McInnenry - who was clearly enjoying himself) and the Manchester magistrates' comfortable lifestyle is starkly contrasted with the bare, comfortless homes of the working classes.  

In our age of austerity, and a hopelessly divided Britain, the story of Peterloo has never been more topical. Do go and see the movie. 

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Thomas Harrison, Architect

Chester Castle and Shire Hall complex, 1820s. 
Please saunter over to All Things Georgian, the wonderful blog belonging to my fellow Pen & Sword authors Sarah Murden and Joanne Major. Today they've kindly hosted my guest post on Thomas Harrison, a stunning architect who gave Chester's buildings an air of classical elegance during Regency times

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Sold out - but don't panic!

A High Wind in the Park! 1819. 
I had some very good news this morning - A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England has sold out! However, Pen and Sword have scheduled a re-release for the end of November, and you can pre-order here (especially as it would make a lovely Christmas present for a Jane Austen fan!) Alternatively, there are still a few print copies left on Amazon UK and Amazon US, and of course you can still buy my book on Kindle while it's unavailable in print form.

Friday, 27 July 2018

'Liberty Or Death!' Peterloo Is Coming!

A new 'teaser' trailer for Mike Leigh's new film telling the story of the Peterloo Massacre has just been released.
It looks pretty awesome so far! To say I am excited about this movie is an understatement. The release date for the UK is 2 November - I hope it will be available in ordinary cinemas.

Don't forget, the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society are looking for Peterloo descendants, and my book Tracing Your Manchester and Salford Ancestors has a round-up of Peterloo sources. My book Regency Cheshire, now released on Amazon Kindle, also includes a look at the massacre from the point of view of the Cheshire Yeomanry, who were present at the massacre.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Regency Cheshire on Amazon Kindle!

I'm thrilled to announce that my book Regency Cheshire is now available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle!

The late Georgian period was an age of unique style and elegance - the era of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Regency Cheshire explores the scandals, sports and pastimes of the great county families such as the Grosvenors of Eaton Hall. Their glittering lifestyle is contrasted with conditions for humble farmers and factory workers. The gentry and mill owners created elegant new villas and beautiful gardens while workers huddled together in slums with inadequate sanitation.

The Prince Regent and his cronies danced and feasted while cotton and silk workers starved. In my book, I explore the county’s transport system and main industries: silk, cotton, salt and cheese. Stage coaches rattled through the streets, and packet boats and barges sailed down the canals.
Lyme Hall, Cheshire.

But reform and revolution threatened the old social order. Blood was spilt on city streets during election fever and in the struggle for democracy. Balls and bear-baiting; highwaymen and hangings; riots and reform: Regency Cheshire tells the story of everyday life during the age of Beau Brummell, Walter Scott and Jane Austen.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Manchester Cathedral

The earliest written record of Manchester’s churches may be the two mentioned in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086. St Mary’s and St Michael’s held a ‘carucate’ of land (about 120 acres). St Mary’s may have been located on or near the site of the modern Cathedral. St Michael’s may have been at Ashton-under-Lyne.
In 1421 Thomas La Warre, the lord of the manor, founded a ‘college’ of a warden and eight fellows to care for Manchester parish. The ‘collegiate church’ was endowed with lands, and a brand new building was built. Local worthies and merchants like the Stanley family beautified the new church.
Collegiate Church interior.

If your ancestor lived in Manchester parish before the 1850s, they were most likely baptized or married at the Collegiate Church (later the Cathedral). This is because for historical reasons, when a person was baptised or married at any church within the parish, the family paid two fees, one to the incumbent of their church of choice – and one fee to the Collegiate Church. But if people held the ceremony at the Collegiate Church, they only paid one fee. Mass baptisms and weddings were a regular sight at the Collegiate Church, so you should check those registers first if you are looking for a Manchester ancestor.

In 1847 the diocese of Manchester was created, and the Collegiate Church became a cathedral, dedicated to St Mary, St Denys and St George. The best way to access the Cathedral registers is via (free on Manchester library PCs) or on microfilm at Manchester Central Library. The Lancashire Online Parish Clerks website has some free transcripts of the Cathedral and Collegiate Church parish registers. My book also has more information on the history of the Cathedral and its records.

The Cathedral suffered greatly from bomb damage during WWII, but was painstakingly rebuilt. The modern day Cathedral has a visitor centre, which is open daily.