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Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Review of Vignettes!

I'm absolutely thrilled with this lovely review of Vignettes in the September/October edition of Jane Austen's Regency World! A big "Thank You" to reviewer Jocelyn Bury! This edition of the magazine also includes my article on marriage and divorce in Austen's day, plus an exclusive look behind the scenes of the new TV adaptation of Sanditon, Jane Austen's last unfinished novel.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Countdown To Peterloo!

Manchester Heroes! Courtesy Library of Congress.
Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. I thought it would be useful to chart some of the key events which led to the tragedy in Manchester, and its aftermath. 

6 December 1816: The Spa Field Riots, London. Henry Hunt gives a speech on parliamentary reform.

10 March 1817: The Blanketeers' March. Later this month, the Home Office recruits the notorious Oliver the Spy.

June 1817: The Pentrich and Huddersfield Risings are quashed by the authorities.

January 1819. Huge parliamentary reform meeting held at St Peter's Field, Manchester.

June-July 1819. First women reformers' unions formed in Lancashire.

6 August 1819. Mysterious fire breaks out at Tabley House (home of Sir John Fleming Leicester, commander of the Cheshire Yeomanry). This suspected arson attack means that Sir John is absent on the 16th when the Cheshire Yeomanry musters at Manchester.
Henry Hunt.

8 August 1819. Henry "Orator" Hunt arrives in the Manchester area.

16 August 1819: The Peterloo Massacre. There's a detailed timeline of events on the day here on the Peterloo1819 website. A reported 15-18 people are killed, and hundreds injured, including men, women and children. The names of the victims, and others known to be present on the day, can be found here on the Peterloo Names website.

November-December 1819. The Government introduces the "Six Acts" to suppress "sedition".

20 January 1820. Death of George III.

February 1820: The Cato Street Conspirators are arrested.

March 1820: Henry Hunt, Samuel Bamford, John Thacker Saxton and others are tried at York for their seditious "conspiracy" at Peterloo. Hunt and Bamford later received prison sentences.

Lots of events are planned for the bicentenary commemorations this weekend, and there's a round-up of them here.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Free Preview of Vignettes!

Jane Austen
You can enjoy a free preview of my new Amazon Kindle e-book Vignettes here!  Click on the link to read a free sample and discover the wonderful literary world of Jane Austen.

Vignettes is based on the many articles I’ve written over the years for Jane Austen’s Regency World, mostly mini-biographies of famous writers who either influenced Austen, or were contemporaries of hers. The authors chosen just happen to be my own personal favourites.

Vignettes begins with a brief introduction to Austen’s life and work.

The next chapter looks at women’s education at that date, with reference to how Austen’s contemporaries discussed it. Mary Wollstonecraft’s thoughts on daughters’ schooling, Priscilla Wakefield, Mrs Barbauld and others are included. I also discuss women’s magazines and how they helped to influence and educate young women at that time. The chapter concludes by looking at some contemporary critiques of the supposed pernicious effect of novel-reading.

The following chapter looks at the lives of Hogarth, Rudolph Ackermann, Johnson and Boswell. 
The chapter after that discusses Jane’s contemporary rivals like Ann Radcliffe, Mary Brunton, Fanny Burney and Mme de Stael.

After a chapter on social ‘influencers’ like Parson Malthus, Thomas Bernard and Robert Owen, we move on to discussing the lives of Cowper and Thomson, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy and Mary Shelley, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, etc. Wherever possible, I have set each author in the context of Jane’s life and works by including quotes from her letters and novels. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2019


I'm very pleased to announce that I've just published a new book on Amazon Kindle: 'Vignettes: Literary Lives in the Age of Austen'.

Here's a copy of the blurb:

'Jane Austen lived in a ground-breaking era for English Literature. This was the age of William Wordsworth, Percy and Mary Shelley, John Keats, and others. Austen herself drew inspiration from the writers who came before her, like Doctor Johnson, Thomson, Cowper and Fanny Burney. She faced stiff competition from the rival novelists of her day like Ann Radcliffe, Mary Brunton, and Walter Scott.
Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton. 
Away from the novelists’ world, writers like Mary Wollstonecraft argued passionately for women’s rights, and Parson Malthus, Robert Owen and Thomas Bernard discussed how best to deal with the poor.
Based on the author’s previously published articles in Jane Austen's Regency World magazine, this lively exploration of Austen’s times also looks at popular literature. How did our tradition of Christmas ‘annuals’ begin? Were female novel-readers really the ‘slaves of vice’? Find out more in 'Vignettes'. '

Robert Burns. 
The book also discusses the career of poet Robert Burns, writer Robert Southey, and publisher Rudolph Ackermann.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed researching the stories of all these wonderful writers over the years!

Friday, 22 March 2019

New Peterloo Exhibition!

Hugh Hornby Birley, copyright People's History Museum. 
On Tuesday we were very privileged to have a sneak preview of the People's History Museum's new Peterloo exhibition, Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest, which opens tomorrow and runs until 23rd February 2020.

The Museum has acquired some wonderful new Peterloo artefacts for the exhibition, including a portrait of mill-owner Hugh Hornby Birley. Birley was the captain of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry, and long infamous in the city for his role in the massacre.

Mrs's Mabbott's gown, copyright Manchester Art Gallery/Bridgeman Images. 

The 'middling classes' are represented by Mrs Mabbott's silk gown. The Mabbott family had a confectioner's and tea dealership on Bridge Street, and it's said that Mrs Mabbott was accidentally caught up in the day's violence. The gown is made from fawn corded silk, and has a white linen-lined bodice.

Peterloo Glass, copyright People's History Museum. 

Another very rare and fragile artefact is the 'Peterloo glass', which shows the massacre taking place.

Skelmanthorp flag. Copyright Nigel Wilkes.
I was very intrigued by the Skelmanthorpe flag, on loan from the Tolson Museum. This poignant banner would have been a very dangerous object to its owners. They would have kept it well hidden from the authorities in case they were arrested for sedition.

The exhibition also has a 'Protest Lab' space, where activists and campaigners can display their own items or souvenirs of protests or marches they have been involved in.

Do please visit the exhibition if you can. There are also more galleries upstairs with displays on the history of the fight for our democracy, including pioneers like Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Chartists.

A big thank you to Clare Short, Sam Jenkins, Kloe Rumsey, and everyone who made us welcome!

Photo: The author with collections officer Sam Jenkins, and conservator officer Kloe Rumsey. Copyright Nigel Wilkes. 

Finally, you can also visit the new Peterloo 1819 website for updates on more upcoming bicentenary events in Manchester. For example, the John Rylands Library, Manchester Art Gallery, the Manchester Histories Festival, and the Working Class Movement Library are all taking part in the Peterloo commemorations.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Saving Lives At Sea - Ancestors

Marryat's lifeboat, 1820. 
My latest feature for Discover Your Ancestors online magazine is on the history of the lifeboat service.

The RNLI’s orange-and-blue lifeboats are a familiar sight on our coastline – and on TV. Its brave crews have saved lives at sea for almost two centuries.

Often several generations of the same family have served on lifeboat crews, and my article includes tips for researching your lifeboat ancestors. You can also find out more about lifeboat history here on the RNLI website. The RNLI even has its own archive and library, and you can also visit one of its six museums.

Image from author's collection: 'Captain Marryat’s design for a new lifeboat', Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1820.

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