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Monday, 20 March 2017

84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester

84 Plymouth Grove.
Recently I had a very enjoyable visit to Mrs Gaskell's former home in Manchester - somewhere I've longed to explore for ages.

In this house (no. 42 in Gaskell's lifetime) Elizabeth wrote Cranford, Ruth, North and South, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, and her last, unfinished work, Wives and Daughters.

(Mary Barton was written at one of the Gaskells' previous houses, 121 Upper Rumford St in Manchester).

Family portraits and heirlooms.

Elizabeth grew to love her new home; there was plenty of room for family and friends, and it had a large garden for her children to play in.

William had his own study for his writing and pastoral work; Elizabeth often wrote at a round desk in the dining room.

After Elizabeth's sudden death in 1865, her husband William and unmarried daughters Meta and Julia stayed in the house. The two sisters were well known locally for their charity work.

Elizabeth's wedding veil. 

The house has been restored and furnished in a similar fashion to how the Gaskells would have known it; you can also see some family heirlooms, including Elizabeth's wedding veil, which was worn by her daughter Marianne on her own wedding day.

You have to pay for admission, but your ticket lasts for 12 months, so don't lose it! It was a cold, wet day when I visited, but it would be nice to explore the garden again in the summer.

Blue Plaque.
The dining room.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The March of the Blanketeers: March 1817

St Peter's Church in the early 1800s. 
Following the Spa Fields riot in London in 1816, the authorities in north-west England were very worried about local unrest. This was a time of great hardship for workers like the cotton weavers; many were starving.

The increasingly oppressive Lord Liverpool administration believed it faced a widespread underground movement plotting revolution. On 3 March 1817, the government suspended the Habeas Corpus Act: people could now be imprisoned without trial. 

All the Radicals in northwest England - those campaigning for parliamentary reform like weaver Samuel Bamford - were kept under close surveillance. Several spies were at work in the Manchester area, including Michael Hall (code-name ‘No. 1’) and James Rose (‘No.2’). 
Sometime around this date, Liverpudlian
Spy report from Hall and Rose, Dec 1816. HO40/10.
Joseph Mitchell, William Benbow and others decided to stage a grand march from Manchester to London. If those in power understood the depths of the weavers’ suffering, surely they would lower prices and help them find work? Each man would carry a petition to the Prince Regent; once he realized their distress, of course he would help them. Everyone would carry a blanket for their journey (so they were dubbed the ‘Blanketeers’).

The Blanketeers planned carefully. Each man would take three days’ provision in a knapsack; oatmeal and water was ‘the most nutritious and cheap’ food. They hoped that sympathisers along the route would put them up for the night, or maybe they could sleep in church halls. Some cotton spinners sent subscriptions of 5s each, and one friendly society sent £20.

The men would set off for London in groups of ten, headed by a leader with a petition tied round his arm; each leader would be under the control of a captain. Everything was now set for their grand march. 

But the government were not prepared to risk the spectre of a large body of men descending on the capital. What if riots broke out, as had so recently happened at Spa Fields? On the afternoon of 8 March, Bow St magistrate Robert Baker arrived in Manchester with warrants for the arrest of the northern reformers; several were caught and imprisoned.  

The plan was to stop the Blanketeers before they could pass the river Mersey. Baker was still sanguine that few would join the march; the weather was extremely poor. Nevertheless, Sir John Byng’s troops were ready and waiting to pounce as the Blanketeers gathered on the morning of 10 March. 
Letter re the Blanketeers' march, 10 March 1817. The signature was cut off the letter.
That evening, a Manchester man wrote to his father with exciting news: ‘We have today had the largest meeting of the lower orders ever known in this Town. They met near to St Peter’s Church where a Stage was erected for the Speakers to address them. The Soldiers and Constables were all upon the alert and about 11 O’clock the Horse Soldiers rode in upon them and succeeded in securing the whole of the Speakers and about 20 or 30 more of the ringleaders. They were sent to the New Bailey [the prison in Salford].

More Blanketeers were arrested at Heaton Norris, Stockport and Macclesfield by the yeomanry cavalry. Only one man reached London to hand in his petition: the grand march was over. 
The arrested Blanketeers were never brought to trial; they rotted in prison for several months before being released.