Most people have heard of William Cobbett but our speaker Dr Richard Aldous really brought his story alive. William Cobbett was an agriculturist, soldier, journalist, politician and campaigner against corruption and for reform. He was a prolific writer who is estimated to have written 20 million words. He was controversial and frequently found himself in trouble.
He was born at the Jolly Farmer Farnham in 1763, and educated by his father whilst working on the family farm. In 1783 after a spell as a clerk he joined the army when intending to join the marines.
Posted to Canada he met his wife and returned to England in 1792 having reached the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major, Out of the army he started to campaign for soldier’s rights and was accused of sedition and fled to France.
He taught himself French and wrote a French grammar. He moved to the United States as revolutionary France was uncongenial and established himself as a pamphleteer, often using the pseudonym ‘Peter Porcupine’. His provocative style made many enemies and he had damages of $8000 awarded against him. To avoid paying these he returned to England where he continued his pamphleteering and campaigning. The government asked him to produce a propaganda sheet but Cobbett declined. Instead he founded his own newspaper ‘The Political Register’ in which he continued his campaigning. He was opposed to the Treaty of Amiens and urged a continuation of the war with France.
He started recording the proceedings of trials and parliamentary proceedings an enterprise he later sold to Hansard. Disgusted by Pitt’s abuse of patronage. Cobbett fought and lost a by-election at Honiton and was dismayed at the extent of electoral corruption.
In 1804 he moved to Hampshire buying Botley House and by 1808 was caricatured by Gillray as a “Man of Hampshire”. He was an agricultural innovator and founder of the Botley and South Hants Agricultural Society. He continued to campaign for workers rights whilst at the same time not being the best employer himself. In 1810 he spent 2 years in Newgate jail for treasonous libel.
When the Government suspended Habeas Corpus he fled to America where he wrote an English Grammar. Returning to England left Botley and moved to a plant nursery in.Kensington.
In 1821 he published a self sufficiency guide ‘Cottage Economy’ and then in 1822 embarked on the first of his rural rides for which he is perhaps best known. These continued until 1828 and were made on horseback so as to better engage with the countryside. He was a keen observer of the rural scene and critic of agricultural practices in the areas he visited. One ride along the south coast passed through Fareham and TItchfield. He was not impressed!
In 1831 he was again charged with sedition but was acquitted and he eventually entered parliament in 1832 as Member for Oldham. He died at Ash near Farnham and is buried in St Andrew’s churchyard.
Titchfield History Society January 21 2020