Blundering through the Lakes, 1818

Which view is best seen upside-down?

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The first blunder we made of which shall give account in order to make the history of our tour a history of blunders, which will be easily done, was setting out without [two of our] friends…

Tourism as we know it only really dates back to the 18th century – in earlier times certainly pilgrimages encompassed many aspects of it (wayside inns, gift shops selling tat…), and the Grand Tour of the 17th century onwards opened up travel to wealthy young people as we saw a few weeks ago. But even the idea of the countryside, for example, as something worth enjoying for its own sake rather than as the context of one’s toils to survive only developed, not coincidentally, as the Industrial Revolution took hold.

One key concept as part of the new sensibility to nature and landscape was the ‘picturesque’, a term popularised by William Gilpin (1724–1804), who wrote of the landscape in terms of art and aesthetics, and his ideas fed into the Romantic movement – and by the late 18th century it becamse common for comfortably-off middle-class people such as William Wordsworth and his friends to go on ‘tours’ to scenic parts of the country.

Last week we met Benjamin Newton, a vicar in Yorkshire whose diaries of 1816–1818 typify the life of a middle-class gentleman and his country pursuits. The trends of industrialisation on one hand and rural tourism on the other did not pass him by. This entry from 13th September 1816 is quite telling, for example:

The environs of Rochdale, Ripponden, Halifax, Bradford, the bridge over the Aire and Otley are beautiful in the extreme and were it not for the reflection that the greatness of Great Britain depended I may say principally on the defacing of the hand of nature in these parts by the hand of man, which produces not only riches in every way from exportation and taxation at home and raises in time of war an innumerable population which is seen over the whole district for the armies, one could not help regretting that scenes so romantic and lovely should be impaired and destroyed by the black steam engines, by the yarn, the cloth, the cotton, the morals of the people destroyed by being crowded together and the hammers of the water engines perpetually frighting quiet and comfort from vallies [sic] which at first view one would imagine were placed by nature in the most remote and sequestered situations for the peculiar residence of innocence and peace.

But our main focus this week is his light-hearted account of a tour heading north-west from his home near Ripon, over the Yorkshire Dales to the Lake District. The first tourist guide to the Lakes had been published back in 1778 by Thomas West (1720–79), another priest, and many others followed (including Wordsworth’s own from 1820). Benjamin Newton wrote a detailed account of his tour from 20th July 1818 until 11th August. It’s told in his light-hearted and self-mocking style, and has some enjoyable descriptions of his group’s ill-prepared ‘blunders’ as he calls them, as well as some observations about rural life of the time. Below are some extracts from just the first few days…

Tent Lodge by Coniston Water, by J.M.W.Turner, painted in 1818, the same year as Newton’s visit to the Lakes. Tent Lodge is still available as a place to stay for tourists today.

July 1818

20th. Set out for a tour without having determined which way to travel any further than Wensley where we had promised to dine in our way either to Hawes or Askrigg this evening… The first blunder we made of which shall give account in order to make the history of our tour a history of blunders, which will be easily done, was setting out without [two of our] friends… and being obliged after travelling the first three miles to send John back for the road book…

… we started for Wensley and reached Middleham without any further accident and as Mr Costabadie’s1 man had driven us through the ford the last time we came from Wensley were proceding that way, when exactly at the turn of the street that leads down to it we met Mr Brease who told us it was very unsafe, we therefore continued up the town and over the moor thro’ excessive heat and labour for the horses and a very considerable quantity of rain upon the new bonnets which were projected on a certainty of fine weather and when we arrived at the top of the moor and were to descend the steep lane down to Wensley the ladies had to descend from the carriage and found their shoes could not be used for walking, the carriage was unpacked and reckoning our blunder about the ford as the second, the improper state of the bonnets and shoes may well pass for the third…

21st. Breakfasted at Wensley and set out a little before 9 for Askrigg, a very good road with little hill, had thence 5½m to Hardrow where we got some oats for the horses, and my wife got some water to drink with her bread and cheese, the water was brought in a white basin, they had an egg each and the charge was 5/- for their eating, so much for laking.2 The drag chain broke both the first and second time having been mended after the first. From Hardrow we set out after admiring the Scar and the beck that comes down close to the alehouse, for Sedbergh, 15 miles, very much uphill for about five miles till we got above the source of the Eure and on turning over the point of the hill came to the rise of another rivulet which runs into the Western Ocean… This Garsdale is for 5 or 6 miles a beautiful Dale, the road for the most part running close to the river walled up from 6 to 20 feet above it without any fence between the road and the river. The singularity of the Dale is that after having gradually widened from a mere ravine to valley half a mile wide it is suddenly shut up into a ravine again and the road carried up the hill a considerable way and then descends gradually as the Vale opens out again a over a handsome new bridge to Sedbergh, which is the narrowest town I ever saw, the street in no place exceeding 8 to 10 feet except for about 20 yards opposite the shambles which stand directly above the church and churchyard. In this place all the boys and girls and women are knitters employed in knitting not stockings but blue woollen caps of yarn which makes all the children look as if they came out of a dyeing factory. A circumstance obtains in many of the small towns in Yorkshire, Middleham, Askrigg, Sedbergh, etc, which I have not seen remarked, which is that of making the groundfloor of the houses merely lumber rooms, stables, cowhouses, etc, and throwing a flight of steps up out of the street to the floor above which is the part inhabited by the family. Almost all the children of Sedbergh wear wooden shoes and make a great clatter in the street. The church seems calculated to hold not only all the people but all the houses… A good knitter knits 12 caps per diem which on examining must be worn by convicts and prisoners, they are knit very loose on wooden pins…

22nd. Left Sedbergh very early this morning to breakfast at Kendal which we did not reach owing to a fifth blunder at taking the road to Kirkby Lonsdale instead of Kendal, till half past ten, being full three hours in travelling the eleven miles, the road lying all the way over mountains and some of the highest in Westmorland, with scarce a symptom of cultivation or habitation for more than six miles out of the eleven. We got an excellent breakfast at Kendal, walked a great deal about the town and among other places the Church where there happened to be assembled a numerous body of the clergy and a sermon was preaching… by a gentleman who had one of the most powerful voices I ever heard and a very good delivery, making some allowance for a North Country dialect. His sermon must have been a very long one as it lasted I should suppose at least 25 minutes after we got into the Church and I should think was half over…

A little before 2 we left Kendal and travelled for the first three miles up and along a most glorious terrace I ever yet travelled, we at length got up on the moor, the ups and downs of which were very steep and we had well nigh lost our way by the Jesuitical language of a finger post which instead of saying “To Bowness” says “to Ambleside by Bowness 8 miles” and on another finger “To the Ferry” which as it is Bowness ferry perplexes a stranger which road he is to take the Inn. We were much favoured by the weather, which though it threatened rain the greater part of the day, just as we were in the most interesting part of the road broke up and showed the landscape and the distant hills with the finest broad lights and shades that can be imagined. As it was only nine miles, after ascending and keeping on the mountain for seven miles I grew very impatient for a sight of Windermere and at every step the horses made I stretched my neck in vain to see it and owing to its breadth being narrowed by Mr Curwen’s island, did not get a view of it till we were quite descended into the Vale, which however highly gratified us, when we did see it. And cannot conceive how it is possible that anyone's expectations can be disappointed, except by their expecting that to be sublime which is only beautiful in the extreme, smiling, not frowning, not terrific but enchanting.

[‘Mr Curwen’s island’ is Belle Isle, the largest of 18 on Windermere, where a house was built in 1774. It was owned by the Curwen family from c.1781 until 1993. Newton here refers to the concept of the ‘sublime’ – a sort of intermixture of horror and beauty in one’s response to the landscape, particularly a mountainous one – which had been discussed by Gilpin, Wordsworth and many others in this era. He mentions Gilpin directly below, and doesn’t seem to have too much time for the high-flown language of the aesthetes, although he clearly appreciates the scenery.]

We arrived about 4 at Bowness, a beautiful little village, too much cannot be said of its beauty or its littleness, the excellence of the White Lion as an Inn, the prospect from the windows and the odd but natural situation of the house and garden. As soon as we had dined we ordered a boat and got into it with two lads in order to be rowed to what is emphatically called the station but they landed us on Mr Curwen’s Island not far from his house and said nothing. Here our blundering again became conspicuous. We walked round the island and returned to the place which we had been landed and found no boat, we waited half an hour, the evening drew on and the wind began to whistle and to threaten rain…

23rd. I forgot to mention that the church at Kendal is very handsome and the lightest within that I ever saw. Walked down by the North end of the church and was particularly struck with the view of the a lake from a timber yard about 200 yards above the place where you take boat. My wife got up without a hint from me before 7 o’clock. This is the first time since we were married which makes me remark an occurrence that happens but once in 30 years.

… When we came to pay our bill they had charged us only for breakfast omitting both dinner and tea, and being ordered to mend the bill again omitted the tea. All things however being righted, we set out for Lowood Inn by the Bishop of Llandaff's and making only one blunder in the road arrived through excessive heat at ½ past and meeting with two other gentlemen I beguiled the time with conversation with them till the [turn]pike was ready. One of them who was an old tourist knowing the lakes told me there was one view from Dunmaile Raise which could only be seen in perfection by bending down and looking backwards at it through your legs. On my remarking that was rather awkward for ladies, he said that was not the case, for that soon after he was married he was travelling there with a large party of ladies and that they all looked at the prospect in that way except one old maid and that she always continued an old maid. On consulting the landlord of the Inn how to make an evening tour he recommended Loughrigg Tarn and Elter Water, which we set out to see, leaving Ambleside on our right we coasted the head of Windermere and were highly gratified with the mountain scenery which was really and truly sublime, especially from Elter Water. We then turned down to Skelwith Bridge and Skelwith Force, which Force was a very small Force indeed, but being one of Mr Green’s views3 which we had got at Kendal Anne seemed desirous of visiting it, and we got back to Lowood at 8 o’clock to tea, where I found the landlord Mr Ladyman had been servant of the old Bishop Barrington… and has kept this Inn about six years… Mr Ladyman told me the waterfall at Rydale exactly represented a woman standing on her head. I hope may be excused not filling my paper with epithets respecting prospects from the works of Sir John Carr, Gilpin, Walter Scott etc, as I shall have blunders enough without naming God's creatures as some of them have done and drowned their half ideas in seas of words which some people think very fine and some very foolish. Our tour this evening might be about 11 miles, our port was very good, our dinner, eels, Scotch collops and gooseberry pye. The drive this pike, evening was on the whole the most level this side of Askrigg.

24th. Rose before 7 and set out to breakfast at Grasmere, passed through Ambleside by Rydal and Rydal water, soon came in sight of Grasmere and turned out of the road to Grasmere Inn… On going down to the water I saw a gentleman’s servant fishing in a boat moored about 200 yards off in the lake who very civilly pulled up his anchor and asked me if I wished for the boat which I declined and went back for my wife and Caroline who walked down with me to the boat and as soon as we got there we were joined by the servant’s master, a Mr Burley from Lancaster, who hailed his man and we all embarked, he and his man rowing us round the island to our great delight, for a more lovely scene in the same distance it is impossible to behold…

Mr Burley told me he had been from the Inn at the foot 3½ hours in ascending Helvellyn4 and that last week it had large quantities of snow on it… The forms of the mountains are the most grotesque and at time the most sublime that can be imagined.

And so Newton’s tour continued, through to Keswick and Crosthwaite, then over to Cockermouth and Workington. Two hundred years later, many of us still take similar tours round the Lakes, and they remain as sublime as ever.

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The Rev Jacob Costabadie was a close friend of Newton and the rector of Wensley-cum-Leyburn. They had been at Cambridge together.


Tourists were known as ‘lakers’ and often charged extra…


I’m fairly certain this is a reference to William Green’s 1796 book A Description of a Series of Picturesque Views in the North of England.


See here for a brief summary of tourism at Helvellyn, England’s third-highest peak, from the 1780s onwards.

Know thyself, 1816

Self-awareness from a flatulent priest

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My vanity is considerable and I am ashamed of not having made the same conquest of my vanity that I have of my anger.

One of the many joys of digging around in old diaries and the like comes from encountering a real individual’s character, moods and personality. Some diarists are inevitably much better than others in this sense. One such is Francis Kilvert, whom we met a few weeks ago; and this week, if you’ll forgive me, I bring you another 19th century priest not afraid to admit to pleasures of the flesh.

Benjamin Newton was born in Gloucestershire in 1762 and educated at Cambridge. Like his father before him, he became a vicar, serving first in Devynnock, Brecon, followed by Little Bedwyn, Wiltshire and Norton St Philip, Somerset. In 1814 he moved to Wath in Yorkshire, just north of Ripon, as rector, and he remained there until his death in 1830 (at Cheltenham). He was a magistrate there, as well as chaplain to the Duke of Portland – the same duke who later became renowned for his obsessive tunnelling at Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire (more on that another time, perhaps!). Benjamin married Mary Fendall in 1788 and they had four surviving children.

Benjamin lived perhaps a fairly ordinary life for someone well-to-do – aside from his pastoral duties he enjoyed life, drinking, riding and shooting. His diaries from 1816 to 1818 have been preserved by his family, and were published in 1933 by Cambridge University Press. I hope to explore them further another time, but what I loved and wanted to share this week was simply his introduction to these diaries, which prefaces his first entry from 12th July 1816. Unusually he addresses his imaginary reader directly, and writes a summary of his mind and body in a brilliant way, which I hope you enjoy as much as I did.1

Wath rectory and church in Newton’s era, and Benjamin himself (pictured about 30 years before the diary was written), from the 1933 edition of his diary

As I mean this diary to be in some sort a register of my life, studies and opinions and as I have a great respect for that heathen precept, Know thyself, I shall make an attempt to describe myself or in other words to delineate my body and mind.

The former (tho’ I have spent as little time as most men either in the admiration of it or in cultivating or adorning it) I take to have no particular claim to be thought beautiful but I bless God that it is in general healthy and more active and vigorous than the bodies of persons of my age in general. I think however it requires considerable attention to keep it in order and in health, and that especially without considerable exercise it would soon get unwieldy and consequently inactive and unhealthy.

My height is 5 ft 9¾ high, my weight about 12 stone, my complexion dark, my head bald, my eyes hazel, and as they tell me quick and bright, not to say sometimes fierce, my nose trusee, turned up, my mouth wide and my teeth which once were good very much impaired, my chin round, my neck rather short, my arms and legs rather slender, my gait upright, my body slightly inclined to corpulency, my health good, my sleep generally divided into two naps, the first of five hours the second of two. The only bodily inconvenience I labour under is a great tendency to flatulency which sometimes disorders my whole system for a time but is generally of short duration.

My mind is generally actively tho’ often I fear not profitably employed. I am naturally very irritable but I trust I have in a considerable degree subdued that propensity. My vanity is considerable and I am ashamed of not having made the same conquest of my vanity that I have of my anger. I have in general good spirits which are seldom depressed except from a sense of my own sins. I have been singularly fortunate and happy thro’ life and I think it a duty I owe to God to bear all the little inconveniences I meet with in patience and gratitude.

I have considerable power of application but am nevertheless desultory in my employments. I go shooting for health and hunting for society which I like to meet better in the field than at any dinner where I must drink more wine than I like. Of all luxuries I delight most in tea. My appetite is so good I have few predelictions. I prefer venison and mutton to all other meat.

I like reading, am a great enemy to Tyranny, and greater still to Anarchy. Pitt was too monarchical and Fox too democratical especially during the French Revolution and the Irish Rebellion. My opinion of the Regent cannot express, his ministers are wicked in nourishing his extravagance.

My inclination often leads me to be sarcastic and I am sometimes thought to say a witty thing tho’ I did not intend it. I fear I feel too much pleasure in epigram and satyr for a Christian and a Clergyman. I salve my conscience by a conviction that I have no malice. I hate nothing but affectation except outright villainy and sin.

I trust I am sufficiently indulgent to my family and servants and too much so to my dogs. I am still charmed with female beauty but rather fastidious in my taste. I am naturally shy but have conquered my shyness by great effort from seeing very early the disadvantage of it. I am not a great talker except I think it civil to join or lead the conversation, and I think can acquit myself of having ever started a subject with the idea of shewing myself off though a sudden impulse often makes me shoot a bolt. I seldom or ever tell stories, even short ones. My friends seem fond of my society, rate me much too high.

I have studied much to find out my own fort. I think it is a sort of power of eliciting fun and wit from the conversation of others rather than from anything of my own ‘exers ipse secundo’.2 My religious opinions I display at least once a week to my parishioners and therefore have no occasion to record them here. I dread controversy which makes shipwreck of charity and I see no good in publishing my opinions which are not articles of the Apostles’ Creed. As for Bible Societies, Christian Knowledge Societies etc, think it better to pray for one fold under one shepherd leaving the time and the means to the good Shepherd to himself to accomplish.

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I have split the text into paragraphs to aid readability.


My Latin is very rusty but I think the sense of this is modestly about his own efforts being secondary to others’, but I welcome correction!

The middle classes are revolting, 1450

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And they lay at Mile End without Aldgate, and so they besieged the city, and then was London Bridge drawn and the gates of the city kept with men of arms.

When we start to look for primary, first-hand sources beyond about 500 years ago, it becomes harder – naturally fewer documents survive from earlier eras, but also there was less of a sense of personal narrative. In Western culture at least, the ‘diary’ is largely an invention of the Renaissance, and when we go back to the 15th century or earlier in Britain at least, often the closest documents we have to such a thing are in the form of chronicles of events – and these were often written long after the events they describe. But sometimes they can have an immediacy which does suggest they come from real familiarity – and that’s what we seem to have this time; if not as a direct eyewitness, then at least close to the events described.

In the spring and early summer of 1450, there was a revolt against corruption in Henry VI’s court in the form of what became known as Jack Cade’s rebellion. A group of rebels, mostly from Kent and Sussex, were disaffected with the behaviour of national and local officials, and the king’s failure to bring them to account, as well as the losses their communities had suffered in the wars against France now known as the Hundred Years’ War. Many of the rebels were merchants and from the middle classes of society, even if the peasantry joined their call to arms. A shadowy figure by the name of Jack Cade (he also used the alias John Mortimer, in a reference to the ancestry of Henry’s rival, Richard, Duke of York)1 put together a manifesto, ‘The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent’, a proclamation of these grievances. You can read the whole list here, but here’s a small sample:

Item. The law serves of nought else in these days but for to do wrong, for nothing is spread almost but false matters by color of the law for reward, dread and favor and so no remedy is had in the Court of Equity in any way.

Item. We say our sovereign lord may understand that his false council has lost his law, his merchandise is lost, his common people is destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, the king himself is so set that he may not pay for his meat nor drink, and he owes more than ever any King of England ought, for daily his traitors about him where anything should come to him by his laws, anon they take it from him. 

The king remained deaf to these entreaties, however, and in May and June several thousand rebels began to march towards London, mustering at Blackheath in early June and then heading for London Bridge. I was curious to learn whether there were any eyewitness accounts of these events. There are indeed several accounts in chronicles of the era, but one that stands out was compiled by a man believed to be called Robert Bale, apparently either a notary or a scrivener (a form of legal secretary) who possibly died in 1473. Bale’s Chronicle spans the period from 1189 to 1461, but is notably more detailed after 1440. Here, then, is his account (with modernised spellings).2

The 12th day of June assembled at Blackheath beside London of men of Kent came a great people well arrayed… the same day came the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Rivers into the city with great power of people in liveries with viands and arrayed for war.

The Monday 15th day of June, the king, lying at Saint John’s beside Smithfield with great people sent heralds and knights to the said Blackheath and to bid the captain of Kent [i.e. Cade] with his people there gathered to withdraw them. And they sent answer again that they were there for the king’s right and the land. And they had marvellously staked all the field about them that no power of horsemen should come and override them.

The same day against even[ing] rode toward the same field by the king’s commandment the Earl of Northum­berland, the Lord Scales and the Lord Lisle with a great fellowship of spears and bows and there was numbered by a herald of people in the said captain’s fellowship 40,000 and more. [Modern estimates suggest it was more likely 10% of this figure.]

And on the morn, the king, having with him the Duke of Exeter and the Duke of Buckingham, and many earls, lords and knights in substance of all this land with a mighty army of people was proposed toward the said heath to have met with the said cap­tain… And the captain demeaned him[self] to the lords in such wise and called himself and his people petitioners, answering to them that his coming to the heath was not to do any harm but to have the desires of the commons in the parliament fulfilled. And the lords appointed [i.e. agreed] with him that all things should be redressed, and so the lords came again to the king and should by promise bring or send to the same captain by a certain hour assigned from the king a conclusion of the same appointment. Howbeit, because the lords neither came nor sent word from the king to the captain again of the king’s will to his intent and desire, there­fore the said captain refused the king’s appointment sent to him and ordained and disposed him[self] to keep the field against the king. And then the king, with a mighty army, [went] toward the said heath and the said captain, having thereof witing [knowledge] withdrew him[self] and all his people in the night and fled and took with them their stakes and ordinance.

On the morn Thursday rode for to pursue after the said captain Sir Thomas Stanley and one Daniel, which had great rule about the king, and led with them a great people, well arrayed for defence… with great puissance [power/force] to take the said captain. Howbeit, the said captain and his people, laying in an bushment [ambush], met and countered with these lords and… hurt much of their people.

The same day at 9 afore noon, the king rode armed through Cheap[side] with his said dukes, earls, lords, and knights with right a notable and royal power toward the said heath… And all that night and on the morn came much people to strength[en] the king at Greenwich, of Lancaster and Cheshire and other shires…

…the king commanded all his host to muster up on the said heath and there was then… a mighty puissance which was assigned by the King’s Council to have risen into Kent and pursue the said captain and his people and so to have destroyed Kent and taken them. But the captain and his fellowship disposed them in such wise and departed his people in several bushments to have recountered with the lords and their puissance. So that the king’s host made then a sudden shout and noise upon the said heath, saying destroy we these traitors about the king which that the said captain hath intended to do or ever we will do it. Whereupon the king granted their desire and commanded the Lord Saye, Chamberlain of England, to be taken, and so he was arrested in the king’s presence… and the said Lord Saye was committed to the Tower…

On the Thursday, the second day of July, the said captain with his people, which were a full rude people, came suddenly at 4 after ­noon into Southwark, and all took up the inns and places.

On the morrow came a great fellowship out of Essex ordained by the said captain. And they lay at Mile End without Aldgate, and so they besieged the city, and then was London Bridge drawn and the gates of the city kept with men of arms. And one Robert Horn, alderman, Philip Malpas, alderman, and John Gest were in the heavy conceit [i.e. on the mind of] of the captain, and he and his people called them traitors and extortioners and would that the governors of the city should have put and sent them out of the city to the intent that they might [have] of them their desire, but they were escaped and could not be found…

The same day at after noon, the said captain with his people entered over London Bridge into the city. And the king and his lords were then to Killingworth [Kenilworth]. And when he was so entered, he despoiled the said Philip Malpas’s place and bore with them from thence great goods and recovered into Southwark again with his people and made his cries in the king’s name that none of his people should do any harm but keep the peace.

On the morrow Saturday came the judges at 9 o’clock unto the Guildhall, and there were diverse and many inquests charged for the king to enquire of extortioners and other evildoers. And in the meantime, afore 11 o’clock, the said captain came riding with his people on foot from Southwark through the city to [St] Paul’s in a blue gown of velvet, with sables furred and a straw hat upon his head3 and a sword drawn in his hand and returned again to London Bridge and into Southwark. And at 4 after­ noon, he and his people came again into Cheap and drank there at a tavern called the Crown and returned to Mile End where the people of Essex lay, there beheaded one Crowmer and another called William Bailey and came again in haste into Cheap and two heads [were] borne before him on high poles. And at the Standard in Cheap he hoved, and there was the Lord Saye brought there from the Guildhall, where he was by diverse inquests indicted of treason and at the same Standard the captain did do the Lord Saye beheaded and despoiled him of his array, bound his legs with a rope to a horse and drew his body on the pavement through a great part of the city.

[The story goes that Cade declared himself Mayor of London by a traditional striking of the London Stone. After Cade’s murderous act, however, the tide turned…]

On the same night and on the Sunday following the same captain and his people appointed to have searched and had diverse worthy men and their goods of the city and the same Sunday the captain beheaded in Southwark a gentleman which the men of Essex delivered to him called Thomas Mayne of Colchester. And then the mayor and the council of the city laboured that Sunday all the service time to make and set a rule and ordinance that the said captain should no more enter into the city. And the same night which was the eve of St Thomas the Martyr all the commons of the city drew to harness. And the same night and on the morrow unto 4 of the bell the people of the city and the captain and his men counted and met together on London Bridge and in Southwark and much people were slain and hurt either party. And then the said captain fled and his men departed and so his power ceased and a noon after he was slain in his defence and then beheaded and his head set on London Bridge and his body brought to the King’s Bench and from thence drawn dead through the city on the pavement unto the Tyburn and quartered and his quarters sent to diverse places of the land and then were diverse Oyez… had in diverse places and especially in Kent and much people hanged and beheaded for the same rising…

Modern estimates suggest around 200 of the rebels were killed in the battle at London Bridge. Bale’s account misses the king and Lord Chancellor granting pardons to Cade and his crew (to encourage them to disperse), which were then revoked. Cade fled to Sussex but was caught by one Alexander Iden near Heathfield, wounded, and died on his way to trial, so his subsequent beheading was just part of the theatre of power.

That was that for Cade, and subsequent lesser rebellions in Sussex failed to get traction – but Cade’s legacy was an undermining of the king which helped to initiate the Wars of the Roses, with Richard, Duke of York’s son deposing him (as Edward IV) between 1461 and 1470 (Henry returned briefly to the throne in 1470–1).

“Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation,” Shakespeare’s version of Cade proclaims in Henry VI Part II – but it wasn’t to be.


Shakespeare references this in Henry VI Part II, with York himself allegedly behind it all:

I have seduc’d a headstrong Kentishman,
John Cade of Ashford,
To make commotion, as full well he can,
Under the tide of John Mortimer.

Another account from this era, A Short English Chronicle, reports that the rebel was “a capteyne the whiche namyd hym sylfe John Mortymer, whose very trew name was John Cade, and he was an Iresheman”.


Editions of this (and other chronicles covering Cade’s rebellion) can be found here and in The Jack Cade Rebellion of 1450: A Sourcebook by Alexander L. Kaufman (2019).


Compare, perhaps, the blue cockades of another rebellion in London, 330 years later, which we encountered a few weeks ago.

The pros and cons of polygamy, 1696-7

"Woe be to him or her who is guilty, be the clamour most silent"

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This Respondent being not naturally endowed with the gift of Continency from heaven, had license by God’s Law to marry. And being married his wife… did obstinately deny him the use of her marriage bed. In this case what should this Respondent do?

In late 17th century Britain there was a lively debate within the church about the merits or otherwise of polygamy (in this context, exclusively referring to one man having several wives). I happened upon the subject while rummaging in the Harleian Miscellany (the same collection which yielded this amusing advice for travellers), in the form of an anonymous document entitled ‘A letter of advice to a friend upon the modern argument of the lawfulness of simple fornication, half-adultery, and polygamy’. More on that shortly.

No less a luminary than Martin Luther had written this in a letter in 1524: “I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.”

Some Anabaptists had argued in favour of polygamy in this era, and of course in the 19th century many Mormons enthusiastically embraced the practice, which continues to have its fans.1 And in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was clearly a hot topic. The Bigamy Act 1604 had made multiple marriage a capital offence, but a century later there was much discussion about allowing polygamy as a ‘solution’ to sexual predation by men. Supporters of polygamy included Gilbert Burnet (1643–1715), Bishop of Salisbury, whose tract ‘A Defence of Polygamy and Divorce’ was partly inspired by Charles II’s failure to produce a legitimate heir; and in the same era the author Henry Neville’s 1668 satire The Isle of Pines2 told the story of shipwrecked George Pine who peopled his eponymous island through four wives.

But not everyone was convinced. The author of the ‘A letter of advice to a friend’, dated 17th July 1696, was in fact Charles Leslie (1650–1722), a former Church of Ireland priest and supporter of the Stuarts after William III’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. His other works included a tract against the Quakers entitled The Snake in the Grass.

Here is an extract of ‘A letter of advice to a friend’ (the identity of said friend is unknown, and we can only imagine the dinner party banter that led to Leslie’s diatribe) as the case for the prosecution, as it were.3 (The defence will follow…)


THE Discourse which happened in our Company last night, has obliged me to write this Letter to you. I am astonished to see such Paradoxes of Iniquity set up, and to prevail so unreasonably among Men who think themselves the greatest Masters of Reason. To think Polygamy and Fornication lawful; nay, and as some maintained (for there is no stop in wickedness) even Adultery too.

There is nothing in this Matter; but that Men, having their Appetites unbridled, by any Restraint or Discipline of Religion, have given them a loose, are resolved to pursue them whithersoever they go; and invent the best Arguments they can to defend them. Nay, some come at last to believe what they have at first offered in jest, and to try what it would do…

[After a lot of railing against lust and fornication, he comes to polygamy.]

… And I will now go on to consider the other Point, which you heard discoursed of, that is, Polygamy.

This is bottomed upon the same loose Principles as the other; to give the Range to our Lusts, and let them endure no Limits. But it has more pretence than the other; because God did Dispense with it, as with Arbitrary Divorces, in many Ages of the World… God at the Beginning made only One Male, and One Female. And, for this cause, a man shall leave Father and Mother, and shall cleave to his Wife; and they twain shall be one flesh

The first who broke in upon the Original Constitution was Lamech, of the Posterity of Cain, who took Two Wives, Gen.iv. 19. But we find not that it prevail’d in the Posterity… Noah, and his three Sons, had but each of them One Wife, who made up the Eight Persons in the Ark.

And even when Polygamy was most in use, it was thought, though (in strictness) lawful, because then Dispensed with, yet an Imperfect, a Miserable, and Inconvenient State… Christ… gives a plain Rule Mark x. 11. against Polygamy, when he made it Adultery to put away one Wife and Marry another. For, if Polygamy be Lawful, how comes it to be Adultery to Marry another Wife, whether he put away the First or not? … And yet against the Doctrine of Christ, as Understood and Practised by the Apostles, and the Church of that Age, and all the Ages since, our thin Beaux would oppose their little Criticisms; and cover themselves with Cobwebs; who one Day, if they Repent not, will call to the Hills and Mountains to fall upon them, and hide them from their Judge and their Guilt…


So much for the standard party line. Enter the witness for the defence, who had his own personal reasons behind his views. John Butler (d.1682) was a canon at Windsor and had been chaplain to both Charles II and Prince Rupert. He had married his wife Martha Perkins in May 1651. He quarrelled with her over one of their sons becoming a Catholic, and spent a period in debtor’s prison. Martha refused to share a bed with him and he found solace in the arms of a servant, Mary Tomkins, with whom he had further children, while living in Holland and back in England. Martha decided to prosecute him for fornication, which prompted a robust and extraordinarily self-absorbed polemic, The true case of John Butler…, which he published in 1697 – in the course of his bad temper, he widens a defence of his own adultery (while still denying it as such) into a broader one of polygamy or what he terms “lawful Concubinage in a Case of Necessity; wherein lawful Marriage conveniently or possibly cannot be obtained”. The full text, all 15,000+ words of it, is here but here are some selections:

That I am charged, and that deep and widely, with great offence, hurts me not so far as I am innocent: But woe be to him or her who is guilty, be the clamour most silent. Adultery is a foul crime, and Fornication, a dangerous sin; and both these are laid at my door… trumpetted both in City and Countrey to the ruin of my reputation, That I am or was a man deprived and cast out of the ministry, and my benefice, for misdemeanors, and that I have two wives at once; am a whoremaster, a contentious man, a bankrupt, and a beggarly fellow, an enemy to the Goverment, and abundance of such like stuff, which was almost every title false. 

God is my witness how unapt I always was to harbour an ill opinion of this woman my somtimes, (as I verily thought) loving wife. For tho there was just suspition of her overmuch familiarity with other men, and of her want of love to my self; because of a purloining knack she had of private selling my goods, over and above her allowance, and by keeping up a private purse; and by a coldness of affection, in case of any difference with her intimates, or kindred, being all ways apt to take party against me. But especially for that, when by meanes of adverse fortunes in the world, I was driven to lurk at some distance in remote places, for about three years space, she never was the woman that gave me one visit, during that kind of restrained exile; no, tho for near ten months of the said time I was a close prisoner in the Fleet: And for as many months before that, had not so much as once seen her face; and yet she knew well where I was, and wanted for no conveniency to come at me… And now it is more than eleven years since she has thus deserted me, and yet now at length she chargeth me with Adultery, or Fornication, or Incontinency

To [Martha’s] Charge, That this Respondent as one unmindful of his conjugal vow, and seduced and instigated by the Devil, did about ten years since commit the foul crime of Adultery with the said Mary Tompkins his maid-Servant… this is a pernicious and slanderous lye, invented by the Complainant Martha her self at the insinuation and instigation of the Devil, and her foul mouth’d sons. For as for matter of Adultery, it is a thing utterly inconsistent with her own charge. For the said Mary Tomkins being no man’s wife, but a maid-servant, as her own self avers, and the said Respondent being no woman’s husband as she also her self must needs know, unless of the said Mary Tomkins; with what face of impudence could she call it Adultery, had such a thing been done as she alleges? For the Complainant her self has so often confest it that it is out of her power to deny it, how that above one year before, that ten years since, wherein she charges this Adultery to be done, she had clearly Divorced her self from this Respondent’s bed by a malicious and obstinate Desertion… 

And as for the said Mary Tomkins, this Respondent farther saith, That until utterly relinquished by his wife, and above one whole year after, she never had any child by him, nor was she with child by him: And after that time he was guilty of no other nor greater Fornication with her, than what our holy Father Abraham the Father of the faithful was guilty of, when purely for issue sake, and not of any lustful concupiscence, he went in to Hagar his Wives Maid, or unto Keturah his concubine in the life time of Sarah his Wife…

Lastly, as for Incontinency, which in its self is no sin, unless it be expressed in unlawful uses. This Respondent doth confess and allege, that he is one of those men… of whom St. Paul hath declared, Saying, They who cannot contein, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn. 1. Cor. 7, 9. Now this Respondent being not naturally endowed with the gift of Continency from heaven, had license by God’s Law to marry. And being married his wife denied him her conjugal duty; that is, she did obstinately deny him the use of her marriage bed. In this case what should this Respondent do? To go in unto a Whore, he might not do. And to marry another wife, without a lawful license from lawful Authority, it was not convenient because of a statute law in force, that under a severe penalty, no man might have two wives. And tho in the truth of this case, it was not having of two wives, for that the marriage with the first was of course dissolved…

… ’Tis true indeed, that it was alleged, as if this Respondent should say, that he had another woman with child by him, at that time, for-which cause his wife the Complainant pretended to have relinquished him: And she alleges she can prove such words uttered by him. Unto which he answer’s, that true it is he was in a great passion, because of his son turn’d Papist, and his wife violently siding with him, to excuse and justify him against this Respondent: And what words in the heat of passion were utter’d by him, he does not perfectly remember; it is a matter on her part to be proved. 

Confusingly Butler then goes on to say that Mary Tomkins “had no Bastard Child born” in Holland, but then says she did indeed have a daughter baptised in Delft in 1688 “and of this child, this Respondent does confess, he is (as he verily believes) the true Father”. His core theological argument appears to rest solely on comparing himself to the Old Testament patriarchs, and he cannot help his own lack of the “gift of Continency”.

Butler’s rant in support of “honest concubinage” was needlessly to say not very well received, and there were numerous tracts published appearing to be shocked by his arguments. One noted, “Had a Pamphlet of this Nature been writ by an avowed Debauchee, or a Play-house Beau, it had been no surprise: But to have anything printed in Defence of Concubinage by a Batchelor of Divinity, and a minister of the Church of England, may Justly astonish us…”

But the debates if anything were amplified in the century that followed, with a wider questioning of the authority of Scripture in the first place, and those rakish beaux sought to defend their lifestyles, just as Butler did his. Sexual politics has always been alive and well.


See here for a detailed survey of Christianity’s historical agonising over polygamy.


Some have argued that Pines was a deliberate anagram…


The full text is here.

A drive in a steam engine, 1830

Is this the first ever account from a steam railway passenger?

(Hello, this is Histories, a free weekly email exploring first-hand accounts from the corners of history… Do please share this with fellow history fans and subscribe.)

The motion is imperceptible, and the feeling of moving so quickly most exhilarating…

The rabbit holes of research bring me this week to the journal of Anne Chalmers. Not a great deal is known of her life, and historically speaking she stands in the shadow of her father, Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847), a major figure in the Church of Scotland; aside from being a member of the clergy, he was an economist and vice-president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Port Chalmers in New Zealand is named after him. But this isn’t his story.

Anne Simson Chalmers (1813–91) was the eldest of Thomas’s six daughters and was born at Kilmany in Fife, Scotland, although they moved to Glasgow, St Andrews and then Edinburgh while she was still a child. In 1836 she married William Hanna, another minister, author of several theological works and later Thomas’s biographer. The two ministers were later part of the ‘Disruption’ of 1843 which led to them being part of the breakaway, more evangelical Free Church of Scotland.

Anne’s daughter Matilda edited a selection of her letters1 (including an autobiographical note by Anne herself) and the journal we’ll dip into here.2 Matilda recalled her mother always referring to her spouse as ‘Mr Hanna’ on the grounds that “she didn’t know him well enough to call him by his Christian name”. Anne’s journal covers a trip which she took in 1830 (when she was still a teenager): “On Saturday 1st of May, Papa, Mamma, and I embarked in that celebrated steamship the United Kingdom for London…” They travelled to various cities and regions of England, returning home on 10th July. She recounts meeting luminaries such as the poet Coleridge (“I can give no idea of the beauty and sublimity of his conversation. It resembles the loveliness of a song”) and the elderly abolitionist William Wilberforce, and describes a trip to Regent’s Park Zoo, all in a lively and engaging manner. She also gives an account of a very early trip on a steam train which I think has been overlooked – in fact, I believe it might be the world’s earliest ever description of a steam train journey by a passenger.

Let’s first set the scene with some snippets of her visits to the industrial Midlands and North of England…

Monday, 21st June. We left Birmingham at eight o’clock. Mrs. Patrick Chalmers and I being the sole occupiers of the inside, and Papa, Mamma, and John occupied the top, and Mr. MacDonald accompanied them the first stage, as far as Lichfield, where we were allowed twenty minutes to see the Cathedral. We walked quickly through the aisle among the lofty pillars that had stood for ages in solemn grandeur, and had only time to see the chapter-house hastily, and I observed Lady Mary Wortley Montague’s monument as we were leaving, and would have called the attention of the others to it, but just then the horn blew and off we flew, each with their cloaks flying in the wind, and Papa with his greatcoat, like the picture of Christian or Hopeful climbing the hill Difficulty. So we crossed the green, and ran down the street till we reached the coach, and skipping in, away it drove. Then we passed through Abbot’s Bromley, then Uttoxeter and Cheadle, where we took in a little passenger, then Leek, where the passengers appropriately dined, and where we set out the little passenger, but took in a woman. We were joined by an inquisitive man at Macclesfield, to whom Mrs. Patrick Chalmers was very communicative, and told him where she lived and where we had been, and that Papa’s and Mamma’s watches had stopped, and many other particulars, and he began to question me, but I did not give him so much information. We passed through Stockport, the most disagreeable smoky town I ever saw, built of red brick. There are houses all the way from Stockport to Manchester, so that they almost appear the same town. Manchester is a most horrible town, built of smoky-looking red bricks. Its atmosphere consists principally of the black smoke that issues forth in dense clouds from thickly-scattered tall red chimneys…

Tuesday, 22nd June. After breakfast, Miss Barbour, Mrs. P. Chalmers, Mamma, and I, accompanied by Mr. Allen, set out to see some manufactories.

We first visited the tape-making, and were shown some machines going up and down and round and round, which set in motion all the machinery in about twelve rooms, and was the cause of as much noise as might have deafened a mole. Then we saw some pirns [bobbins] dancing the lancers, which produced braid. Then we visited reed-making and the iron foundry, and returned to have some lunch. Then we went out with the intention of driving round the town, but had only time to see the printing of cotton, which is somewhat like printing floorcloths…

[And now we come to the ‘railroad’. The world’s first public steam railway was the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825 to serve the coalmining industry; and early lines open to passengers included the Canterbury and Whitstable (opened May 1830 – but not fully locomotive powered). Hot on their heels was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (the L&M), which officially opened on 15th September 1830. George Stephenson’s legendary Rocket locomotive had won a contest (the Rainhill Trials) in 1829, and he and his son Robert developed the rolling stock for the L&M. A test run is known to have run from Liverpool to Salford on 14th June 1830,3 carrying two passenger carriages and seven coal wagons, less than two weeks before Anne describes her own encounter with the new age of steam.]

Wednesday, 23rd June. I left Mr. Barbour’s with Papa in the coach for Liverpool; our companions were two ladies, one of whom was a great chatterbox, and would not allow Papa to read. We were met at the Old Swan by Messrs. Chs. and Patck. Parker and Mr. Wilson, who took us to Aigburth in two phaetons; Papa and Chs. in one and us in the other. We stopped to look at the railroad and saw one of the engines move…

Friday, 25th June. Ann and I having been with difficulty rescued from the dominion of Morphy, breakfasted at eleven o'clock, and then set off in a carriage with Mr. Hoffender, Papa, and Mary Rose, although it was pouring of rain, to have a drive in a steam engine. Mr. Charles and Pat rode in the phaeton. Upon arriving at the destined spot we climbed a steep bank to await its arrival, but after standing in the rain for some time we were told it had passed an hour before, so we returned the way we came; but before we had gone far we passed the railroad and saw the steam engine in propria persona. There had been some mistake about it which I did not take the trouble to comprehend, but we got into the waggon and rode five miles in it in ten minutes, sometimes faster and sometimes slower, and once at the rate of thirty-four miles an hour. The motion is imperceptible, and the feeling of moving so quickly most exhilarating; we wrote each a sentence while we were at full speed, and would have done so with perfect ease had not the rain, which was very heavy, blotted the writing. Afterwards we went to the entrance of the tunnel and met there Mr. De Cappleton and Mr. Scoresby.4 We here entered a waggon, and being pushed off, the motion accelerated, and we passed through the tunnel one mile and a quarter in four minutes. It was very cold at first. After leaving the tunnel, Pat, M. Rose, Ann, and I were sent off in a post-chaise—I mean in a crab (a machine which moves sideways)—to Aigburth…

[On Saturday the Chalmers party left for Manchester again, and soon other events provided new distractions – such as the death of George IV…]

Sunday, 27th June. On going to the breakfast-room, the first thing I saw was a newspaper surrounded and intercolumniated with black. My worst fears were confirmed by Papa telling me that the King was dead! … Some regret him on political grounds, others because they must buy new black gowns, but few really feel for him.

I’m no railway buff, and welcome others correcting me, but I can’t find any reference to Anne’s trip in accounts of the L&M. Another passenger’s account is widely quoted – that of the actress Fanny Kemble, who gave a fantastically vivid report of her trip in a letter:5 “You can’t imagine how strange it seemed to be journeying on thus, without any visible cause of progress other than the magical machine, with its flying white breath and rhythmical, unvarying pace, between these rocky walls…” But that letter was written on 26th August, a full two months after Anne’s account.

The official opening of the railway, on 15th September, has gone down in history, not least because of the unfortunate death of the MP William Huskisson, who fell under a train while trying to talk to the Duke of Wellington. But for some charming first impressions of this world-changing new form of transport, we must turn to 17-year-old Anne Chalmers.


To her friend Anne Parker, written 1826–7.


Available online here.


Described in a report to the railway’s directors here.


William Scoresby Junior was the pastor of the Floating Church for seamen in Liverpool, and had been one of the passengers on the trial run of 14th June. He had originally been opposed to railways.


It is extracted here and the full letter is here.

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