‘Manchester Heroes’. Contemporary print showing the Peterloo Massacre, courtesy Library of Congress.

Regency Manchester: Guest Post by Sue Wilkes

We are delighted to welcome back to our blog, author, Sue Wilkes. Sue is the author of several history and genealogy titles. Her latest book is Tracing Your Manchester and Salford Ancestors. As well as being an author, Sue, also hosts two great blogs which you might wish to check out – Sue Wilkes and  A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England.Tracing Your Manchester & Salford Ancestors: a guide for family & local historians by Sue Wilkes. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tracing-Your-Manchester-Salford-Ancestors/dp/1473856353

Late Georgian Manchester was a buzzing hive of industry thanks to its canal and road links. People flocked to work in its textile factories. In about 1816, it took mail-coaches about thirty hours to travel from London to Manchester. But this was no provincial backwater; it had thriving religious and cultural institutions.

Interior of Manchester Collegiate Church. Gallery of Engravings, Vol. II, (Fisher, Son & Co., c.1845).
Interior of Manchester Collegiate Church. Gallery of Engravings, Vol. II, (Fisher, Son & Co., c.1845).

The Collegiate Church (later the Cathedral) was the town’s main place of worship. It was renowned for the mass baptisms and marriages which took place regularly there (because people had to pay extra fees if these ceremonies were carried out in other local churches). But other denominations had recently built their own places of worship. Roman Catholics had two chapels (Rook St, (1774) and Mulberry St (1794)). The Dissenters had had a chapel in Cross St since 1693 (nearly destroyed by a mob in the early 18th century), which had been extended in 1788.

The Methodists had a large chapel in Oldham St (mostly funded by William Brocklehurst), along with several other chapels in the area, including one at Gravel Lane in Salford. At this date Manchester only had a small Jewish population, who worshipped at the Synagogue in Long Millgate; they had a burial ground in Pendleton, near St Thomas’s Chapel.

The Infirmary, Dispensary, Lunatic Hospital and Asylum. J. Aston, A Picture of Manchester, c.1819. Courtesy Google Books.
The Infirmary, Dispensary, Lunatic Hospital and Asylum. J. Aston, A Picture of Manchester, c.1819. Courtesy Google Books.

The famous Literary and Philosophical Society (1781) met regularly at George St. Members had to be elected to the Society, which had a whopping 2-guinea entrance fee, and a guinea yearly membership fee. Its members included the famous scientist John Dalton. A News Room and Library (the Portico) opened in 1805; four years later, the New Exchange opened, where businessmen and merchants met to transact their business dealings.

The town had had a theatre since 1753 (possibly earlier), and stars from the London theatres regularly trod the boards here. The first Theatre Royal (in Spring Gardens) burned down in 1789; the new Theatre Royal opened in Fountain St in 1807, but like many other establishments, it was bedevilled by financial problems. By 1816 the Theatre Royal had ‘elegant saloons’ in the boxes (4s admission), or you could pay one shilling to sit in the gallery.

Regency gentlemen and belles graced the ballroom at the Assembly Rooms in Mosley Street, with its glittering chandeliers and mirrors. Dancers refreshed themselves in the elegant tea-room. Regular concerts were held at the Assembly Rooms.

The Sir Ralph Abercromby pub, believed to be the only surviving structure from the era of Peterloo close to the site of the massacre. © Sue Wilkes.
The Sir Ralph Abercromby pub, believed to be the only surviving structure from the era of Peterloo close to the site of the massacre. © Sue Wilkes.

Manchester was also home to many charities such as schools, Sunday schools, and hospitals. Did you know that Manchester had its own ‘spa’ at the end of the Infirmary Walks? Well-to-do locals could subscribe to the Public Baths supplied by a local spring; it cost half a guinea for a year’s subscription. Bathers could enjoy the Cold Bath, Hot or Vapour Bath, or the ‘Matlock or Buxton’ Bath.

St Ann’s Church, consecrated in 1712. © Sue Wilkes.
St Ann’s Church, consecrated in 1712. © Sue Wilkes.

But Manchester had its darker side. There was a recently built prison in Salford (the New Bailey), which opened in 1790 and replaced the former unsanitary House of Correction at Hunt’s Bank. Weaver Samuel Bamford and the orator Henry Hunt were imprisoned at the New Bailey following their arrest in 1819. They had been attending at a mass meeting at St Peter’s Field to campaign for parliamentary reform. Several people were killed when local magistrates sent yeomanry cavalry into the crowd to arrest Henry Hunt – the infamous ‘Peterloo massacre’.

Header Image:

‘Manchester Heroes’. Contemporary print showing the Peterloo Massacre, courtesy Library of Congress.



Sir Francis Burdett

Once again we are delighted to welcome back our lovely guest Sue Wilkes who has written another fascinating article for us, this time about the social reformer – Sir Francis Burdett. Her latest book, Regency Spies will be available at the end of this month (further information about how to purchase this book is given at the end of the article).

reg spies highrescover1

The leading members of the parliamentary reform movement of the Regency era, like Major Cartwright and Sir Francis Burdett, had no truck with regime change by physical force; they wanted constitutional reform. However, their names were used by the more revolutionary-minded reformers to lend an aura of respectability, and help gain recruits to their cause.

Sir Francis Burdett’s name often appears in spy reports on the reformers’ doings as a possible leader if an uprising took place. The government kept close watch on his activities. However, unlike fellow reformers such as Henry Hunt, who wanted universal male suffrage, the baronet wanted male suffrage for householders (so only those owning property would have the vote).

Courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art

A hot-headed young politician, Burdett (1770–1844) was educated at Westminster School and Oxford. He married Sophia Coutts (of the famous banking family), and first entered parliament in 1796, when he was elected MP for Boroughbridge. A handsome, popular speaker, he was a determined opponent of the government’s suspension of Habeas Corpus during its crackdown on parliamentary reformers.

Although Burdett steered clear of any public involvement with political extremists, it’s hardly surprising that many Radicals and reformers popped in to see him when visiting the capital. Sir Francis met and corresponded with Irish republicans like Arthur O’Connor.

Burdett was a member of the London Corresponding Society (LCS). Most of this society’s members were devoted to constitutional reform. However, the government, and many contemporaries, believed this was just a front for plotting rebellion. In 1798, several members of the LCS were arrested under suspicion of treasonable practices; one was Colonel Despard, who had served with Lord Nelson overseas. Burdett visited Despard in Coldbath-Fields prison, and was shocked by the poor living conditions there. Burdett put pressure on the prison authorities, and succeeded in getting the colonel moved to a better cell.

But despite his efforts on behalf of Despard and other prisoners held without trial, Burdett was unable to get Habeas Corpus lifted. In 1801, Despard and several other political prisoners were freed. The colonel was hanged in 1803 two years later for his part in an alleged plot to attack London – or was he set up by government spies and informers?

Sir Francis Burdett was immensely popular with the London masses. In 1806 Burdett and Lord Cochrane, a Whig, were elected MP’s of the City of Westminster by its fiercely independent-minded voters.

Burdett triumphal car jpeg
Burdett’s election in 1807. ‘An exact representation of the principal banners and triumphal car, which conveyed Sir Frances Burdett to the Crown and Anchor Tavern on Monday June 29th, 1807’.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

In 1810, Burdett published a polemic in Cobbett’s Weekly Register in which he argued that the House of Commons had exceeded its powers after John Gale Jones, a Radical speaker, was jailed in Newgate for writing a handbill. Burdett argued that if MPs became ‘destroyers of the liberties of the people’, then their ‘oppression’ was ‘combined with treachery; they destroy where they are bound to protect’.

A furious House of Commons decided that Burdett’s article was a breach of its privileges. On 7 April, the Serjeant-at-Arms was sent to arrest Sir Francis and take him to the Tower of London. But Burdett barricaded his house, and refused to go. A mob gathered around his town house, and the windows of several leading MPs were broken.

After many arguments about the legality of the arrest warrant (and even whether the Serjeant was entitled to break down the door to arrest the baronet), Burdett was eventually taken forcibly to the Tower of London by twenty to thirty police-officers, and a detachment of cavalry. A riot broke out, and a number of people were killed and injured. Petitions flooded into parliament for Burdett’s release, but he was not freed until the end of that parliamentary session.

burdett riots
The Burdett riots of 1810. Old and New London Vol. VI. (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c.1890). Author’s collection.

Burdett got into hot water again in 1819, following the Peterloo massacre, in which several people died when the Manchester magistrates sent sabre-wielding troops into the midst of a peaceful reform meeting. Sir Francis wrote an angry attack on the magistrates’ actions, and was fined and jailed again.

A few years after the 1832 Reform Act (somewhat) broadened the electoral franchise, Burdett left the Whigs and joined the Tories. He had no appetite for further reform. Burdett died on 23 January 1844; he was buried at Ramsbury, in Wiltshire.

burdett ramsburyhouse mirroroflit 18feb1826
Sir Francis Burdett’s seat in Ramsbury, Wiltshire. Mirror of Literature, 18 February 1826. Author’s collection

Despite the seeming inconsistency of his later political leanings with those of his early days, Burdett will always be remembered for his fearless, outspoken criticism of government repression during a very dark period for the nation’s liberties.

About The Author

Sue Wilkes is the author of Regency Spies (Pen & Sword, 2015) and A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England (Pen & Sword, 2014).

Sue’s latest book is available to pre-order on Amazon

You can read her blogs at: