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13 November 2014

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You are in: Hampshire > History > Local History > William Cobbett

William Cobbett

William Cobbett

William Cobbett

The little market town of Botley was once home to 18th century radical journalist William Cobbett who was one of the Industrial Revolution's most committed agitators - take a look at his life & career & download the Cobbett Trail walk.

William Cobbett was born in Farnham, but settled in Botley in 1805 where he combined his career as a political journalist with farming and family life, bringing up his large brood of seven children.

He lived in Botley House, a massive property opposite Botley Mills which was demolished in the mid 19th century, although some outbuildings remain.

Cobbett loved the little market town as it contained 'everything that he loved and nothing that he hated!'. The son of a farmer, he cared passionately about the plight of humble farm labourers, and rallied against corrupt statesmen and middlemen.

As well as writing several books, his outlet for expressing his opinions was his own paper, The Political Register where his motto was: "Put me on a gridiron and broil me alive if I am wrong!"

Botley, farmland

Farmland views along the Cobbett Trail

Sharp-tongued journalist

His paper was later bought by the Hansard family and became the official record of Parliamentary proceedings.

His freethinking views put him behind bars in 1810 for acting against the use of flogging by the army.

He served his time in London's Newgate Prison which was the largest, most notorious and the worst in the city - described by many as 'hell itself!'

With infectious diseases passing round the prisoners, only a quarter survived until their execution day which was either a public hanging or burning.

Luckily Cobbett was released after two years and rode back home to Botley via Alton where the church bells rang for an hour to celebrate his freedom.

In Botley the bells were silent as the Parson, Richard Barker who sarcastically described Cobbett as a 'delectable creature' refused to give the villagers the keys to the church.

Botley had everything he loved & nothing he hated!

Botley had everything he loved & nothing he hated!

Shortly after his release his views got him in hot water once again, and he had to flee to America for several years to escape another spell inside.

Gave the depressed countryside a voice

When he returned he spent some time travelling around the south on horseback; writing about the farming scene - where machinery was being introduced, reducing the need for workers.

With salaries plummeting and grim working conditions Cobbett predicted the rural or 'swing' riots - which began in August 1830 after a poor harvest and the introduction of the threshing machine in Kent, the rampage spread to Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire.

Cobbett supported the workers through the riots.  He was tried in Salisbury but escaped a second spell in the slammer. But around 1,000 workers weren't so lucky - they were deported to Australia, and 252 labourers were sentenced to death.

His notes were published in a book, Rural Rides in 1830 (which is still available).

You can follow in the footsteps of Botley's most famous resident, by walking the Cobbett Trail. Download a copy from the link below.

last updated: 10/03/2009 at 12:48
created: 03/03/2009

You are in: Hampshire > History > Local History > William Cobbett

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