Thursday, December 30, 2004

John Fuller and William Cobbett

"Fuller continued to show a keen interest in the state of farming and on January 3, 1822, he attended a meeting of over 300 farmers and landed gentlemen at The George Hotel in Battle, who had gathered to protest over the 'distressed state of agricultural interest', which they believed had been brought about by the Corn Laws of 1815. Fuller put forward several resolutions, bemoaning 'the fallen state of the landed interest' and pleaded for some form of relief. Present at the meetings was William Cobbett, radical journalist, Member of Parliament and author of Rural Rides, who delivered a supportive speech to the gathering, in which he sympathised with their cause but felt there was little could be done to change the situation. The Corn Laws were not abolished until 1846."
Fuller of Sussex: A Georgian squire, by Geoff Hutchinson, pp. 92.

So we establish that Fuller met Cobbett although Hutchinson does not give any sources. He is also getting ahead of himself as Cobbett, despite a number of attempts, was not a member of Parliament until 1832. Rural Rides was not published in full until 1830 although he had started the rides in the early 1820's and they were serialised in his publication The Register.
We know from the Penguin edition of Rural Rides that Cobbett was elsewhere in Sussex at about this time: "The younger [John] Ellman was also a Sussex farmer, but angered Cobbett by calling for tougher corn laws and by expressing his loyalty to the government. There was a near outbreak of fisticuffs between Cobbett and farmers at a meeting of Sussex farmers at which the younger Ellman was prominent."
This meeting took place at Lewes on 9 January 1882, a week after the meeting at Battle. In fact there were two events - a meeting at the County Hall followed by a dinner at the Star Inn. Cobbett had been warned not to go to Lewes where his criticisms of the farmers would not be welcome. Being Cobbett he liked nothing better than to face down his critics. The meeting at County Hall passed off relatively peacefully. Cobbett was urged to attend the dinner - "...being pressed to go, I finally went." He met with hostility and a proposal that he "be put out of the room!" Despite this Cobbett rose to speak pointing out forcefully the plight of the farm labourers and facing down his opponents. He was exultant.
"...but Cobbett rejoiced in his achievements: 'I beat the cocks upon their own dung-hill', he wrote privately. Eight years later, during the Captain Swing revolts, the Sussex landholders came to see that in rejecting Cobbett in 1822 they had rejected the wants and aspirations of an entire class of agricultural workers." See Dyck, Cobbett and Rural Popular Culture, pp. 70-72.

What happened at Brightling during the Swing Riots? Does anybody know?

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