The statue which stands atop the 130-foot-high column at the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne in north-east England is that of Lord Charles Grey (1764 – 1845), Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1830 to 1834 and author of the first Reform Act. An inscription on the pedestal informs us that the column was erected in 1838 to thank Grey for “safely and triumphantly” delivering “the great measure of Parliamentary reform… after an arduous and protracted struggle… in the year 1832.” But Grey’s Monument – like many statues – is an exercise in history being written by the winners. It was paid for by a subscription of affluent upper-middle class townsmen who had been amongst the principle beneficiaries of the Whig government’s reforms.
The opinions that were not so readily captured in stone were those of thousands of ordinary men and women who had been instrumental to the success of the campaign to secure Parliamentary reform, only to find themselves completely excluded from the new constitutional settlement that the Reform Act ushered in. These were the people who were to put themselves at the forefront of the Radical and later Chartist movements that emerged as a distinct force in British politics during the mid-nineteenth century. The Radicals of the 1830s were predominately drawn from the ranks of the urban working and lower-middle classes and from dissenting Protestant denominations. They had been energised by the reformist agitations of the early 1830s but regarded the limited extension of the franchise achieved under the Reform Act as a betrayal. Radicalism was therefore a continuity reformist movement that vowed to continue campaigning inside and outside Parliament to secure universal manhood suffrage and other reforms that would tip the balance of political power in favour of the working man.
Radicalism found its principle expression in a vibrant and protean print-culture consisting of newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides, and other printed ephemera, including satirical images. The most notable example of the latter was The Political Drama, a series of 131 wood-engraved political satires produced by C.J. Grant, George Drake, and a small group of collaborators, between 1833 and 1836. Prints such as these sought to propagate the Radicalism by reducing the institutions of state to objects of mockery and public contempt. Their recurrent themes included the absurdity of monarchy, the venality of the aristocratic political class, the hypocrisy of the clergy and the many inequities of a society structured around the hierarchy of class and title.
This rare illustrated broadside is another example of Radical satire from this period. It was probably published to coincide with the Parliamentary debates on a proposed repeal of the Window Tax which were brought before the House of Commons by Radical MPs in April 1833. The Radicals regarded the tax on windowpanes as an unfair charge on two of the basic necessities of light and one that fell disproportionately upon the shoulders of urban households. “The tax on windows, with its prying inspectors and restraints on light and air, ought not to exist for a single year in a country aspiring to free Government and a civilised fiscal system”  thundered a supportive newspaper editorial published at the time of the debates. Ultimately, the campaign proved to be unsuccessful as the Whig administration would not countenance the repeal of a tax that accounted for a large and growing proportion of public revenue. The Window Tax would therefore remain on the statute until 1851 when it was replaced by a simplified system of property tax.
The title: A Form of Prayer, To be Said by Persons of both Sexes throughout the Land of Locust, By Timothy Pindarie, the last of the Pindars, relates to the text which covers the bottom half of the page. It is a satirical sermon in which the people are encouraged to pray that “…the corrupted Whigites [sic] doth perform the promises they have heaped upon & doeth one thing that is of benefit to the People” by repealing the Window Tax and “giving notice to all Tax Eaters and Gatherers.” Religious parodies such as this were an established part of the Radical canon and harked back to notorious satires of earlier generations, such as those published by William Hone (1780 – 1842) during the Peterloo era, in which attacks against reactionary government policies were dressed up in the form of mock Anglican liturgies. Contemporary viewers would also have recognised that pseudonym Timothy Pindarie as a refence to the satirical writings of John Wolcot (1738 – 1819), who had published a series of essays mocking the King and other establishment figures in the 1780s under the pen name Peter Pindar.
The wood engraved image is similarly derivative, being modified copy of a caricature from 1831 entitled: The reformers’ attack on the old rotten tree; or the foul nests of the cormorants in danger. It’s not clear who created the original version of this caricature, as several editions seems to have been produced by different artists and publishers around the same time. The woodblocks used to create this image were originally engraved with a version of The reformers’ attack… which was then modified a year or two later to make the satire relevant to the debates on the Window Tax. The words “Window Tax” and “Light” have been carved over the names of the rotten boroughs that previously appeared on two of the birds nests and the labelling on the tree has also been amended from “Rotten Borough System” to “Rotten Tax System”. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate a copy of this plate in its original state but the British Museum collection includes another wood-engraved broadsheet of The reformers’ attack… which provides a good indication of what it would have looked like.
Other changes include the removal of the King and Queen from the background of the design and modifications to the labelling and features of the politicians surrounding the tree. In the original caricature, the Whig ministers are shown cutting down the tree while the Tories try to prop it up. To reflect the fact that many of the Whigs were now regarded as enemies of reform, the engraver has added the names of Radical politicians to the blades of the axes carried by the figures on the left. The caricatured likeness of the Whig Lord Brougham (1778 – 1868) has also been engraved over that of the Tory James Scarlett (1769 – 1844) on the right. Unfortunately, the engraver has either neglected or been unable to erase Brougham from group of politicians on the left where he can be clearly identified by his judicial robes. The Lord Chancellor is therefore rather confusingly depicted on both sides of the struggle. This error, along with the large white line that runs diagonally through the centre of the image, which either caused by a crack in the plate or the separation of two plates during printing, provides further indication that speed and economy were the main concerns of the publisher.
The publication line is that of John Vandenbergh Quick (1792 – 1858), a printer, wood-engraver, and publisher of printed ephemera. Quick was descended from a long-line of Dutch and Flemish printers. His maternal grandfather was Simon Vandenbergh (1728 – 1808), a successful book publisher and outspoken advocate of freedom of speech and publication. Quick had established his own publishing business by 1823 and would spend the next thirty years producing materials such as paper toys, ballad-sheets, broadsides, and penny dreadfuls. When the Thames Tunnel opened in 1843 he took out a lease on one of the concession stands located inside the tunnel, set up a printing press down there and began publishing a novelty newspaper whose publication line boasted that it was “printed by authority, 76 feet below the high-water mark.” Quick’s subterranean premises also did a roaring trade in pop-up peep shows of the Thames Tunnel which were sold to thousands of sightseers who flocked through it every day. The tunnel peep shows were said to have made Quick a fortune. However, he squandered the money on an ill-judged venture to republish great works of literature for the common man. The series began with a cheap edition of Antiquities of the Jews, a 2,000-year-old tract on Jewish history running to several hundred pages in length which unsurprisingly failed to become a bestseller and wiped out Quick’s profits.
- Bury & Norwich Post, 3rd April 1833.