“…nothing attracts my attention more at present than the hue and cry raised everywhere against monopolisers and forestallers on account of this artificial famine.”
Thomas Spence, The Restorer of Society to its Natural State, London 1801.
Britain greeted the arrival of the nineteenth-century in a depressed and war-weary state. By the end of the first spring of the new century it was becoming clear that the country was experiencing its second failed harvest in a row, prompting a threefold rise in the price of bread and basic foodstuffs. The dramatic rise in the price of food prompted a sharp downturn in the trade cycle, as many people found they no longer had the money to buy manufactured goods. This is turn led to widespread unemployment and a wave of bankruptcies, and the onset of a credit crisis in the banking system. By any reasonable measure it was fair to say that Britain found itself trapped in a near perfect storm of economic difficulties, with parish officials suddenly founding themselves inundated with unprecedented demands to provide financial relief for the poor.
Of course, the financial pain was not distributed equally across society and there were those who were able to turn the shortages of 1799 and 1800 to their advantage. Farmers who were either lucky enough to escape the worst of the bad weather that had ruined the harvests, or who had the foresight to stockpile crops in earlier years, found that they were able to dictate terms to their customers. Other tradesmen working further down the supply chain also prospered; J.M.W. Turner’s uncle Jonathan set himself up as a baker in the town of Barnstaple in 1800 and would later boast of having done so well from the shortages that he could afford to buy a house worth £700, a flour loft and still have “some money besides to carry on the trade”. “I leave it to you to conclude”, he wrote smugly to his brother, “whether I have done well or not and if I live to be in business as long as you and brother Price I shall be cock of the walk” . The realisation that there was money to be made in the provision trade prompted a sudden inrush of speculative capital which served only to further inflate food prices, as speculators began to interpose themselves as middlemen between producers and suppliers.
Popular resentment to the speculators grew as reports of forestalling, the practice of warehousing grain to exacerbate shortages and further increase the market price, became commonplace. Indeed the belief that bankers and speculators were the root cause of high prices became so widespread that even Tory MPs and local officials began to denounce the financial community and demand that something be done to reign in such activities. The Reverend Heber, an Anglican Minister and staunch Tory in every other respect, typified such views in a letter to his niece in which he raged at “cruel speculators… forestallers and monopolizers of every denomination”, whose greed was driving the people into the arms of “the pestilent movers of Sedition & Outrage” .
Although some local magistrates sought to intervene in the market and use medieval statutes to impose temporary price caps on the price of bread and flour, their actions proved to be too little, too late. Sporadic outbursts of violence began in the North and gradually moved southwards towards London during the spring. Armed militiamen were called out onto the streets of Sunderland in February 1800 after magistrates were forced to flee from a mob that had gathered to pelt grain merchants with muck, stones and rubbish . In other places the loyalty of the armed forces proved to be far from reliable. Farmers living near Brixham in Devon watched in horror as the troops had been sent to defend them sided with the crowd and demanded the immediate restoration of pre-war food prices . Meanwhile Thomas Cockerell, leader of a volunteer company in the Yorkshire town of Pontefract, confessed that he “trembled at the idea of marching out against the starved poor” and thanked God that the protesters that he had been ordered to march against had run away before his men arrived .
The views of Cockerell and many of his fellow soldiers were summed up in an anecdote which the radical bookseller Thomas Spence published in his pamphlet The Restorer of Society to its Natural State in September 1800. Spence had been gathering nuts in a wood outside Hexham, near his native Newcastle upon Tyne, when he was accosted by a local forester.
… the forester popped through the bushes upon me, and asking what I did there, I answered gathering nuts: gathering nuts! said he, and dare you say so? Yes, said I, why not?… I tell you, said he, this wood is no common. It belongs to the Duke of Portland… But in the name of seriousness, continued I, must not one’s privileges be very great in a country where we dare not pluck a hazel nut? Is this an Englishman’s birthright? Is it for this we are called upon to serve in the militia, to defend this wood, and this country against the enemy?
What must I say to the French, if they come? If they jeeringly ask me what I am fighting for? Must I tell them for my country? For my dear country in which I dare not pluck a nut? Would not they laugh at me? Yes. And you do think I would bear it? No: certainly I would not. I would throw down my musket saying let such as the Duke of Portland, who claim the country, fight for it, for I am but a stranger and sojourner, and have neither part nor lot amongst them .
Nowhere was this sense of aggrieved patriotism more evident than in the city of Birmingham. Birmingham had been a bastion of working class conservatism during the early 1790s, with its citizens turning out in their thousands to forcibly eject radical elements from the city during the Church and King Riots in July 1791. Support for the King and his government ran so high that James Bisset, a local writer, recalled that one could barely take a walk through the city without being confronted by loyalist slogans such as “Church and King, “Damn the Jacobins” or “War and Pitt”, which were chalked all over its walls .
However the government’s indifference to the high prices and unemployment which characterised the years that followed would do much to reform political loyalties within the city. Enthusiasm for war and the loyalist cause withered and was replaced by a sullen and uncompromising brand of radicalism which was equal to that in any of the major manufacturing towns of the North. Violence eventually erupted in February 1800, with a crowd of women running amok in the city’s market square in protest at further rises in the price of potatoes. This was followed by a more general outbreak of civil unrest in which mobs roamed the streets, smashing bakers shop windows, attacking mills and burning hayricks. Although magistrates eventually restored order by flooding the town with troops, they were essentially forced to concede to the rioters demands by imposing price controls on bread, flour, potatoes and other staple foodstuffs. James Bisset, who returned to his hometown in 1805 was shocked to find that the walls which had once been plastered with loyalist oaths were now covered with phrases like “No damned rogues in grain”, “No war”, “Damn Pitt”, “No K..g, Lords or Commons”, and “Large loaves, peace, no taxes, no tithes, free constitution” .
It is therefore not surprising that it is to Birmingham, rather than the printshops of London, that we must look for one of the most striking satirical comments on the economic crisis of 1800. It was in this year that the medal-maker John Gregory Hancock issued The Uncharitable Monopolizer (above), a token which shows a man attempting to swallow the world whole. He wears a band marked Possession, while inside his head we see a demon representing greed which is selfishly hugging a bushel of wheat. The remainder of the design is filled with the slogans – Will Not Starve the Poor; Take Not What Was Made for All; More Warehouse Room Wheat is but 22 Shillings a Bushel; and 1800 in Distress. The obverse carries The Charitable Hand (right), a contrasting design depicting money being dispensed into an emaciated hand, the outstretched hands of children and a begging bowl. The eye of providence beams down on the scene and is accompanied by the voice of the almighty saying “Well Done”. The words Come All Ye Distressed run around the bottom of the token.
The meaning of the design is somewhat ambiguous and it can be interpreted either as a radical political satire, or an affirmation of support for the Birmingham magistrates attempts to lawfully curb speculation in the food markets. The apparent popularity of the token suggests it probably served either purpose equally well, although the fact that Hancock minted more expensive versions in silver and pewter suggests he intended to sell it to wealthier customers and was not a committed radical.
1. J. Hamilton, Turner: A Life, (1997), p.146.
2. Reginald Heber to Elizabeth Heber, 12th July 1800, Bod. MSS Eng. Lett. d.201.
3. J. Uglow, In These Times, Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793 – 1815, (2014) pp. 247 – 248.
4. R. Wells, ‘The Revolt of the South-west 1800-01: A Study in English Popular Protest’, Social History 2, No. 6, (October 1977), pp. 713 – 742.
5. A. Gee, The British Volunteer Movement 1793 – 1815, (2003), p. 260.
6. T. Spence, The Restorer of Society to its Natural State, (1800), http://www.ditext.com/spence/restorer.html [accessed 5 May 2015]
7. ‘Political and Administrative History: Political History to 1832’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Vol. 7, ed. W. B. Stephens (London, 1964), pp. 270-297 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol7/pp270-297 [accessed 5 May 2015].
J.L. Marks, Content: or a Cunning Game at Westminster…, 1820. One of the many caricatures attacking King George IV and his mistress Lady Conyngham.
King George IV’s turbulent relationship with the caricaturists of the Regency era is well documented. George had adored prints as young man and placed substantial standing orders with several of London’s leading printshops, including those of William and Hannah Humphrey, James Bretherton and William Holland. His collecting interests were varied and encompassed everything from old masters and elegant art prints, down to caricatures and even pornography. George always bought in bulk, allowing his favourite sellers to make up folios, or even entire albums of prints which were then charged to his account every month. By 1809 his consumption of prints and other luxuries had become so conspicuous that it prompted one royal secretary to despair at the possibility of ever putting the royal finances in order, as “each quarter produces fresh bills for jewellery, prints, and various articles”.
But while George may have enjoyed looking at caricatures he was far less keen on appearing in them himself. He had been dogged by a constant stream of print-based mockery since his early twenties and by the start of the nineteenth-century was beginning to grow tired and angry at being the constant butt of the satirists jokes. His elevation to the position of Regent in 1811 further increased his sense of exasperation, as he was now monarch in all but name and firmly believed that the time had come for his subjects to treat him with a due degree of deference and respect. Unfortunately, it just so happened that the advent of the Regency also coincided with a severe recession which to drag on for the best part of a decade and reignite the fires of domestic political radicalism. There probably could not have been a worse time for a gorging, gambling, spendthrift like George to ascend to the throne and he was soon to become the subject of a hostile press campaign.
The opening salvos of this engagement were to be fired by a new generation of small prints shops that began to spring up in the City of London after 1810. These shops were often owned by reform-minded young men in their twenties and early thirties, who reflected the views of an expanding and morally resurgent middling class. The likes of John Fairburn, John Johnston, Thomas Dolby, M. Jones and William Hone, were far less dependent on fashionable patronage than their West End counterparts and could therefore afford to publish material which was far more offensive in its handling of establishment figures and the ruling classes. To them, the Prince’s profligacy and limitless sense of entitlement were symbolic of the wider failings of an unreformed political system and he was to be mercilessly pilloried in print for the best part of a decade, from the initial skirmishes over Lady Hertford’s influence in 1812, to the final showdown over Queen Caroline’s trial in 1820.
George initially responded to this tidal wave of insolence by instructing his lawyers to prosecute the offending publishers. However, his plan soon unraveled when it became clear that a trial would require detailed examination and discussion of the subject matter in an open court. When the Solicitor General was sent a particularly offensive print by George Cruikshank for examination in 1812, he advised that although “this is a most indecent and imprudent print… it would require so much of difficult explanation in stating it as a libel that it does not appear to us advisable to make it the subject of a criminal prosecution.” In other words, a trial would merely draw attention to George’s indiscretions and invite further insults to the royal dignity. The fuming Regent was therefore left with little option but to dispatch his agents onto London’s streets with instructions to bribe caricaturists and printsellers not to publish images of him, or to buy up their stock as soon as it went on sale. The Prince’s secretary, Joseph Calkin, was instrumental in this process and brokered cash settlements with George and Isaac Robert Cruikshank, and the printseller John Johnston among others.
Eventually at least one caricaturist cottoned on to the fact that lucrative payments could be secured merely by threatening to publish material likely to offend royal sensibilities. John Lewis Marks was a relative newcomer to the print trade, having published his first known caricature in 1814 when he was still a teenager. He was an established caricaturist by the age of twenty-four, regularly producing plates for a variety of City and West End publishers, including Tegg, Fores, Johnston, and Jones, as well as publishing substantial quantities of material on his account. On 4th September 1820, Marks wrote to Calkin enclosing a prospectus of a broadside entitled Amoroso, King of Little Britain; or the Progress of Love. A Delicious Poem, a satire on George’s long-running affair with Lady Conyngham. “I intend to publish”, Marks stated boldly, “…as soon as the Plates are ready for it – Therefore if you will be kind enough to call on me to morrow morning, I shall be glad as I shall not advertise or send out the perspectives till I have your opinion on it”. Marks need hardly have bothered attempting to hide the purpose of his letter behind such a thin veil of deference, his message was clear: pay me, or I publish immediately. He was to repeat the process of soliciting Calkin’s “opinion” of his ideas for new caricatures on a number of occasions, before finally accepting a lump sum payment of £75 (approximately £2,000 in today’s terms) and undertaking “not to engrave or publish any caracature [sic] with the name of Cunningham introduced from the date hereof.” True to form, Marks took the money and continued to produce caricatures against the King and Lady Conyngham anyway, some of which he published and some of which he again offered to sell to Calkin.
J.L. Marks, Preparatory sketch for the broadside ‘A Peep into the Cottage at Windsor’, c.1820. Marks would have sent early proofs such as this to Calkin along with notes asking for payment to ensure that the design was suppressed.
Thomas Spence as he appeared in a relief portrait stamped onto this token from 1794. The legend reads T. Spence, 7 months imprisoned for high treason.
You may have noticed that the reproduction of caricatures on other mediums is a reoccurring theme on these pages. I’m constantly fascinated by examples which highlight the ways in which satirical images found their way onto a bewildering array of manufactured goods and wonder whether we need to reevaluate the significance of these items as part of a wider debate about the appeal and influence of caricature in late Hanoverian Britain.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and unusual items to carry satirical imagery were imitation copper coins or tokens. Token coinage had originally appeared in 1787 as means of combating the chronic specie shortages and endemic forgery that plagued the Hanoverian monetary system. Mills, factories and mines operating in isolated rural areas began paying their workers in specially minted tokens that could be redeemed locally for goods and services. The idea caught on as the use of local forms of currency began to spread; tokens were taken up as a cheap, durable and portable medium for commercial advertising and as decorative objects collected by a burgeoning market of token collectors. The market for these collectable coins expanded rapidly during the late 1780s and early 90s, with the collector’s constant desire for new items resulting in a bewildering array of designs featuring everything from portraits of military heroes and images of the great public buildings of the age, to representations of circus acts and pastoral landscapes. A smattering of political designs first appeared during the Regency Crisis of 1789, but as these tokens only combined formal portraiture with partisan political slogans, it seems highly unlikely that they were produced for satirical ends. Overtly satirical images did not really begin to appear until the early 1790s, when various publishers and political agitators transformed the token into another weapon in the vicious propaganda war that broke out between radical advocates of political and economic reform and the loyalist defenders of the status quo. The number of satirical tokens them multiplied rapidly and new designs remained in constant production until the early 1800s, when the token craze gradually abated in the face of rising copper prices and a sustained government re-coinage programme.
The use of original satirical designs, as opposed to merely rehashing images produced by print-based caricaturists, is a unique feature of the token market. Contemporary consumers could buy caricatures on pottery, textiles, fan leaves and snuff boxes, but almost without exception these designs were normally copied directly from an original print and were amended only to accommodate the physical restrictions of the object being decorated. Token manufacturers on the other hand appear to have shunned such plagiarism, with Gillray’s French Liberty / British Slavery (right) being the only printed caricature known to have been copied directly onto a token. Indeed, in some cases the process of copying was thrown into reverse, as caricaturists in both England and France took up token designs such as Freeborn Englishman (left) and reworked them into printed caricatures. In seeking to explain why token manufacturers were capable of achieving a degree of creativity and originality that seemingly eluded their counterparts in other industries, we should consider the following: Firstly, the small size of t he tokens made them ill-suited as a medium for reproducing the complex designs which typically appeared in caricatures. Secondly, the radical political agenda that many token manufacturers sought to push was largely unrepresented in the more respectable trade in print-based visual satire and manufacturers were thus forced to create their own designs. Thirdly, satirical designs could be easily transferred onto items such as fans, decorative creamware and silk handkerchiefs because these items were generally aimed at the same affluent middle class consumers as the original caricature print. Tokens however were produced for a predominantly working class audience used to a much simpler iconography that was often based on the symbolism and naturalistic images of the chapbook, the almanac and cheap children’s literature.
One of the most prolific and notorious token manufacturers of the 1790s was the radical writer, publisher and bookseller Thomas Spence. Spence was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in June 1750. One of nineteen children belonging to the family of an impoverished Scottish net-maker, Spence received little formal education but was taught to read the Bible as a child while standing behind his father’s stall on the Sandgate, next to the city’s bustling quay.
My father used to make my brothers and me to read the Bible to him while working at his business, and, at the end every chapter, encouraged us to give our opinions on what we had just read. By these means I acquired an early habit of reflecting on every occurrence that passed before me and on what I read.
The family adhered to an extreme strain of Presbyterianism and were members of the congregation at a small chapel on High Bridge which was ministered by the Reverend James Murray. Murray was something of a local celebrity, having been dismissed from a pastoral position in the small Northumberland town of Alnwick; he pitched up in Newcastle sometime around 1760 and immediately began aggravating the city grandees by publishing radical political tracts condemning taxation, land enclosures and British policy in North America. He also encouraged members of his flock to adopt a strict set of levelling principles which included the sharing of common property. Murray was to exercise a profound influence on Spence’s intellectual development and was probably responsible for guiding his first steps into the world of political activism, as both men were to become heavily embroiled in the campaign to prevent the enclosure of Newcastle’s Town Moor in 1770. It was in this bitter episode of provincial politics that the seeds of what would become Spence’s famous doctrine of common land ownership were sown.
The Spence family had initially intended for Thomas to follow his father into the net-making trade but this plan was abandoned as the boy’s aptitude for learning became increasingly apparent and he was instead apprenticed to serve as a clerk in the office of a local smith. He continued to read prodigiously and by early 1775 had taken his first tentative steps into the world of publishing, producing a small tract which set out a newly devised phonetic alphabet which he claimed would improve the education of the poor. It was to be the outbreak of war with the American colonies later that year that marked the beginnings of Spence’s definite transition towards the world of radical political activism. He enrolled himself in the Newcastle Philosophical Society, one of many respectable provincial debating clubs that had been established to thrash out the ideological issues the underpinned the dispute with the American colonies, but was expelled almost immediately after he published copies of a speech in which he had attacked landowners and called for the abolition of taxes and the nationalisation of agricultural land. The engraver Thomas Bewick recalled another episode which amply illustrates both his temperament and the uncompromising way in which he approached political issues. Bewick was an acquaintance of Spence’s and had gone to watch him participate in a public debate during which his land-sharing scheme had been voted down by a substantial majority. After the meeting Spence rounded on Bewick, blaming the defeat on his reluctance to speak up in favour of the scheme. He
…became so swollen with indignation which, after all the company were gone, he vented upon me. To reason with him was useless – he began calling me (from my silence) a Sir Walter Blackett, and adding “If I had been as stout as you are I would have thrashed you” – indeed! said I “it is a great pity you are not” – but said he, “there is another way in which I can do the business and have at you!” he then produced a pair of cudgels – and to work we fell, after I had black’ned the insides of his thighs and arms, he became quite outrageous, and behaved very unfairly, which obliged me to give him a severe beating.
By 1782 Spence had married and become a farther but in general the years that followed the American war were characterised by a prevailing sense of disappointment and failure. Spence lost his job as an usher at a school near Hexham and his reputation as a troublemaker was sufficiently well advanced by this stage to ensure that a scheme to found a school of his own on Newcastle’s Quayside failed due to a lack of willing pupils. He remained active in local politics and thanks to the encouragement of a local publisher named Thomas Saint, had even begun publishing his theories in pamphlet form. However, there is little evidence to suggest that any of these publications was anything other than a commercial flop and it is likely that Spence lost money on every item he published. The sense of despondency provoked by his thwarted ambitions was no doubt compounded by a run of deaths which claimed some of Spence’s closest friends and early mentors. Murray passed away in 1782, Saint in 1788 and then in 1792 Spence’s wife, with whom he had never been particularly happy, also died.
This final tragedy seems to have galvanised Spence to take the drastic action that was necessary to save his life sinking into provincial mediocrity. Sometime in mid-1792 he abandoned Newcastle and set out for London, determined to make a living from his intellect and to carve out a career for himself in the capital’s thriving publishing trade. On arriving in the metropolis he acquired a stall at the eastern end of Chancery Lane and began selling saloop (a drink of hot milk and sugar infused with sassafras leaves) along with second hand books. He also became active in the city’s tavern-based debating societies and in 1793 began published a cheap radical periodical entitled Pig’s Meat or Lessons for the Swinish Multitude (advertised on the token above), a sarcastic reference to Burke’s famous assertion that democracy would result in human learning being “cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.” Spence became increasingly outspoken and radical in his views as the decade wore on and in a letter he wrote to the Morning Chronicle in January 1795, he mentioned that he had been arrested four times on charges relating to treason and sedition since arriving in the capital. The most series of these early brushes with the law occurred in May 1794, when he was arrested for selling copies of Paine’s Rights of Man in the street and confined in jail for seven months without charge. On his release his friends and associates circulated a subscription which provided him with sufficient funds to take a small shop located at 8 Little Turnstile, an alleyway leading off High Holborn. He would nickname the premises “The Hive of Liberty” and make his living there for the next three years as a publisher, bookseller, token dealer and manufacturer.
Later generations of radicals often attempted to portray Spence as a naïve ideologue who had little interest in the bourgeois world of money-making. Francis Place recalled watching him distributing a set of freshly minted political tokens by simply opening his shop window and throwing handfuls of them into the street for passers-by to pick up off the pavement. However, other accounts of Spence’s business activities make it clear that he ran a relatively sophisticated business operation. Another visitor noting that:
It is not long since I called at Spence’s shop, and saw many more thousands of different tokens lying in heaps, and selling at what struck me to be very great prices. These, therefore, could not be considered as struck for a limited sale, I confess, considering the number of them I saw struck, and what the subjects of them were, I thought myself justified in supposing that it was the intention to circulate them very widely.
While even a loyalist contributor to the Gentlemen’s Magazine was forced to grudgingly concede that his tokens were “numerous and interchanged almost beyond the powers of calculation”. This is supported by more circumstantial evidence suggesting Spence’s designs travelled as far afield as Scotland, Ireland and France. Spence also knew his market well and was perfectly capable of exploiting it for commercial ends. He deliberately sought to bring his work to the attention of affluent collectors by striking one-off designs into silver and white metal and was responsible for publishing one of the first collector’s guides to political tokens.
Spence’s satirical tokens were utterly dominated by political subjects and often reflect the aggressive and uncompromising stance of their creator. William Pitt was frequently the target of violent fantasist imagery, with designs such as The End of Pitt and Tree of Liberty imaging the end which awaited the Tory premier once revolution had swept him from office. Ironically, the latter image (right) would eventually be reworked as a loyalist caricature entitled A May Day Garland for 1820 (1820), celebrating the execution of several of Spence’s followers who had become embroiled in the Cato Street Conspiracy.
Oddfellows (left)was another Spencean design to have been copied in print form. It combines grotesquely caricatured portraits of Pitt and Fox into a single head in an image which is evidently intended to convey the radical sense of contempt for mainstream politicians. The image was potent enough to prompt the French engraver Jean Adam to produce a published version entitled Fox et Pitt (1798) for use as anti-British propaganda and closer to home it may have provided Richard Newton with the inspiration for his brilliant caricature Head and Brains (1797).
Spence’s uncompromising political views are also evident in a group of designs which attack what he perceives as a wider sense of public apathy and deference. One of these images, also published as crudely-engraved print entitled The Civil Citizen (1796), shows a man crawling on all fours while declaring that “If the law requires it, I will walk thus!” In another, Spence presents the viewer with an image of a snail which is accompanied by a legend reminding us that even this hidebound creature “puts his horns out” from time to time (see below). The latter image highlights another common satirical trope in Spence’s tokens, whereby humour is derived from combining an apparently innocuous image of an animal or figure with a cutting political slogan. Thus we see a lapdog warning us that “much gratitude brings servitude”, while in another example, a cat looks smugly out at the viewer and boasts “my freedom I enjoy among slaves” (see below).
He was declared bankrupt towards the end of 1796 and his dies were bought by the token dealer Richard Skidmore, who immediately began milking the collectors market by reissuing them new images or slogans stamped on the obverse. Spence meanwhile took his work back to the streets and drifted through London as an itinerant book and pamphlet seller. He was arrested again in April 1798 for publishing an inflammatory edition of Pig’s Meat… and briefly imprisoned in Coldbath Fields before once again being released without charge. He used what little money he was able to scrape together in order to continue publishing tracts that set out his views on the need for democratic political reform and the communal ownership of land, but his influence remained confined to a hardcore group of followers that hovered at the extreme fringes of the radical movement. His last publication was a small tract entitled The Giant Killer or Anti-Landlord. It was finished just weeks before the author died from a chronic intestinal obstruction in September 1814 and such was the extent of Spence’s poverty at this time that he could only afford to have three copies of his work published.
Forty friends attended his funeral in the graveyard of St James’s Church on Hampstead Road. The procession passed up Tottenham Court Road with the coffin preceded by a pair of scales draped with white ribbons, and with an equal quantity of earth in each balance. In accordance with his wishes a pair of tokens carrying his favourite designs, the ‘cat’ (right) and another showing a meridian sun emblazoned with the words “Spence’s Plan” were placed over his eyes and buried with him. Handfuls of tokens were also distributed among the crowds that stopped to watch the coffin as it passed through the city’s streets.
Spence’s posthumous influence on British caricature is most readily apparent in the illustrated pamphlets that often characterise our view of graphic satire in the Peterloo era. William Hone was to take Spence’s concept of using simple imagery drawn from children’s literature and advertising as a vehicle for radical political satire and push it to new heights of creative and commercial success. This would in turn ensure that Spence’s influence as a satirist was passed down to successive generations of radical caricaturists that emerged during the early 1830s and on into the Chartist movement of the 1840s.
Regular readers will know that The Print Shop Window has always had a bit of a soft spot for the work of the English caricaturist C.J. Grant. Grant started out working as an assistant to Henry Heath during the late 1820s but by 1830 had struck out on his own and become a prolific and inventive engraver of lithographic and woodblock satirical prints. His work can often by characterised by its primitive engraving style and a dark humour based around the violent, supernatural and grotesque imagery. Today Grant is probably chiefly remembered as the creator of the sprawling Political Drama series; a set of 131 woodblock-engraved political prints that offers a reflection upon the hardships and justifiable sense of political grievance felt by those who eked out their lives on the bottom rungs of society in late Georgian England.
This print is an exceptionally rare example from that series, as it comes from one of a tiny handful of editions of The Political Drama that were produced in colour by the publisher George Drake. It was formerly the property of the renowned art historian and print collector Francis Klingender and came to me via a private dealer who purchased part of Klingender’s collection at auction several years ago.
The design celebrates Irish resistance to British rule during the mid-1830s and may have been inspired by the famous ‘Justice for Ireland’ speech that Daniel O’Connell delivered before the House of Commons on 4th February 1836. O’Connell is shown as a modern-day St Patrick, driving the scourge of English influence from Ireland’s shores. A crowd of revolting demons, carrying labels such as ‘standing army’, ‘English law’, ‘Protestant church’, ‘tithe’, ‘famine’ and ‘disease’ flees before him as he says:
Out wid ye, ye pestilent monsters, into the sea, or over to de land of your nativity, – Ould England! – where, in London, ‘tis said, is de entrance to hell! By de blood of my brother of old, ye have been a mighty plague to dis gem of de sea, for six centuries, wallowing in plunder, and de blood of my countrymen, – de finest pisantry in de world; breeding plagues, famine, perpetual curses, religious animosities, murders and massacres, from Killrooney to Ballyracket! Och! and ye are a swate party for Tories and Orange-boys! Sing ‘I am de boy for bewitching ye!’
It serves to remind us of the strong links that existed between English radicals and Irish nationalists in the early nineteenth century and also of the influence of the Irish diaspora on the lower-end of the market for printed satire in England during this period.