Thursday, 14 November 2013

William Cobbett and Botley

A history of William Cobbett in the form of a guided walk of the Village of Botley in Hants-shire using his own words and the words of others

In the early 1800s the village of Botley in Hampshire, UK, was home to William Cobbett, author of Rural Rides, radical, progenitor of Hansard, MP, thorn in the side of the Establishment.  For a couple of the years his family lived here he was holed up in Newgate prison convicted of sedition.   Cobbett was a big fan of Botley describing it as the most delightful village in the world.   Obviously it has changed and the village's most prominent buildings (All Saints church and the Market House), despite being older than almost any building in the USA, post date him.  


Botley is proud of the Cobbett connection: there’s a memorial, a Cobbett Trail, a road named after him, there’s been a Cobbett Festival and the clock that used to adorn his house now adorns the church.

So who was he? The memorial, which we will see later, describes him as “A great Englishman and a champion of free journalism” and records that he lived in Botley between 1805 and 1817. He wasn’t even here for the whole of that period, spending two of those years at His Majesty’s Prison at Newgate.

Cobbett described Botley as his favourite village in the whole world:
Botley had everything in it that he loved and nothing that he hated. It had neither a workhouse, barber, attorney and not even a justice of the peace, and that he could walk along a primrose and bluebell filled field lane and listen to a thousand linnets singing in a spreading oak above his head. He could also hear the jangling of harness and the whistling of the local ploughboys 'saluting his ears' over the hedgerows.

Of the current village there is much that he would not recognize; some of the most noticeable buildings in Botley today – the church, the school, the Market Hall – were built years after he left. Our walk is going to take us back into the countryside, across the fields to the home of the Botley Parson, to the Old Church where Cobbett’s children were christened, past Manor Farm where his sister in law lived, then back up past Steeple Court, towards the modern village centre. We’ll visit the site of his home and stables, the river where he used to fish, the home he leased from Col Kempf, the Turnpike road he was responsible for and through the market square which, though it has changed significantly, still has a number of buildings which were standing when he lived here.

We’ll let Cobbett introduce himself:
  • Thrown (by my own will, indeed) on the wide world at a very early age, not more than eleven or twelve years, without money to support, without friends to advise, and without book-learning to assist me;
  • He ran away from home – got on a stagecoach and left . . .
  • passing a few years dependent solely on my own labour for my subsistence;
  • this in a Dickensian office in London as a lawyer’s clerk
  • then becoming a common soldier and leading a military life, chiefly in foreign parts, for eight years;
  • after visiting Portsmouth at the age of 14 he wanted to join the Navy; at 21 accidentally joined the 54th Regiment of Foot (he thought he was joining the Marines). The foreign part was chiefly Nova Scotia
  • quitting that life after really, for me, high promotion, and with, for me, a large sum of money;
  • he rose from Private to Regimental Sergeant Major in a short space of time, the large sum of money was £150 guineas which he entrusted to the daughter of a fellow army officer who was returning to England – he intended that this money would enable her to be self sufficient –and therefore not look at other men – until he returned
  • marrying at an early age,
  • (in 1792) Nancy Reid to whom he had entrusted the 150 guineas – she didn’t spend a penny of it and still waited for him
  • going at once to France to acquire the French language,
  • on leaving the army Cobbett intended to expose the corruption he had found there: mainly officers withholding pay due to the ranks. Taking on the Establishment was a mistake – the evidence Cobbett had collected went missing he didn’t have a chance of proving his case and in fact feld to France because of the position he was put in.
  • thence to America;
  • there was revolution going on in France – Cobbett fled toAmerica. Initially in Delaware, then to Philadelphia
  • passing eight years there, becoming bookseller and author, and taking a prominent part in all the important discussions of the interesting period from 1793 to 1799, during which there was, in that country, a continued struggle carried on between the English and the French parties; conducting myself, in the ever-active part which I took in that struggle, in such a way as to call forth marks of unequivocal approbation from the government at home;
  • his pamphleteering under the name Peter Porcupine in support ogf George III and the British government was well received by the British government who offered him the ditorship of a government newspaper on his return
  • returning to England in 1800,
  • facing two libel actions in the USA
  • resuming my labours here, and in 1805 arriving in Botley
  • suffering, during these twenty-nine years, two years of imprisonment, heavy fines, three years self-banishment to the other side of the Atlantic, and a total breaking of fortune, so as to be left without a bed to lie on, and,
  • during these twenty-nine years of troubles and of punishments, writing and publishing, every week of my life, whether in exile or not, eleven weeks only excepted, a periodical paper, containing more or less of matter worthy of public attention; writing and publishing, during the same twenty-nine years,
  1. a grammar of the French
  2. and another of the English language,
  3. a work on the Economy of the Cottage,
  4. a work on Forest Trees and Woodlands,
  5. a work on Gardening,
  6. an account of America,
  7. a book of Sermons,
  8. a work on the Corn-plant,
  9. a History of the Protestant Reformation;
  • all books of great and continued sale, and the last unquestionably the book of greatest circulation in the whole world, the Bible only excepted; having, during these same twenty-nine years of troubles and embarrassments without number,
  1. introduced into England the manufacture of Straw-plat;
  2. also several valuable trees;
  3. having introduced, during the same twenty-nine years, the cultivation of the Corn-plant, so manifestly valuable as a source of food;
  4. having, during the same period, always (whether in exile or not) sustained a shop of some size, in London;
  5. having, during the whole of the same period, never employed less, on an average, than ten persons, in some capacity or other, exclusive of printers, bookbinders, and others, connected with papers and books;
  6. and having, during these twenty-nine years of troubles, embarrassments, prisons, fines, and banishments, bred up a family of seven children to man's and woman's state.
From Cobbett’s Advice to young men and (incidentally) to young women in the middle and higher ranks of life

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A brief history of Botley pre-Cobbett 

Botley grew up around the tidal limit the Hamble River - rivers are a means of travel but also a barrier to travel;
  • the Roman road from Clausentum to Portchester passes the old church and Manor Farm, the old centre of the village, crossing the river at its lowest point by Fairthorne. There have been Roman finds on both sides of the river there. Apart from passing through – and perhaps waiting for the tide to go out – the Romans pretty much ignored the area which at that time would still have been heavily wooded.
  • It was not until the Angles, Saxons and Jutes turned up that this woodland became cleared for pasture (Bot-ley, Net-ley, Whitel-ley). There is little or no record of this period but Botley gets a mention in the Domesday book.
  • Prior to the Norman Conquest Botley had been a royal manor held of King Edward by a Saxon thane named Cheping, who held a number of properties around Hampshire.
  • William the Conqueror gave Cheping’s lands to one of his generals, Ralf de Mortimer, and it remained in the Mortimer family until the early part of the fourteenth century, when the overlordship rights apparently lapsed.
  • In the thirteenth century the manor was held of the Mortimers by a family which took the name of Botley. They increased their holdings around Botley and in 1267 John de Botley obtained a royal grant of a weekly market, an annual fair, and free warren in his manor. (The weekly market took place on Mondays – right up until the end of the 19th century, though by then it was fortnightly)
  • Thirty years later 1304 Thomas de Botley granted his whole estate here to the bishop of Winchester, for the endowment of the chapel of Saint Elizabeth without Winchester.
  • At the Dissolution Thomas Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, at this time obtained by royal grant many of the lands formerly held by the religious houses of Hampshire; among others, Botley manor and church. Remained with the Wriothesleys until1667, before passing through the female line to Elizabeth, wife of William Bentinck, first duke of Portland. (david archer) It remained in her possession until the year 1775, when it was sold to Richard Eyre, who held it until his death in 1823
During the 18th century the population of the village pretty much doubled from 300 (in 1700) to around 600 by 1800. New roads out of Southampton, the steam ferry at Itchen, Northam bridge, Bursledon bridge, Botley bridge all date from turn of the century (1800). This was a time of growth in Britain; the industrial revolution was drawing people towards the towns and cities; even though Botley was growing there was a net movement of people out of the village; girls into service or marrying out into neighbouring villages; young men off to fight in the Napoleonic wars, or seeking their fortunes in the Wen. Which brings us back to Cobbett . . .

The description from “Advice to young men” showed two strands of Cobbett’s interests – one the writer, polemicist, politician – the other the Jolly Farmer.
In 1804 the 40 year old Cobbett visited Hampshire, staying at Alresford; he visited Winchester, Southampton, Lyndhurst and Botley. He took lodgings with Richard Smith.
In 27 May 1829 Richard Smith is described as a married man, age 73, a Brother of St. Cross Hospital, Winton, an old inhabitant
· The following year 1805 bought Botley House; William, Nancy and four children: Ann, William, John and James . . . and another one on the way.
· He started buying property: between 1805 and 1809 bought
· Cock Street Farm, Fairthorne Farm, coppice on Curdridge Common, Hounsdon Estate, Raglington Farm and Lockhams.
· Altogether cost: £27,000.00 for 643 acres

Cobbett describes Botley's farming thus:
Botley lies in a valley, the soil of which is a deep and stiff clay. Oak trees grow well; and this year the wheat grows well, as it does upon all the clays that I have seen . . . This is not much of a barley country. The oats are good. The beans, that I have seen, very indifferent.     
Cobbett listed the occupations of Botley
Farmers, farmers men, millers, millers men, millwrights, publicans who sell beer to the farmers, copse cutters, tree strippers, bark shavers, farmers wheelwrights, farmers blacksmiths – in short nothing but persons belonging to agriculture.

These are some of the professions recorded in the early 1800s at Botley:

Population 600
AGRICULTURE farmer, Labourer, Copse Man, Drillman,  Bailiff, Shepherd,  Gamekeeper,  Horse Breaker,  Horse Farrier,  Corn dealer, Hostler,  Blacksmith,  Wheelwright,  Miller, Millwright,  Loader at Mill, Jobber,  Sawyer,  Gatekeeper,  Yeoman, Gardener
ASSOCIATED Bricklayer Brickmaker mason turner & bricklayerThatcher Broom Maker Carpenter Collar Maker Hoop Shaver, hoopmaker Paper Maker Rake Maker tanner,
MERCHANT Apothecary Baker Biscuit baker. Journeyman & Baker butcher Grocer Chandler Coal merchant Merchant Taylor and Shopkeeper Shoemaker Clark Collier Innkeeper Victaller and publican brewer Vinegar Brewer taylor
OTHER Gentleman Gentleman's Servant Servant curate postman, Schoolmaster schoolmistress Purser R.N. mariner shipwright, Shoemaker & Master of the Poorhouse post lad at the Dolphin, soldier surgeon pauper Gypsies Traveller

Cobbett wrote that he had “got the arable land into the state of a garden. I had for five years been doing little to the land but to clean, till and manure it; to make fences, drains and do other things profitable for the time to come”

· Amongst the tasks (recorded in Cobbett’s labour book) to improve the land: grubbing out tree roots and splitting the stumps, trenching, hedging, lopping branches and stone picking.
· At Raglington he planted 20,000 oak (some raised from acorns imported from America), elm and ash trees; 3,000 fir trees
· Plus there were exotic trees he brought back from the USA: shell bark, common hickory, honey, common locust – 272,000 locust seeds to transplant on 100 acres of land – black and white walnut, sassafras catalpa
· At first he only grew enough wheat for his own household but by 1814 aimed to sow 300 acres.
· He boasted that his farms “were completely stocked with everything of the best kinds”. He also had mechanical chaff cutters, water carriages with casks, a malt mill, a threshing machine, a patent winnowing machine and a Suffolk swing plough. This latter only required 2 horses instead of 4.
· While other local farmers were still sowing wheat broadcast Cobbett was using a Norfolk drill cultivator. He wagered a neighbouring farmer (Farmer Missing) to see who could grow more wheat – Cobbett with his drill, Missing broadcast: Cobbett won (but found that his wheat didn’t ripen as quickly as broadcast).
· Sheep – Southdown, Ryelands and Dorset; plus Spanish merino – 23 Merino and over 200 halfbreeds. Also Spanish jackasses, pigs and four cows (to supply his own household)
· With James Warner he was a founder of Botley & South Hampshire Agricultural Society
· He also was keen on country sports – primarily hare coursing, huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’ for salmon (although putting nets across the Hamble might not be considered that sportin’).
· Single stick contest
Vermin . . . Cobbett would pay for vermin killed on his land . . .
6d magpie or crow
10s old fox
1s stoat, weazle, polecat, cat
20s fox with cubs
2s hawk or kite
40s poacher
5s dog fox or cub

This at a time when wages were 9s (winter) to 12s (summer) per week. Cobbett in fact paid more – 10 to 16 shillings – but only when he could afford it.

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Botley's Rectory was built in 1753, when the Rector was Thomas Kingsman. He died in 1779, and was followed by Revd. Joseph Wallace. Acccording to parish records one January night he“retired to his rest in perfect health . . . and was found dead in his bed on the following morning” (Jan. 28th 1803). Having had six rectors during the 1700s it is perhaps a surprise to find that Botley had only two during the whole for the next century. These wereRev Richard Baker and following his death in 1854 the Rev Morley Lee. It is Baker that Cobbett called a chattering magpie . . .“that delectable creature, the Botley Parson”

Baker & Cobbett; with common interests like hare coursing and farming the two were initially friends, . . . Cobbett bought Alderney cows and a German horse from Baker, but when Baker sold Cobbett some bad straw they fell out.
Tithe – Cobbett objected to the fact that the more he raised productivity of his land the more tithe he had to pay. “Why cannot you reverence God without Baker and his wife eating up a tenth part of the corn and milk and eggs and lamb and pigs and calves that are produced in Botley parish?”
In fact most of Cobbett’s land was in Droxford parish and he paid tithe to Rev Ogle of Bishops Waltham. In Botley there were Glebe lands which the rector held in lieu of tithes and this caused argument between Baker and James Warner of Manor Farm.
Tithes were collected to support the poor and the work of the church; by this time they were used to support the rector and his family in a big house.
Cobbett: attacked Bishops asking whether Christ chose “for his Apostles men with immense estates, scores of gamekeepers, having palaces for their places of residence, having parks well stocked with deer and gardens coming up to Mohamet’s idea of Elysium?”
Whilst in Newgate Cobbett wrote to Nancy – “I wish to God that you never renewed your acquaintance with Baker – he is a scoundrel and so I will tell him!”
On Cobbett’s release from Newgate: bells rung in Alton, not in Botley: Baker held the church keys and wouldn’t allow the villagers in to ring the bells (note, Cobbett returning from London via Alton wouldn’t have passed within a mile of the church so he probably wouldn’t have heard them anyway.
Another tale of Rev'd Baker:  

The best news that I have learnt here is, that the Botley parson is become quite a gentle creature, compared to what he used to be. The people in the village have told me some most ridiculous stories about his having been hoaxed in London! It seems that somebody danced him up from Botley to London, by telling him that a legacy had been left him, or some such story. Up went the parson on horseback, being in too great a hurry to run the risk of coach. The hoaxers, it appears, got him to some hotel, and there set upon him a whole tribe of applicants, wet-nurses, dry-nurses, lawyers with deeds of conveyance for borrowed money, curates in want of churches, coffin-makers, travelling companions, ladies’ maids, dealers in Yorkshire hams, Newcastle coals, and dealers in dried night-soil at Islington. In short, if I am rightly informed, they kept the parson in town for several days, bothered him three parts out of his senses, compelled him to escape, as it were, from a fire; and then, when he got home, he found the village posted all over with handbills giving an account of his adventure, under the pretence of offering £500 reward for a discovery of the hoaxers! The good of it was the parson ascribed his disgrace to me, and they say that he perseveres to this hour in accusing me of it. Upon my word, I had nothing to do with the matter, and this affair only shows that I am not the only friend that the parson has in the world.
Another story has Baker horsewhipped by Dr Blundell in the vestry of the church
RuralRides: I had not seen 'the BOTLEY PARSON' for several years, and I wished to have a look at him now, but could not get a sight of him, though we rode close before his house, at much about his breakfast time, and though we gave him the strongest of invitation that could be expressed by hallooing and by cracking of whips! The fox was too cunning for us, and, do all we could, we could not provoke him to put even his nose out of kennel.

The parish register for Botley records: 
6 Dec 1805
Eleanor daughter of William and Ann Cobbett

24 Apr 1807
Susan daughter of William and Ann Cobbett

  • Nancy was pregnant when the family arrived in Botley in July 1805
  • baby Eleanor was christened here in December that year.
  • A couple of years later another daughter, Susan, was born and she too was christened here.
  • A couple of years after that while Cobbett was in Newgate Nancy (Ann) called upon her sister to help her with the children and home This sister, Eleanor Reid, came to live at Botley House with Nancy and the six children (number 7 came in 1814).
The old church, known locally as St Bartholomew’s (originally All Saints, rededicated 1836 when new church built – St Bartholomews Day August 24th - the day of the annual fair granted by Henry III). Church at Botley mentioned in Domesday, this one probably dates from late 1200s, following grant of Market Charter: rector Henry Huse recorded 1282. Church in Cobbets day was probably twice the size it is today, this is the church where two of Cobbett’s children were christened.
The parish records richly illustrate life in Botley at that time: the dangers of rural life – farmyard accidents abound; exotic illnesses like apopolexy and scropholous humours; scarlet fever outbreaks taking whole families.

 In the course of his many books, pamphlets and newspapers Cobbett expressed opinions on just about everything, including smallpox vaccinations – he was against them. He wrote in 1817 “. . . I was always, from the very first mention of the thing, opposed to the Cow-pox scheme. If efficacious in preventing Smallpox I objected to it merely on the score of its beastliness. There are some things, surely, more hideous than death, and more resolutely to be avoided . . . and, amongst other things, I always reckoned that of a parent causing the diseased blood of a beast to be put into the veins of . . . their children.” He goes on to make clear he doesn’t believe it to be efficacious and that injecting people with cowpox to avoid smallpox is a big mistake. The Botley registers record, the year before Cobbett wrote this, 3 year old Mary Bignell, daughter of John and Keziah Bignell died of smallpox after having the vaccination.
The church
The centre of the village had long since moved away from the old church and parishioners were finding it increasingly troublesome to take the path across the fields to the church. In addition a ‘Dissenters Church’ had been built in Winchester Street in 1800 and was attracting a growing congregation.
"Our present church is, from its great antiquity, in a ruinous condition, and is not only incapable of accommodating the parishioners, but is situated at the distance of a mile from the Village:- and not more than 7 persons out of a population of between 7 and 800 reside within a shorter distance; so that at all seasons the old and the infirm are unable to attend it, and in bad weather there is scarcely any Congregation at all."(From appeal leaflet of 1834)
Funerals were particularly difficult with stiles to cross and muddy paths to endure. A new church was built on land given by James Warner of Manor Farm.
· Meanwhile at Manor Farm . . . Cobbett’s friend James Warner had married Ann Barnard in 1805, they had a daughter Ann born August 1806, who died a few weeks later in September 1806. In May 1808 a son, James, was born but, two weeks later, Ann Warner died. On June 8th 1808 James Warner’s son was christened, and wife was buried, here at Botley church
· Three years later 1811 James Warner married Cobbett’s sister in law, Eleanor Reid, also here at Botley Church. Over the next sixteen years the Parish registers record the baptisms of eleven children to James and Eleanor. They named their first son William.
11 Jul 1811
James Warner. gentleman. widower & Eleanor Reid
7 Mar 1813
William son of James & Eleanor Warner the younger
Botley Farm
9 Nov 1813
Eleanor daughter of James & Eleanor Warner
born. 25 Sep
20 Dec 1814
Frederick twin son of James & Eleanor Warner
Botley Manor Farm
20 Dec 1814
Isaac twin son of James & Eleanor Warner
Botley Manor Farm

25 May 1817
Jane daughter of James & Eleanor Warner
born 27Jan 1816 bapt priv. 11 Feb 1816
16 Sep 1817
Henry son of James & Eleanor Warner
Botley Manor Farm
27 Aug 1820
Elizabeth daughter of James & Eleanor Warner
born 28 Feb 1819
27 Aug 1820
Marianne daughter of James & Eleanor Warner
born 28 Jul
8 Sep 1822
Sarah daughter of James & Eleanor Warner

17 Feb 1824
Thomas son of James & Eleanor Warner

11 Nov 1827
Charles son of James & Eleanor Warner
Steeple Court Droxford Born. Sep 2nd
 From Richard Eyre the Manor of Botley passed to his on Thomas : in 1833 the manor once more changed hands, when it was purchased by James Warner, the famous agriculturist. With Cobbett a founder of the Botley and South Hants Farmers' Club, and a statue to the memory of Warner stands in the Market Hall of Botley. . .
· White Marble on Black Marble In memory of James Warner of Steeple Court, Born 30th November 1784. Died 12 November 1857. And of Eleanor Warner wife of the above who died May 27th 1871 aged 89 years.
It is thought there has been a farm here since Norman times; the present farmhouse is believed to date from the 1500s, over the centuries it has been altered, turned from a large mediaeval hall into a two storey farm house, been split into two cottages, had a granny annex added, had a brick shell added.  

Since 1984 it has been the Hampshire Farm Museum, and has been restored to give an idea of a working Victorian farm. There is probably more that Cobbett would recognize here than elsewhere in Botley. (I know Cobbett died before Victoria became queen, but an early Victorian farm probably didn't differ too much from a Georgian farm)
At one time the Manor Farm with the church and village pond formed the centre of the village of Botley. It is sometimes suggested that it was the building of the road and bridge in 1800 that lead to the movement of the village a mile to the north.However old maps show that the migration had already occurred years, possibly centuries, before this. The Roman Road (route 421) linking Clausentum with the east (Portchester, Chichester) passes close to the farm and goes as straight as you’d expect a roman road to go to cross the Hamble River by Fairthorne. This however is not the tidal limit of the river so is impassable for many hours each day. It makes sense that the village would develop around a more useful crossing point , ie the tidal limit, that is,where the bridge is now.


Steeple Court - The Manor House – home of the Warner family after 1835. Previous occupants included the Moulton family (1684) the Sparshots (1706) Upton and Bourne. The river at Steeple Court was the site of a drowning in 1686 when Joseph Wise was ere accidentally drown’d. By the mid 18th century it was the home of the Paye family – the Botley parish registers record that on September 11th 1779 18 year old William Paye was shot by a soldier in Dock Copse

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Before you arrive at the village you come to Hamblewood, take a detour to find the site of Cobbett's residence - Botley Hill House.
Here was Cobbett’s house from 1805 until 1810.Botley Hill House had been built for the Stares family, owners of Botley Mill between 1775 and 1799. William Stares was responsible for rebuilding the mill; but went bankrupt in 1799. His son Robert, known as King Stares, had a reputation as a moneylender and loan shark.
Cobbett moved here in 1805, with Nancy his pregnant wife, and four children aged between one and nine. Initially he intended to winter in London and summer in Botley. He was able to leave the day to day running of the Political Register to his partner which meant he was able to concentrate on his parallel role as the Jolly Farmer. 
Mary Russell Mitford: “He was a tall stout man, fair and sunburnt, with a bright smile and an air compounded of the soldier and the farmer, to which his habit of wearing an eternal red waistcoat contributed not a little. He was I think the most athletic person I have ever known, Nothing could tire him”.
The house was described by Mary Russell Mitford as being “large, high, massive, red and square”.Cobbett: “about fifty feet long, forty wide, three clear storeys high, with a high roof and high chimneys”. Cobbett added a portico and clock tower.It was nicknamed “lantern house” on account of all the windows.
The garden swept down to the river, with pyramids of hollyhocks, masses of china asters, cloves, mignionette and variegated geranium; raspberries, peaches, plums and watermelons. Trees planted included limes, planes and sycamores. There was a walled kitchen garden with fruit trees trained as espaliers (short straight branches to make protection and harvesting easier) Hot bed for cultivating melons and early vegetables. A lawn (or grass-plat): advised that in summer wormcasts and daisies be removed midweek so that grass could be scythed early Saturday morning. This would lead to a lawn like a green baize cloth. Cobbett’s preferred garden flowers were showy, preferably yellow. His favourite Sweet William. : formal lines of flowers
Shrubbery: buckthorn, laburnum, white broom, lilac, locust trees, magnolia, bird cherry, dogwood. Myrtle. Hedges of privet with red and white roses
“A large, strong table, in the middle of the room, their mother sitting at her work, surrounded the children; the baby, if big enough sat up in a high chair. Here were inkstands, pens, pencils, india rubber and paper all in abundance, and everyone scrabbled about as he or she pleased.” Writing, reading, drawing, copying their father was school for the Cobbett children.Cobbett says of his son, William, he would ride alone to Winchester, conduct his business and ride back – at ten years old!
Cobbett claimed never to have spent more than thirty five minutes a day at meals but was in fact a generous host; Mary Russell Mitford again: I never saw hospitality more genuine more simple or more thoroughly successful, there was not the slightest attempt at finery, or display, or gentility. They called it a farmhouse, and everything was in accordance with the largest idea of a great English Yeoman of the old time. All that remains of Cobbett’s Botley Hill House is what is now called Cobbett’s Cottage and stables. A good place for a story . . .
Henry Hunt spoke of Cobbett’s approach to his workers –: his servants about his farms always lived as long with him as they conducted themselves with propriety; he was, indeed, what is called very lucky the choice of his servants. For years and years, and years together, when I went to visit him, I found the same faces, the same well-known names. The same tenant occupied the same cottage; the same carter drove the same team; the same ploughman held the same plough; the same thrasher occupied the same barn; and the same shepherd attended the flock. The names of Dean, Jurd, Coward, and Hurcot, and many others, were for a number of years, as familiar to me as the names of my own servants
Mr. Cobbett was one of the kindest, the best, and the most considerate masters, that I ever knew in my life. His servants were indeed obliged to work for their wages, as it was their duty to do; but they always had an example of industry and sobriety set them by their master; they were always treated with the greatest kindness by him; they were well paid and well treated in every respect; and the best proof, if any were wanting, after what I have said, that they were well satisfied with their employer, is, that they all lived with him for very long periods, and that those who left his service did so not in consequence of any dislike to their MASTER, and were always anxious to return to him.
However. One of his employees was a young lad called Jesse Burgess. Jesse was employed as a carter, his job was to look after the horses and he lived in (presumably at one of the cottages by the stables at the top of Church Lane). One morning when Jesse should have been at the stables Cobbett found that he was still in bed – Jesse, terrified of Cobbett, fled home to mum in Droxford (about eight miles away). He was persuaded to return. And then he did it again. Again he ran home to mum, but this time couldn’t be persuaded to return.

Cobbett obtained an arrest warrant and Constable Aslett – who was also the village blacksmith – the old Forge is in the square – was dispatched to Droxford to arrest him. Aslett, Jesse, Mrs Burgess and J’s brother William walked back to Botley, and with the hour getting late stopped the night at the Dolphin. Jesse was put in the care of Dummer the tithingman.
The next morning Jesse escaped. His mother and brother set off to return to Droxford. Aslett pursued them, arrested them for collusion in Jesse’s escape and reported to Cobbett for instructions. Cobbett told Aslett to take them to the Southampton magistrate.Here it was agreed they could be released if they undertook to return Jesse to Southampton as soon as possible. They asked Cobbett how they would get back to Botley - he said “get home how you can” so they walked back to Droxford, arriving back . . . on that cold March night . . . at 11:00pm.
Cobbett, notoriously paranoid, did have enemies, one of them being another magistrate – Goodlad – who, by coincidence, Jesse’s brother worked for. Goodlad advised them to bring an action against Cobbett for wrongful arrest. It went to trial and Cobbett was found guilty and fined ten pound. The prosecution counsel said that Cobbett “was a person who publicly supported the poor but privately oppressed them”.
Cobbett felt that he was in the right – (always) – that a good employer made boundaries clear, he believed that he was performing a service to other farmers. The way he saw it Jesse had drawn a wage and lodgings during the winter months but now that spring was coming planned to move on.
The story made headlines and Cobbett was pilloried.
Cobbett contracted Emery (Emery: a local family – almost 200 entries in the parish records between 1680 and 1837) to dig 2 miles of drainage furrows for £1 2s 6d (two weeks wages). On completion Cobbett said that as the price of bread and bacon had come down so should the price of labour. Emery replied that bread and bacon may have come down in price but tea and sugar had gone up and potatoes were as high as ever. Cobbett retorted that with a diet of potatoes and tea (instead of bread and beer) it was no wonder Emery had a son of 19 who was “too weakly to do man’s work” and that the whole family were “thin as owlettes”. Such a bad diet can only “multiply your cares, give you a brood of puny children, lower your spirit, impoverish your blood and shorten your days of labour and of life.”

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Much good may it do the king
1809 - local militiamen at Ely had not been paid; their demand for back pay was perceived as mutiny. The ringleaders "were tried by a Court Martial, and sentenced to receive five hundred lashes each ..." A German cavalry unit (mercenaries) were called in to deliver the sentence.
· In an article in the Political Register Cobbett attacked the administration, opening his article with the observation that finally the Government had found a "useful employment" for German troops, viz. "the means of compelling Englishmen to submit to that sort of discipline which is so conducive to producing in them the disposition to defend the country, at the risk of their lives."
· A charge of criminal or seditious libel followed; and, after a period of time, a trial was brought on in the Court of King's bench with Chief Justice Ellenborough and one of government's special juries. Cobbett made the mistake of trying to defend himself without legal counsel.
· For Cobbett the result was that he was imprisoned in Newgate for two years and given a £1,000 fine, (“and much good may it do the King”) and at the end of two years he would be released if he bound himself over on a £3,000 bond with two sureties in the amount £1,000, each, so, "to keep the peace" for seven years -- and thus the authorities effectively gagged Cobbett. 
The prison sentence wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds . . his sentence was not much more than living two years in London in lodgings. To be sure, he paid dear for that accommodation, but actually little more than he would have paid for ready furnished lodgings, of equal goodness, in any other part of London. He would have paid just as much for good lodgings upon Ludgate-Hill; and his lodgings in Mr. Newman's house were equal, if not superior, to any on Ludgate-Hill. All his friends had free access to him, from eight o'clock in the morning till ten at night, and his family remained with him night and day. As I visited him a great deal, I know how well he was at all times accommodated. When I knocked at Mr. Newman's door, and asked for Mr. Cobbett, I was received with attention by the servant, and introduced immediately; in fact, the reception given by Mr. Newman's servants to Mr. Cobbett's visitors, was much more respectful, and more attentive and accommodating, than they ever experienced from the servants of Mr. Cobbett at his own house; Henry Hunt
This last comment was a veiled attack on Nancy Cobbett 
Henry HuntIn truth, I do not remember ever going to Mr. Cobbett's house twice following, without seeing new faces, or rather new maid servants. Mrs. Cobbett was, what was called amongst the gossips, very “unfortunate” in getting maid servants; they seldom suited long together.
The family continued to live at Botley, sending hampers of local produce and flowers to Cobbett in prison – “plants, bulbs, and the like, that I might see the size of them, and always every one of the children sent his or her most beautiful flowers; the earliest violets, and primroses, and bluebells; the earliest twigs of trees: and in short, everything they thought calculated to interest me”
In return Cobbett sent daily orders for the running of the farms.These were read to the men by Cobbett’s eldest sons, or daughter
Release from Newgate
In July 1812 Cobbett was released; as mentioned earlier there were no church bells ringing at Botley, though there had been at other villages on the way down but when Cobbett reached Botley the villagers were waiting for him up Winchester Street – they took the horses from his cart and pulled it themselves into the square where a band was playing and the ale was flowing – Mrs Cobbett had ordered four hogsheads (hogshead measurement ranged between 63 and 140 gallons) of ale from the village inns. The dance given at Botley House for the villagers carried on into the early hours of the morning
After Newgate
Whilst in Newgate 1811 Cobbett took out a ten year lease on Botley Hill Farm – this now Pinkmead farm, included the house now called Sherecroft. On his release from prison Sherecroft became his home.
He leased it from Sir James Kempt (1764 - 1854). At first a Brigade Major in Picton's Fighting Third Division Kempt was promoted to Major General in January 1812 and it was he that commanded the attack on la Picaruna fort at Badajoz in April of that year. He was severely wounded in the seige.
On recovery he was given command of a light brigade of the 43rd and 2 battalions of the 95th Rifles at Vittoria, Vera, Nivelle, Nive, Orthez and Toulouse.

One of Wellington’s generals at Waterloo, he was a small man, quiet and unassuming but proved an excellent and popular officer. .

These were difficult years for Farmer Cobbett: a good harvest in 1813 brought the price of wheat down by a quarter and the end of the French wars in 1815 meant that prices didn’t rise again. During 1813-17 he “lost large sums of money annually by my agricultural pursuits and by my purchases of land.”


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