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.
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.
- 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
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 Portsmouth
- 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 to . Initially in Delaware, then to Philadelphia America
- 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,
- a grammar of the French
- and another of the English language,
- a work on the Economy of the Cottage,
- a work on Forest Trees and Woodlands,
- a work on Gardening,
- an account of America,
- a book of Sermons,
- a work on the Corn-plant,
- 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,
- introduced into England the manufacture of Straw-plat;
- also several valuable trees;
- having introduced, during the same twenty-nine years, the cultivation of the Corn-plant, so manifestly valuable as a source of food;
- having, during the same period, always (whether in exile or not) sustained a shop of some size, in London;
- 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;
- 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 CHEPING GARDENS HEAD ACROSS FOUR ACRE TO LOVERS LANE AND THE FOOTPATH THAT LEADS TO THE OLD CHURCH.
A brief history of Botley pre-Cobbett
- 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
. (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 Portland
Cobbett describes Botley's farming thus:
Cobbett listed the occupations of Botley
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”
THE FOOTPATH FROM LOVERS LANE COMES OUT NEAR THE OLD RECTORY. TURN LEFT TOWARDS THE OLD CHURCH.
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.
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).
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.
11 Jul 1811
James Warner. gentleman. widower & Eleanor Reid
7 Mar 1813
William son of James & Eleanor Warner the younger
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
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)
FROM MANOR FARM AND THE OLD CHURCH FOLLOW CHURCH LANE BACK UP TO THE VILLAGE.
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.
MAKE YOUR WAY FROM HAMBLEWOOD TO THE VILLAGE, LEAVE THE VILLAGE HEADING OVER THE RIVER TO STEEPLE COURT.
One of Wellington’s generals at Waterloo, he was a small man, quiet and unassuming but proved an excellent and popular officer. .