Celebrating the 250 anniversary of William Cobbett’s birth, in 2013 the Museum of Farnham held a number of events.
In March 2013 the Museum celebrated William Cobbett’s 250th birthday. In celebration of his birth, children from the William Cobbett School produced in conjunction with the Museum, the William Cobbett Society and Animate and Create CIC an animation of Cobbett’s life: The Life and Times of William Cobbett
This project was made possible by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
William Cobbett was born in Farnham in 1763, the son of a farmer and innkeeper. He was in the army between 1784 and 1791, but blowing the whistle on military corruption forced him to flee to America. There he began his career as a journalist, publishing 12 volumes of attacks on American democracy and becoming known as Peter Porcupine. He returned to England in 1800 and began publishing a weekly newsletter, the Political Register in 1802. In 1816, the price of the Political Register was drastically reduced to ensure it reached the working classes.
In his Rural Rides (1830) Cobbett continued to champion the rural poor. As an advocate of political reform he was frequently controversial though his writing was also nostalgic for a simpler rural past. Cobbett was one of the most influential radicals in the decades before the Reform Act (1832) and supported labourers’ riots in 1830, leading to him being tried for sedition but aquitted. He was elected to Parliament as MP for Oldham in 1832 but died in 1835.
Cobbett’s most famous written work is his Rural Rides, which details his travels throughout the English countryside over a 5 year period. He wrote about what he saw, the impact of increasing industry on agriculture and how it affected the Rural poor.
You can find his Rural Rides online here: www.visionofbritain.org.uk
QuayCrafts Meets William Cobbett
QuayCrafts is an established group of artist/makers based on the Isle of Wight, a rural community which enjoys a stunning landscape and coastline. The choice of William Cobbett as the source of inspiration for a body of visual art work may seem to be an unusual one but many of the members of the group have strong associations with Surrey and Farnham, having originated, lived or been educated here.
Much of what Cobbett had to say on a host of topics ranging from the press, political corruption and taxation to gardening and the plight of agricultural labourers is still remarkably relevant today and full of potential as the stimulus for personal research. Members of QuayCrafts have responded to Cobbett’s extensive writing, particularly Rural Rides, (published nearly 200 years ago and still in print today,) with its descriptions of the countryside and embedded political commentary, in a variety of ways: they have made their own personal journeys, at times following Cobbett’s own routes; mapping and recording; finding topical relevance in his campaigning; seeking inspiration as Cobbett did in the physical and social geography of the English landscape and in doing so lead others to re-consider his work in the light of contemporary issues and events.
The QuayCrafts group hope that through our research and responses to this remarkable man we can add a new dimension to understanding William Cobbett.