Soane’s Life & Times 1812-1813; Part VI: Trouble at Home
2013 marks a significant date for Sir John Soane’s Museum, as it heralds the 200th anniversary since Sir John and his family took up residence at No.13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This blog series has been celebrating this important milestone in the Museum’s history by exploring aspects of Soane’s life during 1812-13. A fascinating and glittering period, the year that Soane established his now world famous house museum was also one of political, economic and social turmoil both in Britain and abroad. Over the next five days, we bring the series, and this remarkable anniversary, to a close.
To read the previous blog posts in this series, please follow the links; Part I: Soane and Lincoln's Inn Fields; Part II: Professional and Academic Life; Part III: London - City of Change; Part IV: Supplying the City; Part V: Trouble Abroad
Trouble at Home
The early 19th century was a turbulent time for the British at home. By 1812 George III was insane and his unpopular son the Prince Regent, later George IV, who was loathed by the poor and mocked by the rich, was in the second year of his Regency. He had separated from his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, who kept court at Kensington Palace before going abroad in 1814.
Love in a Cottage, satirical print by an anonymous artist, c.1820, hand-coloured etching. George has his rapacious mistress, Lady Conyngham, on his lap. Courtesy of the British Museum
Love in a Cottage, satirical print by an anonymous artist, c.1820, hand-coloured etching (Courtesy of the British Museum)
Spencer Perceval Assassinated
England had a Tory government under Spencer Perceval, who had become Prime Minister in 1809. The main promoter of the Orders in Council that blocked French trade by sea and also caused a catastrophic decline in trade between England and the Americas, Perceval was assassinated in the House of Commons on 11 May 1812, by John Bellingham. He is the only British Prime Minister to have suffered such a fate.
According to his notebook, Soane learned of the assassination in The Turnpike Man, a pub in Tottenham Court Road. Soane knew Perceval as in 1802 he made alterations to his house at Nos 59 - 60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields — Lindsey House — where Perceval lived until he became Prime Minister.
Perceval was succeeded by another Soane client, Lord Liverpool, with Lord Castlereagh as Foreign Secretary. Castlereagh played a significant role in the reshaping of Europe after the Napoleonic wars.
The shooting of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval by John Bellingham, 1812, watercolour (Courtesy of the British Museum)
The Luddite Revolt
The cost of defending British interests against Napoleon took its toll on the domestic economy, whilst export trade, especially to the United States, plummeted from £11 million in 1810 to less than £2 million the following year. In 1811, the harvest was bad for the second year running. Flour went up by 70% between 1811 and 1812. The price of bread doubled in some areas, leading to bread riots; whilst potatoes, a staple food for cotton workers, trebled. Food shortages and low wage levels in the wake of changes in manufacturing practices in the wool and cotton trades stoked unrest among the working population.
The Industrial Revolution was transforming manufacturing, and mechanisation was having a devastating effect on the workers in both the iron and coal and the wool and cotton industries. The disastrous decline in export markets was quickly felt in Yorkshire (wool) and Lancashire (cotton). Manufacturers were forced out of business and workers laid off. With the workers unable to feed their families and determined to protect their livelihoods against machines, riots broke out in Nottinghamshire which spread to Yorkshire, Lancashire and beyond, and lasted for much of 1812. The riots were quelled at the end of 1812 using the military, and 17 ringleaders were hanged. In 1813 conditions in the country improved dramatically. A good harvest led to a drop in the price of flour, export trade resumed following the repeal of the Orders in Council, and wool prices improved, giving better pay for workers in wool and cotton. The Annual Register for 1813 boasted: ‘Few years have passed in which more internal public tranquillity has been enjoyed by the people of these islands than the present’.
The Leader of the Luddites, 1812
Tomorrow, read Part VII: Industry
This blog has been reproduced from "Soane's Life and Times 1812-1813" by Gisela Gledhill and edited by Philippa Stockley, which can be purchased from our online store or from the Soane Shop. We are grateful to Gisela and Philippa for allowing us to feature their work in this way.