Cobbett laying low one of his detractors outside his bookshop in



Cobbett beating the drum for the radical candidate for Middlesex in the General Election of 1806.

1810 - 1812

Newgate gaol, London, where Cobbett served a two year sentence for sedition.

Pastel portrait of William Cobbett by John Raphael Smith (1752-1812) by courtesy of the Museum of Farnham, 39.5 x 43 cm.


Cobbett entering the town of Coventry, where he stood unsuccessfully as a radical candidate in the General Election of 1820.

1817 - 1819

Cobbett in exile on his farm on Long Island, where he continued to write his weekly newspaper.

1833 - 1835

Cobbett in his seat in the House of Commons.

See also more about William Cobbett, on Farnham Town Council’s website: http://www.farnham.gov.uk/visit/history-heritage/farnhams-famous-sons-daughters.html

For even more, see:


William Cobbett - dead radical, dead relevant

Author and journalist Penny Young explains how the radical writer William Cobbett lambasted and lampooned corrupt politicians and political structures in 18th and 19th century England. His attacks on sleaze and his championing of radical political reform are just as relevant today as ever.

See her You Tube video interview with journalist Patrick Chalmers:



(1763 - 1835)

Contemporaries of William Cobbett, who was born in Farnham and is buried in St Andrew’s churchyard, would have known of him as a radical politician and the foremost political journalist of the age. Writing in the 1790's under the pseudonym of Peter Porcupine in the United States, and then under his own name in England from 1800 onwards, Cobbett was the scourge of successive governments. In pamphlets, newspapers and books he mercilessly exposed corruption and maladministration in high places, cried out about the miserable conditions of the labouring people, and, undeterred by fines and imprisonment, repeatedly called for a radical reform of Parliament and the Church. His efforts were rewarded by the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, and he spent the last two and a half years of his life as the Member of Parliament for Oldham, fighting on the floor of the House of Commons for his "beloved country­men", the labourers of the United Kingdom.

Today, Cobbett is probably best remembered for such books as Cottage Economy, The English Gardener and A Grammar of the English Language, though the 89 volumes of his weekly newspaper The Political Register are greatly valued, as much by social historians as by students of nineteenth century politics. Best known of all is his book Rural Rides, an account of a series of rides on horseback in the 1820's in which he combines brilliant political polemic with marvellous descriptions of the English countryside.


“Talk of rocks and breakers and quagmires and quicksands, who has ever escaped from amidst so many as I have! Thrown on the wide world (by my own will indeed) at an early age without money to support and without book-learning to assist me; then becoming a common soldier and leading a military life for eight years; marrying, going at once to France to acquire the language, thence to America; passing eight years there, becoming bookseller and author and taking part in all the important discussions of the interesting period from 1793-1799... conducting myself... in such a way as to call forth marks of unequivocal approbation from the Government at home; returning to England in 1800, resuming my labours here, suffering during these past 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 punishment, writing and publishing every week of my life... a periodical paper containing more or less of matter worthy of public attention...and publishing books of great and continued sale, and introducing into England several valuable trees and the cultivation of the Corn-plant, so manifestly valuable as a source of food; and having during these same twenty-nine years of troubles, embarrassments, prisons, fines and banishments, bred up a family of seven children to man's and woman's state - if such a man be not, after he has survived and accomplished all this, qualified to give Advice to Young Men, no man is qualified for that task.”

From Advice to Young Men, published in 1829


In Newgate Gaol 1810-12

By courtesy of the

National Portrait Gallery

After 200 years William Cobbett is visiting Farnham` - and You Tube. Hear what he thinks about it on his whistlestop tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpjU6ca0kE0 A 19th Century Superstar: Dr Richard Thomas and Luath Ferguson discuss Cobbett on You Tube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRnO5WVXVn0 A BLOG ABOUT COBBETT’S RURAL RIDES - WELL WORTH READING:  http://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/rural-rides-by-william-cobbett/ COBBETT’S RURAL RIDES - READ THEM ALL WITH THIS LINK:  http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/text/contents_page.jsp?t_id=Cobbett Cobbett, 1830 - from Rural Rides

‘View of Mr Cobbett’s House, Botley, Hants’.

Published in 1817

The print may have been made to assist with the finding of a buyer for the house, as by 1817 Cobbett was in financial difficulties and contemplating the disposal of his property. Cobbett had made substantial alterations to the house, including the addition of a portico and the erection of eight feet-high walls around the grounds. His daughter Eleanor refers to the print in a letter she wrote in 1897 saying that it did not show accurately the house she had known as a child. Nonetheless the print gives some idea of how the house would have appeared. Locally, it was nicknamed 'the lantern house’ on account of its many windows.

Hampshire Record Office, To p37/2/2

William Cobbett: His Legacy

By Richard Thomas

Read the lecture given in June 2013 by the Vice-Chairman


There can be few residents of Farnham who are by now unfamiliar with the battle of wills which has been developing in the town regarding the arrogant and undemocratic ways of Waverley Borough Council, with regard to the wishes and best interests of the town in relation to East Street development and the groups which WBC has inaccurately identified as the “vocal minority so describing them because these groups oppose the official view which is held in Godalming.

That critical term, for a start, tells us that you cannot trust the council with calculations, but as part of the continuing war of attrition, Mike Bryan’s non-partisan Petition Group (NPG) and its growing band of supporters have conducted a little drama in Farnham’s town centre, which one cannot deny is a bit of a stunt, but has tended to concentrate the mind, as it were.

NPG had arranged for a speech to be read by a 2013 version of William Cobbett, who probably best represents, as a Radical politician, the town’s simmering desire for fairness and honesty in town financial dealings and in relationships with the townspeople, both of which seem to have declined progressively since that fatal day in 1973 when the reorganization of local authorities took place and (involuntary shudder) Waverley District Council was born. The stunt took place outside the William Cobbett pub in Bridge Square, and as the weather was more than a little inclement, the speech-reading was unable to take place, though it cleared long enough for a picture of actor Bernard Whelan to pose as the great individualist and freedom-thinker (see picture, above). This event complements the petition which the group is sending to the Queen in support of its aims.  (More)


by Dr James Grande

(The Farnham Herald, 29 May 2015)

June 18, 2015 sees the 200th anniversary of the victory of the Duke of Wellington’s British and Allied army over Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces at the Battle of Waterloo. It marked the final defeat of the French emperor and the end of a generation of Europe-wide war. Wellington’s ‘damn close-run thing’ would become the most celebrated bat­tle in English history since Agincourt.

When the official dispatch reached London three days later, cannons were fired and shops, houses and public buildings illu­minated. But not everyone in Britain was celebrating. William Cobbett, the outstanding jour­nalist of the day and one of Farnham’s most famous sons, took a very different view of events.

Cobbett had been a prominent supporter of the war during its early years, when Napoleon’s ‘Army of England’ gathered on the French coast in preparation for an invasion. He had been an outspoken critic of the short-­lived Peace of Amiens (1801-3) and was commissioned by the government to write a rousing call to arms when war resumed. Cobbett’s Churchillian address was sent out to every church in England and Wales, to be read to the congregation and displayed in the pews.;

But as the threat of invasion receded, Cobbett began to take a more critical position on the war. He used his newspaper, ‘Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register’, to show how the war was funded through loans from government supporters in the City, adding millions to the national debt and leading to high inflation and heavy taxation. The struggle with Napoleon had become a fight against principles of liberty at home and abroad, becoming a convenient way to silence calls for reform.

  After a series of defeats in 1812-14, France surrendered and Napoleon abdicated to the island of Elba. But he escaped from exile early in 1815 and landed in France with a few hun­dred men. Troops rallied to his standard and he entered Paris in triumph, winning power without a shot being fired. Cobbett argued that Napoleon’s enthusi­astic welcome proved that he was ‘fairly chosen by the people of France’. In the columns of his newspaper, he made the case that Britain should not return to war unless first provoked.

Needless to say, the govern­ment ignored his calls for peace and Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria declared war; But Cobbett’s opposition continued even after Waterloo, as he told his readers that a ‘new crusade against France and against liber­ty has commenced’. When a government newspaper declared, in coolly aristocratic tones, that ‘The play is over; let us go to supper’, Cobbett angrily replied: “The play” may be over; but, oh! no! we cannot ‘go to sup­per’. We have something to do. We have 45 millions a year for ever to pay for the play. This is no pleasant thing. But, indeed, the play is not over. The first act is perhaps, closed. But, that grand revolution, that bright star, which first burst forth in the year 1789, is still sending forth its light over the world. In that year, feudal and ecclesiastical tyran­ny, ignorance, superstition, received the first heavy blow; they have since received others; and in spite of all that can be now done in their favour, they are destined to perish.”

Cobbett now saw the French Revolution as beacon of hope > and an inspiration to reformers in England. Celebrations turned out to be short-lived as the tran­sition to a peacetime economy led to high prices. falling wages and widespread unemployment,  Tens of thousands of desperate| farmers and labourers fled to America. Cobbett would spend the rest of his career combining a patriotic defence of ‘Old England’ with a determined campaign for political reform, which culminated in the 1832 Reform Act and Cobbett’s own election to parliament.

A large number of Cobbett’s Political Registers, and books written by or about him are held at the Museum of Farnham. For a complete list click

List of books