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:
See also more about William Cobbett, on Farnham Town Council’s website:

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:

Cobbett’s Opinions

(1) William Cobbett, The Progress of a Ploughboy to a Seat in Parliament (1830)
I enlisted in 1784, and, as peace had then taken place, no great haste was made to send recruits off to their regiments. I remember well what sixpence a day was, recollecting the pangs of hunger felt by me, during the thirteen months that I was a private soldier at Chatham, previous to my embarkation for Nova Scotia. Of my sixpence, nothing like fivepence was left to purchase food for the day. Indeed not fourpence. For there was washing, mending, soap, flour for hair-powder, shoes, stockings, shirts, stocks and gaiters, pipe-clay and several other things to come out of the miserable sixpence! Judge then the quantity of food to sustain life in a lad of sixteen, and to enable him to exercise with a musket (weighing fourteen pounds) six to eight hours every day.
The best battalion I ever saw in my life was composed of men, the far greater part of whom were enlisted before they were sixteen, and who, when they were first brought up to the regiment, were clothed in coats much too long and too large, in order to leave room for growing. We had several recruits from Norfolk (our regiment was the West Norfolk); and many of them deserted from sheer hunger. They were lads from the plough-tail. I remember two that went into a decline and died during the year, though when they joined us, they were fine hearty young men. I have seen them lay in their berths, many and many a time, actually crying on account of hunger. The whole week's food was not a bit too much for one day.
(2) William Cobbett, Political Register (November 1816)
You have been represented by the Times newspaper, by the Courier, by the Morning Post, by the Morning Herald, and others, as the scum of society. They say that you have no business at public meetings; that you are rabble, and that you pay no taxes. These insolent hirelings, who wallow in wealth, would not be able to put their abuse of you in print were it not for your labour.
(3) William Cobbett, Thirteen Sermons (1822)
All property has its origin in labour. Labour itself is property; the root of all other property; and unhappy is that community, where labourer and poor man are synonymous terms. No man is essentially poor: poor and rich are relative terms; and if the labourer have his due, and be in good health, in the vigour of life, and willing to labour, to make him a poor man there must be some defect in the government of the community in which he lives. Because the produce of his labour would of itself produce a sufficiency of every thing needful for himself and family. The labouring classes must always form nine-tenths of a people; and what a shame it must be, what an imputation on the rulers, if nine-tenths of the people be worthy of the name of poor! It is impossible that such a thing can be, unless there be an unfair and an unjust distribution of the profits of labour. Labour produces every thing that is good upon the earth; it is the cause of every thing that men enjoy of worldly possessions; when, therefore, the strong and the young engage in labour and cannot obtain from it a sufficiency to keep them out of the ranks of the poor, there must be something greatly amiss in the management of the community; something that gives to the few an unjust and cruel advantage over the many; and surely, unless we assume the character of beasts of prey, casting aside all feelings of humanity, all love of country, and all regard for the ordinances of God, we must sincerely regret, and anxiously endeavour to remove, such an evil, whenever we may find it to exist. The man who can talk about the honour of his country, at a time when its millions are in a state little short of famine; and when that is, too, apparently their permanent state, must be an oppressor in his heart; must be destitute of all the feelings of shame and remorse; must be fashioned for a despot, and can only want the power to act the character in its most tragical scenes.
(4) William Cobbett, Political Register (August 1830)
I perceive that you want very much to be enlightened on the state of our press, which you appear to regard as being free, and which, as I am going to prove to you, is the most enslaved and the vilest thing that has ever been heard of ii the world under the name of press. I say, that I am going to prove this; and proof consists of undeniable facts, and not of vague assertions.
Advertising is the great source of revenue with our journals, except in very few cases, such as mine, for instance, who have no advertisements. Hence, these journals are an affair of trade and not of literature; the proprietors think of the money that is to be got by them; they hire men to write them; and these men are ordered to write in a way to please the classes who can give most advertisements. The Government itself pays large sums in advertisements, many hundreds a year, to some journals. The aristocracy, the clergy, the magistrates (who are generally clergy too) in the several counties; the merchants, the manufacturers, the great shopkeepers; all these command the press, because without their advertisements it cannot be carried on with profit.
(5) Archibald Prentice, Historical Sketches and Personal Recollections of Manchester (1851)
In the first week of l830 William Cobbett delivered four lectures in Manchester to crowded audiences. Ten years before, on his return from the United States, the authorities notified to him that he should not be permitted to pass through the town. Many of his hearers were persons, who, at the former period, approved of that extraordinary exercise of power. His leading propositions were, that lessening the quantity of the currency had increased its value; that the increase in the value of money had increased the claims of all creditors, especially the public creditor; and that the fall in the price of every commodity, without a correspondent reduction of taxes, had occasioned intolerable distress. His wonderful power of illustration, on these few propositions, engaged the deep attention of crowded audiences every night, and the thunders of applause, with which he was greeted at the close of the course, must have made some amends to him for his scurvy non-reception in December, 1819. Two omissions, however, were remarked upon by even his ardent admirers, the monopoly of the corn growers, and the want of an adequate representation in the House of Commons, His then rival Hunt, a man of far inferior abilities, even as a speaker, had much sounder notions on the corn laws; and Cobbett seemed less anxious to have parliamentary reform than that he himself should be a member of parliament.
For a compact set of illustrated summaries on the Parliamentary Website, dealing with Cobbett’s life, his Parliamentary History, his Petition to the Housoe of Lords, his Rural Rides, his Parliamentary Career and his final years and legacy.
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(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:
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

(6) Good Grammar

William Cobbett and George Orwell both encouraged the British to study our own language in order to sharpen our minds and detect humbug. In his introduction to his own very funny guide to grammar, published in 1817, the fantastically bloody-minded radical Cobbett wrote that he wanted to "lay the solid foundation of literary knowledge amongst the labouring classes of the community; to give practical effect to the natural genius found in the soldier, the sailor, the apprentice and the ploughboy".
Good grammar, argued Cobbett, is essential: "The actions of men proceed from their thoughts. In order to obtain the cooperation, the concurrence, the consent of others, we must communicate our thoughts to them. The means of this communication are words; and grammar teaches us how to make use of words."

William Cobbett: His Legacy

By Richard Thomas

Read the lecture given in June 2013 by the Vice Chairman