Joseph Beckwith Politics
The London Corresponding Society was formed in 1792, when Joseph would have been sixteen years old, so it is interesting that Jane thinks he was one of its earliest members. He would still have been an apprentice at the time. But, of course, one’s teens are the time when one is most idealistic perhaps, and these were idealistic times. Revolution was in the air, and the London Corresponding Society, begun by a small group of London craftsmen aimed for revolution itself, as this resolution passed in January 1793 attests:
“(I) That nothing but a fair, adequate and annually renovated representation in Parliament, can ensure the freedom of this country.
(II) That we are fully convinced, a thorough Parliamentary Reform, would remove every grievance under which we labour.
(III) That we will never give up the pursuit of such Parliamentary Reform.
(IV) That if it be a part of the power of the king to declare war when and against whom he pleases, we are convinced that such power must have been granted to him under the condition, that he should ever be subservient to the national advantage.
(V) That the present war against France, and the existing alliance with the Germantic Powers, so far as it relates to the prosecution of that war, has hitherto produced, and is likely to produce nothing but national calamity, if not utter ruin.
(VI) That it appears to us that the wars in which Great Britain has engaged, within the last hundred years, have cost her upwards of three hundred and seventy million! not to mention the private misery occasioned thereby, or the lives sacrificed.
(VII) That we are persuaded the majority, if not the whole of those wars, originated in Cabinet intrigue, rather than absolute necessity.
(VIII) That every nation has an unalienable right to choose the mode in which it will be governed, and that it is an act of tyranny and oppression in any other nation to interfere with, or attempt to control their choice.
(IX) That peace being the greatest blessing, ought to be sought most diligently by every wise government.
(X) That we do exhort every well wisher to this country, not to delay in improving himself in constitutional knowledge.”
All of which sounds remarkably like the other revolutionary documents of the time, with a few specific complaints about England. I have found no reference to Joseph in conjunction to the Society, so he was probably just an interested participant rather than an organiser - which was perhaps just as well, as the organisers were ultimately imprisoned or transported.
It is possible that Joseph moved into coffee houses as a trade, through his interest in politics. In the words of his daughter Jane, “he was one of the earliest members of the London Corresponding Society (a forerunner of the Chartists) and was through life a consistent and honest radical.” And so his coffee house may well have been set up as a meeting place for this group. Maybe, indeed, his political radicalism is what got him into the trade. Or maybe it was Ann Bartholomew (more later of her)
And isn’t it wonderful that all of the above is the result of one tiny line sent to me by Dawn Sorensen, one of my Beckwith relatives. Without it we would never have known that Joseph had any interest in politics, or that he participated in a very active way. Jane goes on to say that he “was through life a consistent and honest radical.”, so we can only assume that his interest continued - perhaps in the more sedate manner shown in the picture above right. His son-in-law’s brother, was Secretary to the Chartist movement, so it is also entirely possible that he continued his interest through and with him. And it may well be that the coffee house grew out of a desire to provide a meeting place for like-minded radicals. Radical is an old-fashioned kind of word in a way, but it has an honourable history, and this period in English history is, maybe, when radicalism was at its height. So it’s nice to know that one had an ancestor who was involved on a personal level with it all.
Unlimited Company - A brief but informative article by Dave Beecham about the London Corresponding Society from the Socialist Review
Wikipedia on The London Corresponding Society - rather brief, but most of the facts are there
Radical Spaces: Venues of popular politics in London 1790 - ca 1845 - for a really detailed account of radicalism in the period, this thesis by Christina Parolin will satisfy. You can download the entire thing.
A British Revolution in the 19th Century? - Professor Eric Evans writes on the BBC History website about how Britain managed to avoid violent revolution
In my searches for illustrations for this page, I have noticed that almost all of the pictures found - and there are several examples on this page, are caricatures - the participants at the meetings and rallies are shown as either stupid, uncouth or downright dangerous, and certainly not to be trusted. None of these illustrations of course, were produced by the radicals themselves, and they doubtless show the attitude of the ruling parties, which was repressive to say the least. Indeed by 1797 the Society was no more. (Joseph would still have been a mere youth - only 21). But then he was not married and had no responsibility other than to himself. This is the time in our lives, when we attend rallies, protest and declaim, so it is no surprise to find Joseph embroiled at this time of his life. In its brief life the Society managed to spread dissent throughout the country and managed to organise a couple of enormous rallies, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. For a more informed mini history of the time do read Dave Beecham’s brief article Unlimited Company.
Mary Ann Callendar
The Fleet River and Shoe Lane