Chapter 5

'The Early Years of the Cambridge Union' examines how a student debating society managed to establish itself at a time of severe political repression.

5: The Early Years of the Cambridge Union

The inaugural meeting of the Cambridge Union Society took place on 13 February 1815, and the first debate was held one week later.1 The Union was "formed by the combination of three other Societies, which had previously existed in the University".2 According to legend, the occasion was the black-balling (vetoing) of an Etonian, Edward Gambier, who was a candidate to join one of the three clubs. "His friends rallied to his behalf, effected the amalgamation of the three Societies under the designation of the Union, and elected him President." The most important of the antecedent societies was the Speculative, which is further discussed below. The second club was "nicknamed the Anticarnalist, in consequence of one of its members having been expelled on account of some flagrant act of immorality".3 If it was the Anticarnalist to which Gambier had sought entry, it would be easy to understand the furious response of his friends to the implied slur of his rejection. The third society was quickly forgotten. Wright recalled in 1827, that the Union was formed from "two regular 'Spouting Societies'".4 George Pryme, later Whig MP for the borough, was living in Cambridge in 1815 and about to begin the University's first course of lectures in political science. His recollection was that the Union arose from "the junction of two rival societies".5 A possible reconstruction might suggest that there was a mass defection from the Anticarnalist to the Speculative in protest against the implied slur upon Gambier's sexuality, and that a small third society threw in its lot with the merged grouping.

So engaging is the legend of the black-balling of Edward Gambier that it is easy to overlook the significance of the founding of an openly constituted university debating society with its own independent premises. The Union hired "a dingy room" in the Red Lion Inn on the south side of Petty Cury, known by ironic pun as the Comitia Curiata, the title of the early assembly of the Roman people.6 Meeting in a local inn did not place the Union beyond the jurisdiction of the University, as was to be underlined when the authorities put a stop to debate two years later, but it did put an end to the inconveniences of meeting in members' rooms in the various colleges. The origins of the Speculative's nickname, the "Fusty", are obscure,7 but in an age when facilities for personal freshness were severely limited, it is neither difficult nor pleasant to imagine the atmosphere of a college room crammed with young men for a lengthy meeting. Nor was it easy to regulate access or ensure security when meeting in college. In 1805, members of the Speculative, gathered in Palmerston's rooms in Trinity, caught a freshman, W.J. Bankes, listening at the door. It is likely that the young Bankes was genuinely interested in politics. Twenty years later, he and Palmerston were rivals for the representation of Cambridge University, divided over the issue of Catholic Emancipation. Regarded by some as the equal of Sydney Smith in wit and conversation, Bankes would have been an excellent recruit for the Speculative. However, its members took a dim view of his eavesdropping and forced him to write out a set of Latin lines as a punishment.8

The Speculative seems to have limited its membership to a maximum of about twenty, probably the physical limit imposed by a college room. Members took turns to read an essay on some abstruse topic, which was then discussed by those present. Palmerston contributed five such papers between 1804 and 1806, on subjects as varied as the policy of transfer of the Portuguese government to Brazil and the political character of Cardinal Fleury, whose pacific policies in the reign of Louis XV were no doubt recalled with some nostalgia as Napoleon dominated the mainland of Europe.9 In 1806 the society dwindled dangerously close to extinction, but in more buoyant times, acceptable candidates for membership might have to be passed over. A small society also had to be exceptionally careful not to elect an interesting but disruptive personality, as the Apostles later discovered in the case of the unstable Thomas Sunderland.10 By 1814, as the long wars against France came to an end, an increase in the student population could be expected, and it unlikely that they would all be accommodated within traditional college buildings: in 1818, numbers were rising so steadily that the University formally began to supervise lodging houses.11 There would thus have been good reason for the three smaller societies "consolidating into one mass of noisy ignorance"12 even without the affront to Edward Gambier. To put it in modern terminology, there was a niche in the market for a central student clubroom.

The entrepreneurs who masterminded the project were identified by C.J. Shore, the first Secretary of the Union. The three amalgamated societies were "provisionally" administered by Charles Fox Townshend and Charles Fox Maitland, two young aristocrats who shared – as their names indicated – a distinguished Whig godfather. According to Shore's recollection, the Union was "finally constituted, in the spring of 1814", but the rest of his account suggests that this was incorrect, presumably stemming from the fact the initial moves to establish the Society, including the hiring of premises, had begun some months before the first official meeting in February 1815. Early debate records are incomplete but it seems that Townshend and Maitland faded into the background, perhaps because "other officers were substituted" in what may have been a revolt against their dominance.13 One reason why the two were not better remembered was that they both died, still very young men, in 1817.

Townshend, who spoke in the Union's third debate, was a member of one of the great Whig clans. Moreover, in 1811, he had founded a debating club at Eton, officially called the Eton Society, but generally known in the school's private language as "Pop". Townshend's enthusiasm for his creation survived his transition to university, for when Pop fell on hard times in 1816 he issued a bombastic appeal from Cambridge to rally its schoolboy members to the rescue of the society.14 One of the strengths of Pop was that it broke down the barriers at Eton between the elite of foundation scholars, the Collegers, and the fee-paying pupils scattered around the town in boarding houses, and known as Oppidans. It is possible that Townshend threw his weight behind the Union project to break down similar, inter-collegiate barriers at Cambridge. There may have been more than octogenarian nostalgia behind Gladstone's description of Pop in 1894 as "the mother and model I believe of all the debating societies of the schools and universities of the kingdom".15 The response to the black-balling of Edward Gambier points to the existence of an easily manipulated Eton network among Cambridge undergraduates, and three of the first five Presidents of the Union were Etonians.

There was nothing new in the idea of a debating society as such, but there was something challenging in the formation of one so openly constituted in an English university. Eighteenth-century London had been enlivened by a vigorous debating culture, societies being encouraged and even organised by tavern-keepers as a means of generating trade. The Robin Hood Society was established before 1740, and its name became a by-word to be borrowed by imitators in the provinces. In 1764 the Robin Hood even produced its own history, which advanced the doubtful claim that it had originated as far back as 1613. By 1780, at least 35 debating clubs were meeting in London, although the numbers were reduced by the enforcement of Sunday observance laws in the seventeen-eighties, and by wider political repression in the decade that followed. None the less, over two thousand debates have been traced in reports from London newspapers between 1776 and 1799. Similar societies were meeting in Edinburgh by 1764, Liverpool by 1768 and Birmingham in 1774. Most of these societies met in rooms hired from taverns, sometimes shared with other activities, just as the Cambridge Union of the eighteen-twenties often had to change its debate night to make way for the assize dinner. By coincidence, the Birmingham and Wolverhampton societies even met at hostelries called The Red Lion.16

Most of these ventures provided for open participation. In London audiences of several hundred were not uncommon, with speakers including both women and men. In an age when the House of Commons barely even pretended to be representative, such gatherings were a potential challenge to authority. A disapproving bishop in 1795 denounced them as "idle and seditious public meetings for the discussion of laws where the people were not competent to decide upon them", adding that "he did not know what the mass of the people in any country in the world had to do with the laws but to obey them". Four years later, William Pitt was even more sweeping in his denunciation of debating societies for "loosening the foundations of morality, religion and social happiness".17

Debating was not necessarily harnessed to subversion: there is evidence that Pitt himself had been a member of one of the London societies. Semi-secret select clubs, such as the Speculative Society at Edinburgh, helped young gentlemen aspiring to enter the professions to gain experience in arguing a case before an audience. One indirect precursor of the Cambridge Union was the Academical Society, which was established in London in November 1798, having grown from a discussion group founded at Oxford five years earlier. It was open to members of any university in the United Kingdom as well as to lawyers from the Inns of Court, the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh and King's Inns in Dublin. Even more unusual, membership was also open to members of Maynooth, the priestly seminary in Ireland. The Academical Society was devoted to "discussion of philosophical, literary, and historical questions", with an emphasis upon "the general principles of political science, together with the practical illustrations of them which history affords". There were limitations on debate, which probably influenced the Cambridge Union, whose original Laws declared that "controversial theology shall not be introduced", and "no observation shall be made upon any living character of the United Kingdom".18 George Pryme was a member of both the Academical Society and the Cambridge Speculative, although in 1815 he was probably an inactive senior patron of the latter.19

Debating societies were established at Edinburgh by 1800. Indeed, debating was adopted as a form of progressive education by Dugald Stewart as a means of sharpening the brains of adolescents like the sixteen-year-old Palmerston. Even in institutions that were far from progressive, it was a tolerated activity. Eton boys lived their lives with very little official supervision when Townshend founded Pop in 1811, but the ferocious headmaster, Keate, seems to have approved. One of the most sardonic barbs in the Union's protest against the interruption of debates in 1817 was that Cambridge students, many of them graduates, were "now deprived of a privilege which has been uniformly extended by the Masters of the Public Schools to the Boys under their charge".20

In Edinburgh, where undergraduates were usually several years younger than their English counterparts, only a few favoured university students became members of the Speculative Society. Some of these went on to Cambridge where the arrival of "an élève of the Speculative" could be hailed as "a real acquisition" for its southern derivative, the Fusty.21 The Edinburgh Speculative also provided a partial precedent for a free-standing debating club within a university. Founded in 1764, the Speculative Society had secured permission to build its own premises in the university precinct, with right of perpetual occupancy. However, there were important differences between Edinburgh and Cambridge. The Speculative was not merely a student club, but a joint venture of Town and Gown. This in turn reflected a very different relationship between the two. In Cambridge, the university was not only independent of the town, but exercised a measure of supervision over local affairs. In Edinburgh the relationship was the reverse, with the Town Council maintaining a considerable degree of authority over the university. The contrast was well illustrated in 1817 when the programme to rebuild the original College involved the demolition of the Speculative Society's building. While the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge was closing down the debates of the Union, the Edinburgh Speculative successfully insisted that the agreement of 1769 gave it the right to specially designed chambers in the new buildings – which it retains, independent of any academic control, to this day. Nor was it the only debating society to operate at Edinburgh University. The Dialectic Society, for instance, began life in 1787. 22

The charming story of the dispute over the character of Edward Gambier obscures the real significance of the establishment of the Union. An openly constituted debating society in Cambridge was something more than a natural development from private essay-reading clubs such as the Speculative. However, Palmerston in 1825 described the Union as "the enlarged Fusty",23 and some element of transition can be seen in the earliest Laws, published in 1817: members were still formally required to take turns in opening a subject for discussion, even though the Society was already too large to accommodate them all.24 Much later, in 1878, J.R. Skipper confidently identified nine founders of the Union, including the future judges, Henry Bickersteth, Frederick Pollock and Edward Hall Alderson. This tradition cannot be correct, since most of those named seem to have left Cambridge by 1811, when the outcry against the plan to form a student-led branch of the Bible Society, discussed below, clearly proves that nothing resembling a proto-Union could then have been in existence. Skipper's informant was probably the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Cockburn, who had been President in 1824. Bickersteth was a formidable debater in his Cambridge days, while Pollock at least was a member of the Speculative and, as distinguished lawyers, both would have been known to Cockburn.25 It seems likely that, like Palmerston, Cockburn assumed that the Union had inherited the traditions of its predecessor, and simply co-opted an immediately preceding generation of "Fustyarian"26 notables as its own. When the Union was challenged in 1817, it suited its defenders to emphasise that the Society "was the common successor of several which have existed for a great number of years in the University".27 This was a sensible strategy adopted by very effective publicists who sought to play down the implications of the Union's very recent origin in a period of political turbulence. Such claims should not obscure the fact that there was a difference between a small essay reading club and an open debating society, albeit one along a common scale of "spouting". Essay clubs rose and fell: Thackeray helped to form one in October 1829, but it survived only briefly.28 None the less, it may be that by displacing the Speculative, a prestigious intellectual club limited to twenty members, the Cambridge Union left a gap that was to be filled by the rise in the following decade of the Apostles, a prestigious intellectual club limited to twelve.

Among the small debating clubs known to have existed in Cambridge before 1815 was one called the House of Commons, which flourished in the seventeen-nineties, giving the Evangelicals of Magdalene the opportunity to practise their pulpit oratory by discussing such weighty issues as a proposal to tax cats.29 In 1811, their successors had set a more formidable feline among the donnish pigeons, with a proposal to form a branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The consternation that followed demonstrates just how great a breakthrough was the founding of the Union only four years later.30

The British and Foreign Bible Society had been founded in 1804. The duality of its title was reflected in its first project, the distribution of a Welsh translation of the Scriptures. This might seem an unexceptional outlet for undergraduate enthusiasms. However, while undoubtedly anglocentric, the Bible Society was not one hundred percent Anglican. Dissenters were guaranteed seats on its management committee, and no attempt was made to link distribution of Holy Writ to any form of liturgy. In this, it differed from the rival Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, which took the much more robust view that Christian knowledge was synonymous with Anglican ritual. Thus the possibility that enthusiastic undergraduates might form a branch of the Bible Society spelt trouble in Cambridge. William Farish, Evangelical Fellow of Magdalene, listened to their ideas with his head in his hands. Academics who believed so fervently in the redemptive power of Scripture could hardly refuse to support a body dedicated to the distribution of Bibles. Yet if a society open to Nonconformists could operate in Cambridge, what reason could be given for continuing to refuse non-Anglicans the right to take Cambridge degrees? Furthermore, once undergraduates began to busy themselves with the circulation of the Bible, they might be tempted to agitate for a system of public education to equip the poor with the literacy skills needed to absorb the Christian message. From this, it might be but a short step to demanding that the bellies of the people be filled so that their minds could concentrate on the saving of their souls. In short, "if the young men assumed the character of a deliberating body, it would be productive of great mischief to the discipline of the University".31

As with the attempted suppression of the Union in 1817, the situation was saved by conservative over-reaction. The Professor of Divinity, Herbert Marsh, was obsessed by the threat posed by the Bible Society to Anglican hegemony. Indeed, his "most injudicious" invective seemed to challenge the fundamental Protestant tenet that the Word of God did not require the mediation of priests. His attacks opened the way to a deft manoeuvre by Evangelical senior members. They took control of the project and established a Cambridge branch of the Society in December 1811, taking care to praise the "self-denying zeal" of its original undergraduate promoters in stepping aside.32

Since the pace of change of unreformed Cambridge was measured in decades, if not centuries, it is striking that just over three years later, the founders of the Union managed to get away with establishing a deliberative body with such an obvious potential to subvert university discipline. The answer probably lies in the social standing of the initial officer-holders. Townshend and Maitland, who formed the original steering committee, were young grandees with formidable connections. Townshend's family had provided the University with two MPs in the previous century and, despite his youth, Charles Fox Townshend himself was soon to become a candidate to follow them. Although the inscription records that he was just twenty years, nine months and five days old when he died in 1817, Townshend's social eminence was sufficient to ensure him a large memorial in the chapel of St John's.33 Maitland was the son of the Earl of Lauderdale, "a violent-tempered, shrewd, eccentric man, with a fluent tongue, a broad Scottish accent, and a taste for political economy".34 While a recent historian has noted that by 1815 Lauderdale "was drifting steadily to the right at a rate of knots calculated to carry him out of the Whig haven altogether",35 none the less he had been a supporter of the quasi-revolutionary Friends of the People in 1792 and had denounced the persecution of the "Scottish Martyrs" two years later. He might well have responded with some asperity to any decision by mere dons to interfere with his son's plans to form a debating club. Indeed, he did protest in the Lords against the general repression of 1817.

Townshend and Maitland were not alone in their social eminence among founders of the Union. The first President was a nephew of Admiral Lord Gambier, who had commanded the Channel Fleet in the last years of the wars against Napoleon. The Admiral suffered from religious scruples that made him question unrestricted warfare, such as the destruction of Copenhagen in 1807 without the formality of declaring war upon Denmark. However, even if he distinctly lacked the Nelson touch, he was still a national hero, if only of the second rank. The first Secretary of the Union, C.J.Shore, was the son and heir of Lord Teignmouth, governor-general of India from 1793 to 1798. Teignmouth, who had also undergone a religious conversion, was President of the Bible Society.

Even if the first President and Secretary of the Cambridge Union were tainted with Evangelicalism, their colleague, the Society's founder-Treasurer, was unimpeachably aristocratic. In later life, Lord Normanby sailed insouciantly through a distinguished political career, even nominating himself (unsuccessfully) for the office of prime minister. As Irish viceroy in the eighteen-thirties, he earned the censure of the Union by befriending Daniel O'Connell. He was still only seventeen years of age when he succeeded Gambier as the Union's second President, and almost certainly its youngest. Freshman though he was, Normanby carried huge prestige in a university that bent over backwards to accommodate aristocrats: as Shore mildly recalled, "his social qualifications were appreciated by the dons".36 His father, the Earl of Mulgrave, soldier and politician, had sat in the cabinet almost continuously for a decade, holding offices as senior as Foreign Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty and Master-General of the Ordnance. While his administrative talents were at best moderate, Mulgrave was seen as a key figure in government: when he sought to retire in 1818, the Prince Regent insisted on keeping him in the cabinet even without formal office. He had swung round in 1812 to supporting Catholic Emancipation once it became clear that George III would not recover his health, but otherwise Mulgrave had impressive credentials as a reactionary. He had once confuted Wilberforce's denunciation of slavery by stating he had spent a year in Jamaica without seeing a single act of cruelty. It was implausible to suggest that Lord Mulgrave's son was conspiring against the social order, and unlikely that the University would take steps against any society which he chose to ornament.

The debating club founded in Cambridge in February 1815 added a term to the English language: social centres for students at British universities are more or less automatically called "unions". The most obvious explanation for the adoption of the title is of course the origin of the Cambridge society in a junction of three smaller clubs. However, the name may well have carried other overtones. In eighteenth-century Cambridge, the nobility had patronised a Union Coffee House, which provided a chance to read newspapers and a forum to discuss politics.37 For Townshend, an Englishman, and Maitland, a Scot, perhaps it evoked the Union of 1707, much celebrated in the contemporary street-names of Edinburgh's New Town. A Union Club was founded in London in 1822, with Peel as one of its early members: its handsome building later became Canada House.38 An elite reared on the classics would have recognised the principle attributed to Periander of Corinth: union is strength. "Union" was a benign term that carried positive connotations. As the title of a debating society, it offered the reassurance that members might disagree while remaining comrades.

Unfortunately, the very universality of the term could also encourage confusion. Undergraduate humour played upon the parallel with the American Union,39 while even Erskine Childers perpetrated a punning allusion to the union between Britain and Ireland.40 In 1838, under the provisions of the New Poor Law, Cambridge acquired a large workhouse (which subsequently became the local maternity hospital). This quickly became known as "the Union", and comic misunderstandings occasionally ensued.41 These, however, were minor inconveniences compared to the rapidity with which the term acquired dangerously subversive connotations within a year of the Society's foundation.

In 1811, a hardy group of advanced reformers had formed a Society of the Friends of Parliamentary Reform, the first such openly constituted body since the repression of the seventeen-nineties. In June of the following year, this body was reconstituted with a significant change of name:

The word "Society" being applicable to a vast variety of associations, it was judged politic to adopt the title of Union; especially as the great object ... is to promote a National Union.42

The title, then, was a hint at a long-standing radical policy of challenging the legitimacy of the system through mass extra-parliamentary activity, underlined by the participation of such veteran agitators as Sir Francis Burdett and Major Cartwright. Known familiarly as "the Union", "the Union Club" or "the Union Society", it soon spawned a more popular movement called after the seventeenth-century champion of the people, John Hampden. By 1816, the terms "Hampden Clubs" and "Union societies" were virtually interchangeable.43 Perhaps the name "Union" appealed to the two young Foxite Whigs, Maitland and Townshend, for that very reason, but there were too many political viewpoints represented in the Society from its inception to make it plausible that the Cambridge Union was deliberately named in sympathy with the London group. It was rather that as post-war social unrest seemed to be erupting out of control, the name adopted in 1814-1815 for its wholesome and virtuous overtones suddenly came to suggest the threat of bloody revolution. On 24 March 1817, the proctors, the University's own police force, headed by the Vice-Chancellor himself, interrupted a debate of the Cambridge Union and ordered members "to disperse, and on no account to resume their discussions".44

As with the traditions of the founding of the Union two years previously, so the tale of its suppression in 1817 has become obscured by legend. The President, William Whewell, is said to have responded to the intrusion with the defiant words: "Strangers will please to withdraw, and the house will take the message into consideration". Did this episode really happen? The confrontation makes a poignant story, matching the Vice-Chancellor and Master of St John's, James Wood, son of a Lancashire weaver, against Whewell, son of a Lancashire carpenter who would eventually rise to become Master of Trinity and twice serve as Vice-Chancellor himself. Many legends gathered around the intimidating figure of Whewell who, even as a host on social occasions, was remembered for "radiating repulsion". In later life, he became an inflexible defender of the powers of the Vice-Chancellor, and may have wished to discourage recollections of his own act of defiance. This may explain why the tale of his clash with Wood cannot be traced before 1866, a year after his death. However, Whewell's biographers accepted it as true and one of them related in 1876 that the incident was "still well remembered by one who was present".45 Whewell may have been making the point that, although the Vice-Chancellor had the power to forbid members of the University to hold debates, he did not necessarily have the right to enter the Society's rooms at the Red Lion Inn to pronounce his edict. The Oxford Union similarly dismissed the proctors a few years later when they sought to interfere on private premises.46

A protest deputation was promptly sent to the Vice-Chancellor, "hoping their woe-begone physiognomies might work upon his compassion", as a detractor put it.47 Whewell was accompanied by Connop Thirlwall, who was to be driven out of Trinity in 1834 for denouncing compulsory chapel, and the Irishman Charles Brinsley Sheridan, son of the dramatist (who affectionately referred to his offspring as "Beastie"). However, Wood stood firm in "his determination not to permit the Society to continue its debates on political, literary, or any other subjects".48 Not merely was the Vice-Chancellor inflexible, but he played into the hands of his young critics by a dangerous admission, telling the deputation that he was

in a great measure induced to prohibit their debates from the circumstance of his having received a letter from one of their Members stating that the studies of the writer, and those of several of his friends, had been checked, and their prospects blighted by the attention and attendance which they had been obliged to bestow on the Society....49

Authorship of this letter was subsequently half-claimed (in an anonymously written book) by a member of Trinity, J.F.M. Wright. Given the depth of Wright's contempt for "boy-babblers", it is hard to believe that he had wasted much of his own time at the Union, and indeed he recalled that he gave as examples "a few of the victims of delusion ... as samples of the whole lot". It is tempting to agree with an Edwardian historian of Cambridge that Wright was "unquestionably a blackguard" and pleasant to note the belief "that he died in the hulks". Alas, he became a fashionable clergyman and lived to an extreme old age. Wright sneeringly alleged that the hope of "reaching the lofty eminence of a presidency" encouraged "the almost total abandonment of such pursuits as alone could terminate in the substantial rewards and honours of the University".51

Wright's slur provoked a devastating rebuttal from the defenders of the Union. They pointed out that debates lasted for only two hours each week and that "the attendance of all Members preparing for their degrees is excused". In addition, they triumphantly listed nineteen members who had won University prizes and laid claim to "many names which ranked high in the Tripos". If other boy-babblers had failed to distinguish themselves academically, it was always possible that without the stimulus of the Union, their lack of native wit might have been even more evident:

the existence of a large Speaking Club, forming a weekly point of re-union of its Members, has materially tended to diminish the attendance on weekly Clubs or Meetings, whose conduct is likely to be less orderly as their amusements are less intellectual than those of the Union.52

Furthermore, even Wright acknowledged "that a club of the kind ... might be a useful institution" for young graduates preparing for the professions,53 but Wood had put an end to that possibility as well.

Wood's decision to defend his action on academic grounds not only opened the way to impressive refutation, but threw doubt on his good sense and equity. D.A. Winstanley, himself a don of the old school, disapprovingly commented that the Vice-Chancellor had "practically admitted that he had condemned the Union on the unsupported testimony of a single person".54 The aggrieved deputation pounced upon the tactical error, expressing the indignant hope that "they will not be the victims of the calumnies or the folly of a single Member". Wood's response showed that his instinctive talent for poor public relations had not deserted him. Conscious of the dignity of his office, he stated that it was "neither necessary, nor perhaps proper" for him to reply. To this he added an assurance designed no doubt to silence all doubts: "I had considered the subject fully in my own mind."55 Naturally, the Union included this gem in its published Remonstrance, and the Masters of Arts and noblemen among its members turned their attention to petitioning the University's Chancellor, the Duke of Gloucester.

It is not surprising that James Wood has received a bad press from historians for his handling of the affair. However, the standard account obscures two important points. The first is that the focus upon the theatrical confrontation between Whewell and the proctors fails to do justice to the wider context of an atmosphere of panic and repression. In effect, Wood faced the choice between being damned on the one hand for over-reaction and on the other for failing to rise to his responsibilities. It is hardly surprising that a Vice-Chancellor should seek to defend an act of University policy on academic grounds, inadequate though they might seem. Indeed, it says something for Wood's fair-mindedness that he agreed to receive a protest deputation at all. Secondly, the dramatic episode of 1817 did not put an end to the Cambridge Union and probably did not even seriously restrict its members' opportunities for debating. The Union continued to occupy its own premises, and this independent existence was protected by divisions among senior members of the University, by no means all of whom sympathised with Wood's actions.

It is not fair to judge Wood's move against the Union without taking account of the fact that it was made in an atmosphere of national crisis. Massive radical meetings, accompanied by sporadic rioting, on London's Spa Fields in November and December 1816, were enough to persuade the government that it faced a major revolutionary conspiracy. In January 1817, the Hampden Clubs met in a potentially revolutionary convention in London and there was an attempt on the life of the Prince Regent.56 The following month, a committee of the House of Lords warned of "a traitorous conspiracy" aimed at "overthrowing, by means of a general insurrection, the established Government, laws, and Constitution of this kingdom" in order to bring about "a general plunder and division of property".57 On 4 March, Habeas Corpus was suspended, and immediately afterwards the prominent radical William Cobbett fled to the United States. Legislation to suppress seditious meetings was pushed through parliament in March. Hunger marchers, the "Blanketeers", set out from Lancashire for London on 10 March, but were quickly dispersed.58

The House of Lords committee had no doubts of the existence of a revolutionary command structure that had to be eradicated. "It appears that there is a London Union Society, and branch Union Societies corresponding with it, and affiliated to it."59 The secretary of the London Union Society promptly petitioned the House of Lords, seeking permission to prove that the body was moribund. Despite a rousing speech from Lord Lauderdale, the petition was rejected.60 The revolutionary conspiracy was almost certainly much less alarming than ministers feared. Some of it was the work of agents provocateurs seeking to worm their way into the imagined leadership by the extravagance of their radicalism: it was a government spy who issued the memorable call for the last king to be strangled in the guts of the last priest. Although it was rumoured that there were 150 Union Societies around the country, they were not all especially menacing. The Leeds Union Society collapsed after a life of only ten weeks, its total assets amounting to just over seventeen shillings. As one journalist put it, was not much of a threat to a government with an annual revenue of over sixty million pounds.62 None the less, it was embarrassing that at the heart of Cambridge, there should be a body calling itself the Union Society and engaging in the discussion of political issues.

It might have been thought that Cambridge would have been isolated from the storm-centres of instability. Even London was over five hours away by the fastest stagecoach. Lancashire (which, as The Times uncharitably remarked, "can neither read nor write")63 might as well have been on another planet, although James Wood, a weaver's son from Bury, probably felt closer than most to the turmoil in the North. Unfortunately, however, the unrest had not been confined to urban and manufacturing districts. For several days in May of 1816, the Isle of Ely had been swept by a labourers' insurrection, with both Littleport and the cathedral town of Ely itself falling to the insurgents. The revolt was crushed, five men were hanged and nine were transported to Australia. Incongruously, one of the judges was Edward Christian, Professor of Law at Cambridge, whose brother had led the mutiny on the Bounty. He remarked that the labourers received "great wages" and predicted that any increase would only encourage them to get drunk.64

Such attitudes were emphatically shared by the University of Cambridge, that is by the senior dons who spoke on behalf of the institution. In February 1817, Wood headed a deputation to London to present the Prince Regent with an address of congratulation on his escape from assassination. Since such documents were either drafted by the Vice-Chancellor himself or required his active approval, the address gives an insight into James Wood's thinking a few weeks before he moved against the Cambridge Union:

We witness, with disgust and horror, the numerous artifices employed to seduce and pervert the illiterate and unwary; to inflame their evil passions; and to infuse into their minds principles calculated to overturn every form of civilized society. ... While doctrines of anarchy and misrule are disseminated with such malignant industry, the duty which our station most imperiously requires of us, and which we hope faithfully to discharge, is to instruct those whose education is entrusted to our care in sound principles of religion and loyalty, and to impose forcibly upon their minds the value of that civil constitution which has been productive of so much individual happiness and national glory.65

While the university's senior minds were nailing their colours so firmly to the mast of reaction, the younger spirits of the Union seemed more inclined to question policy and institutions. "Even the distress arising from the visitations of Providence has been wickedly ascribed to the misconduct of their rulers," the University's deputation had indignantly assured the Prince Regent. The Union thought this was a matter for debate. "Is the present Distress in the Country owing to the unavoidable pressure of circumstances, or to the bad policy of the British Government?", it had asked in November 1816, before blaming circumstances rather than policy by 30 votes to 13. Similarly, the crisis of 1817 was an interesting subject for theoretical discussion. On 10 March, a house of 87 agreed by just one vote that the suspension of Habeas Corpus was "constitutional". The following week, the "present system of Public Meetings" was deemed not to be "advantageous", but the majority of 33 against 24 was hardly reassuring. Evidently the University of Cambridge contained a stubborn minority unimpressed by the value of the existing constitution. On 24 March the Union embarked upon an even more provocative discussion: "Is the increased attention which has been paid to our Army likely to have a good effect upon Society?"66 Parliament was in the last stages of passing the Seditious Meetings Act. Cambridge would hardly be living up to the professions of duty it had pledged to the Prince Regent if it allowed revolutionists to plead that a Union Society of young gentlemen was discussing such inflammatory ideas at the heart of one of the ancient bastions of Anglican privilege. Moreover, the Presidency had passed from the young aristocrats to the son of a carpenter whose life history sounded remarkably similar to the Lancashire radicals who appear in the pages of Samuel Bamford's autobiography.67 In the context of March 1817, Wood had little alternative but to take action.

The deputation to Wood appealed to what Cornford would later term the Principle of Washing Linen:68 to take decisive action was to admit to the world that the University suffered from serious problems, and therefore it was always better to do nothing:

The Members of the Union most earnestly request that their Society may not be put down precisely at this period, when the universal suppression of Societies bearing accidentally the same name, may lead those unacquainted with the real state of the University to suppose, that this Club has been put down from political motives, and that it has been guilty of seditious Meetings or treasonable language.69

It was a clever ploy to throw at the Vice-Chancellor the implication that his actions and not theirs risked bringing the University into disrepute, but it was disingenuous. Two paragraphs in The Times, both apparently inspired by the protesters, were markedly coy about the Society's name. The first long-windedly referred to "the society which existed in the University of Cambridge, comprising a large proportion of the Graduates and Under-graduates of the younger part of the University, who have been in the habit of meeting weekly to discuss literary and political subjects". The second more succinctly called the Union "The University Debating Club".70 In an indignant allusion to the suppression during a debate in the House of Commons, the Whig orator Henry Brougham also avoided direct reference and spoke of "a society at Cambridge".71 When the successor to the Anticarnalist dared not speak its name, it was possible to see why James Wood had felt the need to take action.

Another motive probably helps to explain not simply the Vice-Chancellor's action, but his timing. In 1817, the University attempted to assert its ascendancy over the town of Cambridge by reviving an archaic and objectionable ceremony called the Magna Congregatio. A charter of 1317 had required forty representative townsmen to swear an oath each year in the presence of the Vice-Chancellor as a means of providing a local police force. The imposition was resented and had fallen into disuse around 1800, not least because it had long since ceased to bear any relation to the policing of Cambridge. In July 1817, Wood abruptly invoked his dormant power to enforce the ritual, ostensibly because the Town had failed to clear the streets of vagrants. To drive home his demand, he threatened to cut off the University's contribution to local charities.72 The following April, his successor as Vice-Chancellor staged a confrontation with the Mayor over the right to preside at the local magistrates' court. The Mayor refused to back down, and received the thanks of the council "for his firm and independent conduct in supporting the rights of his office".73 (In the University's defence, it should be said that the dispute was no clash between antiquated academic privilege and local democracy. The Town Council was a closed corporation, notable for its spectacular feasting on the proceeds of local charities.74)

Wood's decision to go to war with the local community has been condemned by historians75 but, once again, something may be said in defence of his aims, if not of his methods. Student numbers were bursting the bounds of available accommodation: within a few years half of all Cambridge undergraduates would live in lodgings in the town. The fate of the Union was merely the first shot in a potential battle between Town and Gown over the issue of student discipline. One of the provisions of the Seditious Meetings Bill required any group planning to hold a meeting of more than fifty people to apply for permission from the local magistrates. As a condition of issuing a licence, the magistrates could interrupt proceedings at any time on the mere suspicion of insult to the government or the constitution. Since the Union met at the Red Lion, this provision would probably compel its members to ask the Cambridge magistrates to allow them to continue their deliberations, thus raising the spectre of the Town exercising jurisdiction over the young men of the University. Hence, in April 1818, the attempt to oust the Mayor from his presiding role as a magistrate.

Like most contemporary legislation, the Seditious Meetings Act was ineptly drafted. When the Academical Society sought a licence for its meetings, magistrates in the City of London were genuinely unsure whether the legislation was intended to ban all such gatherings, and they thought it safer to refuse.76 If magistrates in the capital found the provisions difficult to interpret, the local bench in a country town might also decide to play safe. This suggested the nightmare scenario in which the Town could claim credit for suppressing a dangerous nuisance that had flourished under the nose of a somnolent Vice-Chancellor. As James Wood considered the subject fully in his own mind, he presumably came to the conclusion that it was simpler and safer to silence the Union himself.

However, the Union was not eliminated. In Cradock's standard account, the Society "remained merely as a Reading Club for the next four years" until a subsequent Vice-Chancellor, Christopher Wordsworth, allowed it to resume its debates on condition that it kept clear of contemporary controversies.77 This is not the whole story. In one sense, the Union survived by legislative accident. As the Seditious Meetings Bill passed through parliament, some of its more extreme provisions were dropped, including the threat to outlaw reading clubs. Within Cambridge, the Union clung on to existence partly because Wood lacked support within the University. There was probably an undercurrent of social distaste towards the weaver's son who had dared to put an end to the pursuits of young gentlemen. Everyone referred to Wood as "Jem" or "Jemmy". "I pity the man who is too great for these diminutives", commented J.M.F. Wright, secure in the confidence of possessing three forenames himself. Wright claimed that the "familiar appellation" was a sign of popularity, but Kenneth Bourne described Palmerston's use of the nickname as "rather condescending".78 Traditional rivalry between the two largest colleges also played a part. Whewell and Thirlwall intended to make their academic careers in Trinity, and could afford to take a defiant attitude to a mere Master of St John's. Yet most fundamental of all was the realisation that the suppression of the Union could easily be guyed as an over-reaction.

William Whewell probably knew that he was not courting martyrdom but exploiting the divisions within a University establishment which doubted the good sense of Wood's action against the Union. George Pryme was told by one of the proctors "that he did not like it, but felt obliged to obey orders".79 A whimsical versifier captured Wood's isolation:

Master of a mighty College,

Without his robes behold him stand,

Whom not a Whig will now acknowledge,

Return his bow, or shake his hand.80

In his hostility, Wright missed the point in calling Union orators "as thunderstruck as so many Thistlewoods at the intrusion".81 Their strategy was to dissociate themselves from the advanced radicals of Spa Fields and locate their cause in the longer-term struggles of English freedom. Hence Whewell's bold pastiche of Mr Speaker Lenthall's dismissal of Charles I when the king invaded the House of Commons in 1642. It was easy to imply that Wood was a throwback to the repressive seventeen-nineties, when government spies had drowned the proceedings of London debating societies with chants of "God save great George our king" and courts had been given power to impose the death penalty if a seditious meeting did not disperse within one hour.82 Although they took the precaution of formally speaking through graduates who were subject to less intense academic discipline, what is significant is not that the young men worsted the Vice-Chancellor in argument, but that they dared to answer back at all. Their published Remonstrance was couched in terms of impatient insolence which could only have been adopted in the knowledge that they were not alone in their opposition. There was a contemptuous, take-it-or-leave-it, attitude in the statement that members were "willing, if their meetings can be tolerated on no other condition, to exclude all political, as they have uniformly all theological, discussion from their debates".83

The Wood-Whewell confrontation was thus at best a draw, and increasingly it seemed that the Union had won on points. The Society continued to occupy its premises at the Red Lion. The Vice-Chancellor had the power to "discommune" shopkeepers who cheated undergraduates, or alehouses that offered the temptations of sex and billiards – that is, it could bankrupt the proprietors by declaring the offending premises off limits to members of the University. However, the Red Lion was no backstreet pothouse, but a major coaching inn, part of the Cambridge's lifeline to the outer world. In any case, Wood simply lacked adequate backing within the University to carry out any further action against the Union.

In effect, the Union carried on much as before. The election of officers quickly resumed. Since it was perfectly legal to function as a reading club, it was appropriate for the Union to hold business meetings to determine which newspapers it wished to buy. Before and after the interruption of 1817-1821, a session devoted to Private Business preceded the formal debate. Now Private Business simply filled the whole evening. An apparently innocuous motion to cancel the Morning Chronicle provided cover for an attack on the political principles of the Whig opposition that the paper supported. Henry Malden, later to become Professor of Greek at London University, proposed that the Union subscribe to a newspaper from Athens in order to trigger impassioned debate on the rights of the Greeks to resist Turkish rule.84 In its protest against James Wood, the Union had claimed that "latterly many of the questions debated have been in no degree political".85 Like most activities that are driven underground, Union debates became entirely unrestrained – especially in being dangerously contemporary. Part of the quid pro quo for permission to resume formal debating in 1821 was the adoption of a new and emphatic Law: "No discussion whatever shall take place on a motion for the admission or rejection of any newspaper." Members were also obliged to accept a ban on the discussion of "political questions of a date subsequent to the year 1800".86 The latter condition, as will be shown in Chapter Six, proved to be more formal than real and lasted only until 1830.

Thus Christopher Wordsworth's decision to permit the Union to resume its debates in March 1821 fell somewhat short of a policy of unrestricted free speech but was rather an attempt at control through more subtle means. Wordsworth himself was popular neither with undergraduates nor among senior members,87 and it was unlikely that he would have made any concession to the Union simply out of the kindness of his heart. By 1821, the threat of revolution seemed to have passed. Popular anger had been channelled into support for George IV's wronged consort, the vulgar Queen Caroline. On this issue, undergraduate opinion, like the rest of the fashionable world, predominantly sided with the king. The collapse of royal divorce proceedings in November 1820 triggered one of the largest ever Town-and-Gown riots, which passed into folklore as the Battle of Peas Hill. The dark fears of Dr Wood, that a university society could be seen as a mouthpiece for popular radicalism, were retreating into the past.

Wordsworth was well placed to take a cool view of his predecessor's action. First, he had only recently returned to Cambridge, and so was unencumbered by any position taken in 1817. Secondly, he was Master of Trinity and as such splendidly equipped to ignore the opinions of any Master of St John's. By 1821, three of the earliest officers of the Union had progressed to Fellowships at Trinity. Gambier and Thirlwall were absentees, using their stipends to finance careers at the Bar. The workaholic Whewell, on the other hand, was already climbing the administrative ladder to become an indispensable academic bureaucrat. If it was indeed Whewell who persuaded Wordsworth to allow the Union to resume, he must have savoured his victory over Jemmy Wood. Wood was still Master of his college, but in 1820 he had acquired the additional post of Dean of Ely, which gave him the consolation of preaching the virtues of obedience to Fenland peasants. When he died in 1839, he left a giant fortune to St John's. In the eighteen-sixties, the college drew upon Wood's bequest to finance the construction of Gilbert Scott's new chapel. In the event, the project proved too expensive even for the massive proceeds of Wood's pluralism, and it was at that time that St John's sold land in nearby Round Church Street as a site for the Union's permanent home. Thus, in a curious way, Wood suffered two defeats in his battle against the Union, one of them posthumous. However, this is not to say that the University had entirely repudiated him when it allowed the resumption of formal debating. Cambridge had certainly moved some distance in the decade since William Farish had sat with his head in his hands as enthusiastic undergraduates explained their plans to form a society dedicated to the distribution of that dangerous book, the Bible. None the less, in 1821 nobody could be sure that the six-year-old Union Society, still subject to academic control, would survive into the distant future.



Abbreviations are listed at the close of the Preface.

1. At the first debate, on 20 February 1815, a house of 68 decided by a majority of two votes that the Whig opposition had been justified in refusing to join the ministry three years earlier.

2. Statement, p. vii. Cf Cradock, pp. 3-6; Searby, pp. 718-19.

3. Lord Teignmouth, Reminiscences of Many Years (2 vols, 1878), i, p. 47. This anecdote does not appear in Cradock.

4. Alma Mater, i, pp. 202-3.

5. Autobiographical Reminiscences of George Pryme (ed. A. Bayne, 1870), p. 117. In 1816, Pryme began to lecture on Political Economy, even though it formed part of no degree curriculum. In 1828 the University awarded him a Personal Chair. Thackeray in 1829 commented that “his delivery is very bad but his [subject] matter is excellent as it ought to be” (Thackeray, p. 71). In 1861 it was reported that he had “a prodigious class and is most popular, for he plucks [fails] nobody”. Pryme began his lectures with the statement “Gentlemen, Political Economy is a noble science”, to which his class responded “So it is -- 3 cheers for the Professor”. By this time, classical Cambridge had nicknamed him “Priam”, after the elderly and gentle king of Troy in Homer’s Iliad. “Old Pryme told me that he meant to lecture as long as life was in him, “ Romilly noted that October, adding “he is past 80 & looks good for 10 years more.” In fact he resigned two years later after the Senate had agreed to continue his Chair. Detractors likened the length of his nose to the length of his prose. Pryme died in 1868. Rom3, pp. 381-2, 393, 403, 446.

6. The original Union rooms were probably not the usually quoted “cavernous, tavernous” extension at the back of the Red Lion, as was made clear by Professor William Selwyn in Inaug., p. 25. Two fragments of verse suggest that the Society originally occupied a room at the front of the Red Lion on an upper floor, where debates “with languid roar/ Of cheers had shaken Petty Cury’s roofs”. Moultrie, p. 420 and cf. Searby, p. 718.. See also the squib by M. Lawson in Teichman, The Cambridge Undergraduate 100 Years Ago, p. 86, picturing a member of the Union in 1817: “At a window, which on high/ Frowns o’er the market-place below”. However, this is puzzling, since no part of the Red Lion could provide an easy line of vision to Market Hill. In the absence of any Minute Books before 1823, the mystery cannot be resolved. By the time Bulwer Lytton became a member, in 1823, the Union was located at the back of the Red Lion.

7. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, pp. 8-12. The suggested explanation for the nickname made by the editor, Kenneth Bourne, is implausible.

8. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, p. 11. Whewell, pp. 73-4 in 1822 called Bankes “ a very remarkable man” and “one of the most entertaining persons I have ever met with”, although Whewell regretted that he shared “a bigoted intolerance towards Papists”. But J.C. Hobhouse was less impressed on encountering Bankes, for the first time in twenty years, during the hard-fought Cambridge election of 1826. “He is exactly the same rattling grinning fellow as ever and he talked … the same sort of nonsense as he used when a pupil at College.” Bourne, Palmerston: The Early Years, p. 247.

9. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, pp. 11-12.

10. Allen, Cambridge Apostles, pp. 38-42, 51. In an appropriately Apostolic parallel, R.C. Trench, later Archbishop of Dublin, likened Sunderland to Judas.

11. EVC, pp. 58-60.

12. Alma Mater, i, p. 203.

13. Inaug, p. 83, letter to The Times from “The First Secretary and Third President of the Union” (i.e. C.J. Shore).

14. C. Hollis, Eton: A History, pp. 208-9.

15. W.E. Gladstone, Autobiographical Memoranda, iv, 1868-1894 (1981), p. 102 (29 June 1894).

16. D.T. Andrew, ed., London Debating Societies 1776-1799 (1994), pp. vii-xi; J. Money, “Taverns, Coffee Houses and Clubs: Local Politics and Popular Articulacy in the Birmingham Area in the Age of the American Revolution”, Historical Journal, 14, 1971, pp. 15-48; M. Thales, “London Debating Societies in the 1790s”, Historical Journal, 32, 1989, pp. 57-86.

17. Thales, “London Debating Societies”, pp. 72, 78.

18. Parliamentary Debates, 36, 28 April 1817, cols. 17-21.

19. Autobiographical Reminiscences of George Pryme, pp. 65-6; 117.

20. Statement, p. x.

21. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, p. 38 (5 March 1805).

22. History of the Speculative Society of Edinburgh from its Institution in MDCCLXIV (1845), p. 20; The History of the Speculative Society 1764-1904 (1905); A.G. Fraser, The Building of the Old College: Adam, Playfair & the University of Edinburgh (1989), pp. 43, 93-4, 212-13. For an outline history of debating societies at Edinburgh, see Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh, ii, pp. 485-6. By 1884, there was a five-guinea (£5.25) entrance fee to join the Speculative "which alone is a bar to the majority of Students, and it is rather for young advocates". Undergraduate debaters joined either the Dialectic Society (founded in 1787) or the Diagnostic, which began in 1816. In addition, there was the Philomathic, established in 1858 for freshmen.

23. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, p. 177.

24. Statement, Appendix. Members were fined one shilling and sixpence if absent from any meeting, and all members were to take their turns at opening a subject. By 1817, there were 187 members on the Society’s books, although some would have left Cambridge by then. F. J. A. Hort reported in 1846 to his father, a member active in 1816, that the fines of his day had disappeared. Hort, p. 44.

25. Skipper, p. 5, accepted by Tanner, Historical Register of the University of Cambridge, p. 991. Bickersteth was a member of an earlier debating society at Cambridge—possibly the Speculative—but his biographer made no reference to the Union. In any case, Bickersteth left Cambridge soon after taking his BA in 1808. T.D. Hardy, Memoirs of the Right Honourable Henry Lord Langdale (2 vols, 1852), i, p. 232.

26. Palmerston’s term in Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, p. 70.

27. The Times, 31 March 1817.

28. 28. Thackeray, p. 56.

29. Cunich et al., History of Magdalene, p. 191.

30. EVC, pp. 18-25.

31. Gunning, ii, pp. 278-9.

32. 32. EVC, p. 24.

33. I am grateful to Dr Ronald Hyam for a transcript of the memorial inscription, which was incorporated to the new St John’s chapel built in the eighteen-sixties.

34. DNB, “Maitland, James”.

35. B. Lenman, Integration, Enlightenment, and Industrialization: Scotland 1760-1832 (1981), p. 112.

36. Teignmouth, Reminiscences, i, p. 47.

37. Winstanley, Unreformed Cambridge, p. 208. Dr Leedham-Green informs me that the Union Coffee House had disappeared by 1800.

38. For Peel’s membership, see N. Gash, Mr Secretary Peel (2nd ed., 1985), p. 266.

39. Dilke, i, p. 31.

40. Ferguson, Magpie and Stump, p. 28.

41. e.g. Rom1, pp. 157, 159, 167, 185. Information from the late R.F. Thompson.

42. F.D. Cartwright, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Major Cartwright (2 vols, 1826, facsimile 1969), ii, p. 376.

43. E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1968 ed.), pp. 676, 678, 691, 788.

44. Statement, p. vii.

45. Inaug., pp. 26-7. The story is briefly mentioned in the biography by Mrs Stair Douglas (Whewell, p. 41), and is specifically credited by I. Todhunter, William Whewell Master of Trinity College Cambridge (2 vols, 1876), i, p. 8. Cf. Allen, Cambridge Apostles, p. 13 for Whewell, and EVC, p. 26; Searby, p. 319.

46. Morrah, Oxford Union, pp. 27-8. Samuel Wilberforce was speaking in hired rooms at the Freemasons' Hall when the Oxford proctors "demanded a dispersal". The Union replie: "this house has received the proctors' message, and will send an anser to the summons by an officer of its own". The leader of resistance was Metcalf of Magdalen, described an "Irishman of excellent humour and racy character". However, this jovial Irishman seems to have come from Burton-on-Trent.

47. Alma Mater, i, p. 204.

48. Statement, p. viii.

49. Statement, p. ix.

51. Alma Mater, i, p. 202; Gray, Cambridge and its Story, p. 316; Searby, p. 316n.

52. Statement, p. x.

53. Alma Mater, i, p. 205.

54. EVC, p. 26. For Winstanley, see the note by G.M. Trevelyan in LVC, pp. v-vii and G.M. Trevelyan, An Autobiography & Other Essays (1949), pp. 235-7.

55. Statement, p. xi.

56. J.E. Cookson, Lord Liverpool’s Administration 1815-1822 (1975), pp. 102-16. There was some doubt about the alleged assassination attempt: C. Hibbert, George IV (1976 ed.), p. 493.

57. The Times, 22 Feb. 1817.

58. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, pp. 711-12.

59. The Times, 22 Feb. 1817.

60. Parliamentary Debates, 35, 21 Feb. 1817, cols 472-91. Cf. Cartwright, Life and Correspondence of Major Cartwright, ii, p. 129.

61. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, p. 694.

62. The Times, 12 March 1817, quoting Leeds Mercury.

63. The Times, 1 April 1817.

64. Gunning, i, pp. 211-15 is dismissive of Christian; Searby, p. 562.

65. Gunning, ii, pp. 303-4, presented at Carlton House, 18 Feb. 1817.

66. 11/11/16; 10/3/17. Connop Thirlwall, later Bishop of St David’s, opposed this motion; 17/3/17; 24/3/17. This last motion was “Negatived” but understandably no vote was recorded.

67. Samuel Bamford, Passages in the Life of a Radical (3rd ed., n.d.), p. 9 lists Lancashire reformers whose background resembled that of Whewell.

68. Cornford in Johnson, p. 106.

69. Statement, pp. x-xi.

70. The Times, 31 March, 17 April 1817.

71. Parliamentary Debates, 34, 28 April 1817, cols. 20-1.

72. EVC, p. 123.

73. Gunning, ii, pp. 314-16.

74. VCH, pp. 26, 44, 75.

75. EVC, p. 123; L-G, p. 181; Searby, p. 93.

76. Parliamentary Debates, 36, 28 April 1817, cols 17-21.

77. Cradock, p. 9, following Laws and Transactions of the Union Society MDCCCXXII (1822), p. 134; EVC, p. 27; L-G, p. 139; Searby, p. 719.

78. Cookson, Lord Liverpool’s Administration, p. 111; Alma Mater, i, pp. 52, 203; Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, p. 12. Wood on horseback was known as "St John's head on a charger".

79. Autobiographical Recollections of George Pryme, p. 118.

80. Verse by Lawson in Teichmann, ed., The Cambridge Undergraduate, p. 87.

81. Alma Mater, i, p. 204. Arthur Thistlewood was executed for treason in 1820. His conduct on the scaffold was flamboyant.

82. Thales, “London Debating Societies”, pp. 67, 71.

83. Statement, p. v.

84. Macaulay, pp. 74-5.

85. Statement, p. vi. This claim was hardly borne out by the printed list of debates.

86. Laws and Regulations of the Union Society MDCCCXXI (1821), Laws 1 and 24 and cf. Laws and Transactions (1822), p. 134.