Discover more from Age of Invention, by Anton Howes
Age of Invention: Fact Feast
Cheshire's missing nationalism, Durham's shy revolutionaries, and Victorian advertising hats
You’re reading Age of Invention, a newsletter on the causes of the British Industrial Revolution and the history of innovation. This free edition went out to over 7,200 people.
This week, as it’s the holiday season, I’d just like to share a few interesting facts I picked up this week in the course of my research, which you might use to impress people over dinner.
England, compared to other parts of Europe, is often said to have been remarkably centralised early on. France, for example, in the late eighteenth century had some thirteen or so regional parliaments, while Britain just had the one. Scotland’s separate parliament was famously dissolved in 1707, with the official union of Scotland with England. Wales gained representation at the English parliament at Westminster from 1536. So far so expected.
But less well-known is that the county of Cheshire — some of it now disappeared under Greater Manchester — used to have an entirely separate parliament of its own, and was not represented at Westminster until 1543. Arguably, it has about as much historical claim to a national assembly today as Wales. Rule of Cheshire was even, very briefly, included among the various titles of the monarch. Richard II, as well as being king of England, was in 1397-99 also styled “Prince of Chester”. He drew his personal bodyguard from among the men of Cheshire too. So whatever happened to Cheshire nationalism?
On a related note: the mantra “no taxation without representation” looms large in the history of American independence. But parts of England itself had gone unrepresented for decades too. County Durham, traditionally ruled by its prince-bishop, was not represented by any MPs in the House of Commons at all until 1654. And as it only gained representation under the revolutionary Protectorate, this was undone upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The county would not be represented again until 1675.
Why? One might argue that the bishop of Durham, who sat in the House of Lords, could be considered its parliamentary representative. But he was not elected, and most importantly had little say over the matter of parliamentary taxation, which was controlled by the Commons. Before 1603 this was not much of an issue, as county Durham was exempt from various taxes because it was near the hostile Scottish border. But the accession of James VI of Scotland to become king of England meant that the hostile border suddenly disappeared. County Durham thus became subject to parliamentary taxation without having any say over those taxes at all — a situation that they then had to bear for over sixty years! Where were the Durham revolutionaries?
Lastly, as it wouldn’t be Age of Invention without at least some invention, historian Lee Jackson has discovered that in mid-1860s London one could bump into people wearing candle-lit “illuminated advertising hats”. Pictures and descriptions at the link here. It rather changes my mental image of the city in the age of Dickens.
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