Oldham Historical Research Group
William Rowbottom's Diary as published in the Oldham Standard

A Background Overview of the Era in which William Lived

Contemporary Events: Circa 1745 - 1832

The years between the mid 18th and mid 19th century, probably saw more changes affecting the lives of working men and women, than at any other time previously.

'Manchester Historical Recorder'


In these years there was political unrest; and there was an upsurge of printed material to fuel progress and 'spread the word'. Alongside this, industry entered the age of mechanisation. and droves of families left poverty in the countryside, as labourers and agricultural workers, to settle in the towns in search of more opportunities. Their goal was to earn a wage that would put food on the table, clothes on their backs and a better life. A lucky few were successful but for many it was a trap of grinding poverty, terrible living conditions and wages that fluctuated and were often below subsistence levels.

The handloom weavers, working in their own homes, were amongst the casualties of the accelerating process we recognise as the 'Industrial Revolution'. Spinning and weaving was dragged out of the home and into the purpose built mills, powered firstly by water and then by steam.

In 1757, when William Rowbottom was born, George II was on the throne. Only 12 years before his birth the country had been in the throes of the Rebellion of 1745 when 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', and the Jacobites, had attempted to regain the throne lost to his grandfather (King James II) in 1688. The rebel armies had touched this locality very closely, on their way to Manchester and the south. (As recounted in 'Beppy Bryom's Diary ... An eyewitness account of Bonnie Prince Charlie in Manchester')

During Rowbottom's lifetime, and in particular the years from about 1770 to 1830, The 'Romantic' Movement in music, literature, philosophy and art appeared and reached its height. The names most memorably associated with this movement were those of: Jean-Jaques Rousseau (often considered to be the inspiration behind the Movement), Goya, Goethe, William Blake, Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Keats, Beethoven, Walter Scott, Caspar David Friedrich, J.M.W. Turner, Constable, Gericault, Schubert, Mary Shelley, Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Hector Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Edgar Allen Poe, Chopin, Schumann and, finally, born in 1811, Franz Liszt.

Also during these years the new inventions were modified, refined and improved as the rate of industrialisation accelerated. Steam began to replace water power. Smaller, rural mills beside running water became obsolete and industrialists built their new, bigger mills and factories within easy reach of coal mines. Demand for machinery in mills and factories and for coal to stoke the boilers, all added to the melting pot of an industrialised society. Transport of a greater volume of goods also became an issue. The Bridgewater canal was 'cut' and became the first of a growing network across the country carrying an assortment of heavy materials.

The issue of Roman Catholicism and punitive legislation was a constant, and engendered strong feeling in the country both for and against Catholic Emancipation. It was in these years that Ireland was a thorn in the side of the British Government as Irish Catholics began to come together and demand their rights.

George III, became king on the death of his father in 1760, when William Rowbottom was still an infant, and was on the throne for most of William's life. During his reign, the American War of Independence was fought, from 1776 - 1782, and the American Colonies were lost to the British Crown. By 1789 George III's mental instability was causing serious concern and the Regency Bill was passed by the Commons but King George recovered before it could be passsed through the Lords. However, the king became ill again in 1810. The Regency Act was passed and his son, George, was declared Prince Regent in February 1811.

When George III died in 1820 he was followed by his son, the Prince Regent who became George IV. George, as a young man in 1785 had secretly and illegally married a widowed Roman Catholic lady called Maria Fitzherbert. Despite this, under royal and political pressure, he went through another marriage, in 1795, this time with his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Their only child, Princess Charlotte was born in 1796, following which the royal couple separated. When George came to the throne in 1820, Princess Caroline returned from the continent intending to take part in the Coronation and be recognised as Queen Consort. George refused and there were acrimonious and very public proceedings right up to the day of the coronation on the 19th July 1821, when the princess became ill and died a couple of weeks later. George IV reigned from 1820 until his death in 1830 and the accession of his brother, William IV.

1789 saw the beginning of the French Revolution when, in July the Bastille was stormed and taken by the 'Third Estate' There followed several years of violence marked by the seemingly never-ending exections, on the guillotine, of anyone considered to be privileged or against the current regime in power. Despite this, the French armies had notable successes in wars in Egypt, Italy, the Netherlands and Europe in general. In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte, popular and well known through successful military campaigns, led a successful coup against the ruling 'Directory' and established the Consulate, enabling him to engage in what became known as the 'Napoleonic Wars in the first decade of the 19th century. He had himself crowned as Emperor, in December 1804.

Revolution overseas made the English Government noticeably nervous about political unrest at home and strong measures were taken against anyone suspected of wanting changes that involved the working man, social conditions and reforms in the constitution. One notable name from this time is Thomas Paine, who wrote 'The Righs of Man' and 'The Age of Reason'. Responding to 'The Rights of Man', Mary Wollstonecraft wrote 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman'. Mary was, herself, the mother of Mary Shelley (married to the poet, Shelley) who wrote 'Frankenstein'.

Crimes against property, and the reading, writing, publishing or discussion of seditious ideas, were crushed mercilessly and could frequently result in transportation to a penal colony for a number of years. Australia's Botany Bay became the destination for transportation (following the loss of the American colonies), along with the most brutally notorious of them all, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania, as it was subsequently renamed).

During William Rowbottom's lifetime the Tory Party dominated British politics.

In the 75 years between 1757 and 1832 the country had 21 Prime Ministers - 9 Whig and 12 Tory. The Tory Party were in office for over 50 of those years. The 3 longest serving Prime Ministers during that time were all Tories, Lord North from 1770 to 1782, William Pitt (the 'Younger') from 1783 to 1801 and the Earl of Liverpool from 1812 to 1827.

During William's lifetime taxation was always an issue especially when taxes were raised to pay for European wars and the American War of Independence. However, India, West Africa and the West Indies were added to Brtiain's overseas dominions during these years..

William Pitt was only 24 years old when he first became Prime Minister and his 17 years in office were fraught with problems. There was a massive National Debt to reduce, a constitutional crisis when King George III first became ill and a Regency was imminent, plus on-going threats from France. War with France increased debts, caused food shortages and brought the spectre of Revolution in Britain ever closer.The Act of Union with Ireland in 1800 was forced through but the expected Emancipation of Catholics was rejected by the king the following year. In 1801 Pitt was left with no alternative other than to resign.

His successor was also a Tory, Henry Addington. He achieved a shortlived peace with France (for 2 years) in 1802. His administration is also remembered for the First Factory Act and supporting Edward Jenner, financially, in his pioneering work on finding a smallpox vaccine.

William Pitt became Prime Minister again in 1804 (for just 2 years until his early death age 46 in 1806). During his tenure, he formed alliances with Napoleon's continental enemies and also saw Nelson victorious at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

He was followed in quick succession by the Whig, Lord Grenville, then the Tory Duke of Portland then the Tory Spencer Perceval, who was Prime Minister from 1809 to 1812. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated. He was shot dead, in the House of Commons, in 1812 by a disgruntled merchant. In January 1811 Prince George became the Prince Regent when King George's illness re-occurred.

In 1812 Lord Liverpool (Tory) became PM and remained in office until 1827. His administration saw Britain's recovery after the Napoleonic Wars and also the unrest amongst the working population demanding more rights and laying the foundations for the later Reform Act. He was unsympathetic to calls for reform and strongly suppressed any such efforts. One consequence of which was the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in August 1819. In 1825 the Combination Act was passed legalising Trade Unions but the rigorous conditions imposed undermined its effectiveness.

1827/1828 saw 3 shortlived Prime Ministers (all Tory), followed by the Duke of Wellington who was in office until 1830. Catholic emancipation was the dominant issue for this government.

The Whig, Earl Grey, became Prime Minister in 1830, the year which saw the deaths of firstly King George III and then William Rowbottom only months later. George's brother came to the throne as William IV. Two years later the First Reform Act (1832) was passed and became law after a stormy passage through the Lords.

But, there must have been light-hearted moments as well. There were Wakes Fairs, Rushcart celebrations, and travelling entertainments. There was the excitement of seeing a hot air balloon passing overhead and then landing in Lees. Roads were improved, canals cut and the possibilities of steam propelled transport were being explored.

No wonder William Rowbottom could find so much to write about.


Our hope is that these 'Timeline' / 'Diary' pages will put William Rowbottom's life into its historical context and help us to relate to, and better understand, the times in which he lived. We start with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 (just over 10 years before his baptism in 1757) and take it up to the Reform Act of 1832, just a couple of years after his death in 1830.

The entries on the 'Diary' pages are extracted from the relevant years in :'The Manchester Historical Recorder' pub 1875 and used with the kind permission of Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society who transcribed the work. A full transcription (from 500 BC to 1874) is available on CD, from the Society, HERE

from the MLFHS notes on this transcription :
"The Manchester Historical Recorder was published circa 1875 and catalogues the history of Manchester
and Salford from their earliest times up to the time of publication. The original is a small book measuring
about 6½ x 4 inches bound in blue cloth with gold-blocked titles. Its 196 pages are closely typeset in a very
small typeface which makes it quite difficult to read. It also lacks an index.
The scope of the book is considerable. The events it chronicles include such major matters as Manchester’s
role in the English Civil War and the Jacobite Rebellion and Manchester’s political history both before and
after the Great Reform Act of 1832 when the city finally achieved its own Parliamentary representation. The results of successive Parliamentary election...

Diary page links
Oldham at that time- link
William rowbottom's life and family - link
Introduction link
Gallery link
Samuel Andrew
glossary link

William Rowbottom's Diary as published in the Oldham Standard
Extracts from 'The Manchester Historical Recorder' pub 1875. Transcription courtesy of Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society. Full transcription available on CD HERE
Header photograph © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for re-use under the C.C. Licence.'Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0'

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