As part of our AHRC-funder Cultural Engagement Project Sheffield: Print, Protest and Poetry (1790-1810) we have produced a print collection of poetry printed in Sheffield’s radical at the end of the 18th century.
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Poetry, Protest, Radicalism in Sheffield, ed. by Hamish Mathison and Adam Smith (Spirit Duplicator, 2016)
James Montgomery was not yet the legendary champion of causes memorialised all across 21st-century Sheffield. He was the former teenage run-away now working as a jobbing-apprentice at the Sheffield Register, the city’s most radical newspaper. He worked for a man named called Joseph Gales, the editor-in-chief who would ultimately put everything on the line to hold his government to account. In his paper Gales sought to ensure that all Sheffield citizens were fully aware of their rights, their privileges and their worth.
Keen to provide a platform for the citizens his paper represented Gales installed ‘Poetry Corner’, a regular feature in his paper populated with verse submitted by the men and women of late 18th-century Sheffield. This proved perhaps his most radical decision. These poems demonstrated an overwhelming scepticism that a government located 200 miles South of Sheffield could every have its best interests at heart, openly critiquing the policies of parliament and the suspected motives of its politicians.
In 1794 Joseph Gales was deemed a fugitive of the law, charged with ‘conspiracy against the government.’ He fled to America, leaving young Montgomery to revive his paper as the Sheffield Iris and grow into the man remembered today. The poems in this collection all appeared during the final year of the Register, daring to complain at a time when government authorities were at their most suspicious.
These poems represent the fears and anxieties of Sheffield’s 18th-century citizens. They also remind us of the courage of those citizens, prepared to speak out at a time when it would have been safer easier to stay quiet.