Cobbett, Rural Rides, Reportage and Poverty.
By Laura Dickson
William Cobbett, was born in Farnham, Surrey in 1763. then became a
farm labourer working regularly in Botley, Hampshire (coincidently where
I live now). As a self taught reader and writer Cobbett began his career
in America where, for 9 years, he published 12 books criticising American
democracy whilst working under the false name of Peter Porcupine. After
returning to England in 1800 he began to publish the weekly newsletter The
Political Register. This, however, led to trouble and Cobbett found
himself facing a 2-year jail sentence along with a £1,000 fine
and he was finally released in 1802.
After returning to Britain, following a stint of self-imposed political
exile within the United States, Cobbett’s main beliefs became centred
on reforming Parliament and helping end poverty for farm labourers; this
was close to his heart due to both himself and his father being farmers.
His views were deeply conservative and often led him into trouble. Within
politics the loss of the American colonies (the stepping stone to the
end of the Empire) still haunted Britain. The spectre of losing such
a colony created many radical movements, some of which Cobbett joined
very publicly. Cobbett was a leader of the Reform Bill of 1832, which
introduced predominant changes to the electoral system within the United
Throughout his life Cobbett opposed authority and wrote many texts condemning
both British politics urging for a reform and the transformation taking
part within the country due to the industrial revolution.
Cobbett’s best-known book, Rural Rides, was first published
as a serial within The Weekly Political Register, running from
1822 to 1826. The work was later published as a book in 1830 and is still
in print today. At the time Cobbett was a radical anti-corn law campaigner,
he disapproved of proposals for solutions to the agricultural trouble
which had been suggested within parliament and he argued that the economy,
which had once sustained the country, was being disregarded to make way
for the industrial revolution, causing many farmers to be left in a financial
With the idea to find a solution himself Cobbett decided to evaluate
the conditions himself. These journeys (made by horseback) were spread
throughout the countryside of the English Midlands and Southeast England: “my
object was, not to see inns and turnpike-roads, but to see the country:
to see the farmers at home, and to see the labourers in the fields”[i].
Although Cobbett was known for his opinionated ways, he remained level
headed, discussing the argument from both a farmer’s and social
reformer’s point of view. The book is regarded a factual document,
giving an insight to the lives of those living in early nineteenth century