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John Wilkes and events of 1768

In August 2019 Count Otto Black (deceased) wrote:
You don't seem to feature this curious work on your website, but it appears to be a topical satire of some long-forgotten crisis or scandal which contemporary readers would have been familiar with, though I must admit to being completely baffled. Anyway, you might like to have a look at it and try to figure out what it's all about. Does it obliquely refer to a political controversy too embarrassing to be mentioned directly? Was the author a famous person hiding behind a very silly pseudonym? And what was the significance of featuring Brentford so prominently?

To find out more look at The Caricatura: or Battle of the Butts ... as it was fought at Brentford, &c. on Monday, the 28th of March, 1768; being a copy from Mr. Hogarth's march to Finchley. With a research into the records established under the ancient two kings of Brentford by E Whirlepool (pseudonym?), published 1768.

I observed it all sounds no madder than what is going on now (Brexit / election 2019) and found a current-day appraisal of the events of 1768/1769; but it always interesting to read a contemporary account of what happened in Brentford around a quarter of a millenium ago...

1768 General Election - Middlesex

Background

In 1768 George III was on the throne and the Seven Years' War had ended five years previously, Great Britain having defeated France and becoming the dominant European power in North America and India. The American War of Independence was yet to come.

At this time Middlesex was represented by two MPs. Potentially the most important part of the election was the election of the radical John Wilkes for Middlesex. Wilkes's election triggered a major political crisis, and marked the beginning of political radicalism in Britain (wikipedia)

Middlesex had elected two Whig MPs in the 1747 general election, one being William Beauchamp-Proctor. In the by-election of 1750 George Cooke, Tory, was elected and he and Beauchamp-Proctor were elected unopposed in the general elections of 1754 and 1761. So the 1768 election was the first in 14 years where the (relatively small) electorate had a choice of candidates: the two serving MPs William Beauchamp-Proctor (Whig) and George Cooke (Tory); and John Wilkes (Radical).

The account below of the election in Brentford makes more sense than some lengthier reports in other newspapers. The transcript below and any other accounts referred to are all found in the British Newspaper Archive, also available through Findmypast. At the end are some notes.

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Derby Mercury 01 April 1768
Thursday's Post
LONDON, March 29.

YESTERDAY came on at Brentford, in the County of Middlesex, the Election for Representatives in Parliament for the said County, when Mr Wilkes went thither in a Coach drawn by Six long-tail Horses, and was accompanied by a great Number of People to the Place of Election, which was held at Brentford Butts, a Temporary Booth being erected for that Purpose, in which were Fifteen Poll Books, one for each Division.

About half an Hour after Nine Mr Wilkes appeared upon the Hustings, and notwithstanding there was the greatest Concourse of People ever known to assemble upon the like Occasions, the utmost Decorum was observed.

About Eleven the two Sheriffs arrived; the Freeholders repeatedly called out for the poll to begin, Mr Wilkes addressed them from the different Parts of the Hustings, requesting their Patience 'till the other two Candidates arrived.

About one Sir W.B. Proctor arrived on Horseback, followed by Mr Cook in his Coach and six, attended by a great Number of Gentleman in Carriages and on Horseback; among which were some Persons who carried blue Flags, on which were wrote in Gold Letters, NO BLASPHEMERS, NO FRENCH RUNAGATES. This was resented by Mr Wilkes's Friends, and a Scuffle ensued, in which many were greatly hurt.

Upon holding up of Hands the Shew was almost general for Mr Wilkes, and for Sir W.B. Proctor, there was a considerable Number, but for Mr Cook very few; whereupon Mr Wilkes and Sir W.B. Proctor, were declared to have the Majority; but a Poll being demanded by the Friends of Mr Cook, the same began about two o' Clock, and it was agree that the Books should be shut at Eight, when we hear the Numbers were,
For Mr Wilkes ....... 1213
Sir W.B. Proctor ...... 740
Mr Cooke ................ 645

And this Day at Two o'Clock, the Poll was finally closed, when the Numbers stood thus:
For John Wilkes, Esq ............... 1292
George Cooke, Esq .................. 827
Sir William Beauchamp Proctor ... 807
Whereupon the two former were declared duly elected.

The Mob would not suffer any Coaches to come into Brentford without WILKES and LIBERTY on them. Several Flags were flying with the Motto, More Meat and fewer Cooks.

A great Number of Freeholders in the Interest of Mr Wilkes went Yesterday up the Water in Barges. When they arrived at Brentford a Procession was made to the Place of Polling, about twenty Gentlemen in laced Hats, and Jackets, preceded by a Band of Musick, after which followed 130 Freeholders; and in this Order they proceeded to the Hustings about a Mile from where they landed, and all gave their single Votes for Mr Wilkes.

All the different Parties wore blue Cockades, by which Means it was difficult to distinguish to which of the Candidates they belonged.

The People were so impatient at the other Candidates not coming, that they cried out for a Poll several Times for Wilkes, the celebrated Neddy Shuter coming by the Hustings, the Mob desired him to be a Candidate, and called out Wilkes and Shuter for ever.

Last Night great Illuminations were made all through the City and Suburbs on Account of the Success of Mr Wilkes; the Mob was very outrageous in many Parts, particularly at the Mansion House, where they broke all the Lamps and Windows, and a Chandalier, said to be worth an Hundred Guineas: The Damage done is computed at near £500.

The Windows of the British Coffee House, Charing Cross, and those of Mr Drummond, the Banker, were last Night broke to Pieces, and two Butts of Beer were given to the Populace (of Brentford) from Northumberland House, which received little Damage.

A Court of Common Council is summoned to meet at Guildhall Tomorrow, on Special Affairs.

Last Night the House of a Tradesman in Fleet Street, No. 45***, besides being highly illuminated, had also the Number 45 inscribed on every Pane of Glass in the Windows.

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The story does not end here.

The Caledonian Mercury 04 April 1768
Tuesday there was a great riot at the Castle Inn at Brentford, one of the houses openeed by Mr Cooke, by which the furniture received above £100 damage.

Stamford Mercury 26 May 1768
Saturday last application was made to the Court of King's bench, that John Wilkes, Esq., might be brought up and admitted to bail, but the same was deferred.

Ipswich Journal 04 June 1768
George Cooke, Esq., Member of Parliament for Middlesex, is greatly recovered from his late Indisposition, and will set out this Day for Bath.

Derby Mercury 10 June 1768
Last Night an Express arrived in Town from Marlborough, with an Account, that on Sunday died there, on his Way to Bath, George Cooke, Esq; Member of Parliament for the County of Middlesex, Joint Paymaster of his Majesty's Forces, Chief Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas, and Colonel of the Western Battalion of the Middlesex Militia.

The following item...
Saturday Night, by Order of John Wilkes, Esq; the King's Bench Prison was illuminated and several Fireworks played off in Honour of his Majesty's Birth Day.

It has of late been confidently asserted, that real Patriots, like true Lovers of Liberty, are to be found only - in a Prison.

Newcastle Courant 18 June 1768
We are informed that the following Gentlemen are Candidates to represent the County of Middlesex, in the Room of George Cooke , Esq; viz. Sir William Beauchamp Proctor, Bart. Mr Serjeant Glyn, Sir Richard Glyn, Bt, Sir George Colebrooke, Bart. George Prescot Esq; and Mr Deputy John Paterson.

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Notes

From reading other accounts the precise timeline for the March/April general election is a little unclear but polling was over two days, and officials chose when to close the polls. Some accounts focus on this in more detail.

The account describes the damage wreaked by the 'Mob' but other accounts have more details, describing routes taken between London and Brentford and the buildings damaged.

No Blasphemers, No French Runagates (presumably Renegades) refers to John Wilkes's recent exploits:
'In 1763 he was prosecuted for issuing seditious and blasphemous pamphlets**. Imprisoned for his role in a duel, friends helped Wilkes flee to Paris. Whilst living there with a courtesan, he attempted to explain his absence from Parliament by producing a false certificate of ill health, for which he was prosecuted in 1764'. (The Twickenham Museum website has more details)

** Specifically Wilkes published The North Briton in response to the The Briton, a publication from 1762 by Lord Bute, Prime Minister 1762/3. (The Briton) was akin to the sort of PR publication local councils produce today to tell taxpayers how well their council is doing in serving them. John Wilkes’s The North Briton was however a new phenomenon, an 'Opposition' newspaper'. (South Central MediaScene)

On 23 April 1763, issue 45*** of ... The North Briton, criticised King George III (r. 1760–1820) and his newly appointed ministry for making too generous a peace with France ... Appendix to issue 45 of The North Briton was published after Wilkes returned from exile in 1768. Despite being arrested and jailed in the King’s Bench Prison, Wilkes sought re-election to Parliament (1768–69), and he used The North Briton to promote himself as a defender of ancient English liberties. The Appendix supplied a detailed account of his prosecution, and began by repeating in full the famous clause from Magna Carta stating that 'No freeman may be apprehended or imprisoned' ... From his prison cell, Wilkes was re-elected as a Member of Parliament for Middlesex and Alderman of London, despite opposition from the government. His use of Magna Carta was a masterstroke, and throughout this period the rallying cry of 'Wilkes and liberty' was repeatedly heard on the streets of London. (British Library).

*** Hence the references to '45' in the above account.

Presumably this is how the Wilkes Head at 378 High Street, later known as the Hand and Flower got its name.

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Published December 2019