William Hull – The Artist of Rydal – born 6 May 1820

“….that Nature never did betray

The heart that loved her..”

William Wordsworth:Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798

 

So wrote Thomas Read Wilkinson, quoting Wordsworth within a Memoriam to William Hull, written a few days after his death in 1880. Many know that the Poet of Rydal was William Wordsworth, who lived from 1813 until his death in 1850 in Rydal Mount in the beautiful Lake District village of Grasmere.

Few know that there was also an ‘Artist of Rydal’, who lived the last 10 years of his life in a house at the foot of Wordsworth’s home, as close as he could be to the memory of the man whose nature poetry he worshipped and tried, throughout his life, to emulate in visual form. That man was William Hull, who was born 200 years ago on this day, 6th May, 1820.

While the poems of the poet laureate, William Wordsworth, are rightly remembered and still enjoyed by many, the paintings of William Hull remain largely undiscovered and his life unknown. Perhaps my keen interest in William evolved from more than my knowledge of his paintings. Perhaps I have been fortunate enough to see deeply into his work as a result of my understanding of his life, for when that it understood, his paintings allow an absorption that his friend, John Ruskin, might have discerned or that a buyer of his work, such as Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, might well have perceived.

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A good example is Harvest Scene (shown above), believed to have been one of the three paintings of William’s exhibited at the 1857 Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester. Prince Albert is understood to have bought this and one other, prompting his friend Thomas Letherbrow to note in his Memorial to William, published in The Portfolio in 1886: “It may seem strange …..  though he was appreciated by so good a judge as Prince Albert (who during his visit to Manchester in 1857, manifested his approval of our artist’s work by purchasing a couple of specimens) he should be so little known.”

This was written 134 years ago, so little wonder, if he was “so little known” then, that he should be almost forgotten now. Yet, once a sufficient number of his pictures are seen and then those images are wrapped within the tales of his life, his compassion, the deepest of struggles that never diminished his congeniality, it is hard not to be infected with a desire to see more of his work and to see more within each one.

Who Was William Hull?

My knowledge of the forgotten “Artist of Rydal” came from research into a book that I have recently published: All the People. That is a story (written in the form of a novel) centred on his father, James Hull, as he took his wife and children from a farming life in Bedfordshire into the harshness of a Manchester riddled with poverty and disease in the 1830s. James was a missionary for the United Brethren, the Moravians, and the story is about his mission of restoring a semblance of life for the people of Little Ireland in Manchester in the early nineteenth century and those, like Hugh Hornby Birley, a mill owner who led the Yeomanry at Peterloo in 1819, and who constantly fought against James and all those that threatened the established order

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William was James’s fourth child and one of two brothers that, from an early age, were fascinated by the natural world around them and determined to build that excitement into visual art. The brother, Edward Hull, became an engraver and a well-respected newspaper illustrator for the The Illustrated London News as well as a renowned book illustrator.

William’s future had, his father prayed, been decided when he was sent to Ockbrook, a Moravian school, where it was assumed he would follow its teachings into a church calling. Unfortunately for James, one of the teachers there was Alexander Crossart Hasse, whose family ran a printers in Bradford. Alexander was an artist and, discovering William’s ability, provided patient instruction. Therefore, some years later, when William was a teacher at a Moravian school at Gracehill in Ballymena, Ireland, he decided to leave the church to pursue a life in the arts. His father, somewhat distressed, found him a job in a printers, Blacklock and Bradshaw in Manchester. It was a business that was fast becoming known for its railway guides but it did not appeal to William, who found alternative employ with M. Janvrin, a merchant from Jersey. He took William throughout Europe as a tutor for his two sons. It was a journey that lasted several years and afforded ample time for William wrap himself inside the landscapes of Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, absorbing, learning and painting.

As much for an ability to inquire into the natural world is William’s recording of a time that has long passed. His hundreds of paintings show the, mainly, English landscape of the 19th Century in stark contrast to the present. An example is the drawing of Torside Bridge on the River Etherow in Derbyshire, painted in 1852 which stands in marked contrast to today’s roadway by the Torside Resevoir, although that was built around the same time).

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William shirked the use of harsh, prime colours as can be seen here. John Ruskin criticised this absence, but William painted what his heart and skills extolled. As Thomas Letherbrow wrote in 1886: “so familiar with Nature, that she seemed often to take the pencil from his hand and make her own record; his doctrine being that you must first know a scene thoroughly, and, next, that you must love it with your whole heart, before you can paint it worthily.”

For anyone interested to read more (and see more of William’s work), I have written a longer note on William, composed as an autobiography, as if in his own words. I will set about publishing that in some form. I also have a number of his paintings and drawings.

His life in brief includes his marriage to Mary Newling in 1847 after a stroke in his thirties that left him deaf and lame; his continued work that led to friendships with those like the renowned critic and painter John Ruskin and the purchase of his paintings by Prince Albert; the formation of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, with William as one of ten Founder Academicians in 1859 – Sheila Dewsbury in her history of MAFA (‘The Story So Far’) describes him as “a landscape painter with a natural sense of beauty”; works exhibited at the Royal Academy and other noted galleries in England; the awful death of his wife on 3 Dec 1861 while they were in Betws-y-coed in Wales with other painters (she was subject to epilepsy and died after a savage episode, in a coma for four days); the death just a week later of Prince Albert, who William had seen as somewhat of a benefactor; his membership of arts and literature clubs such as the Letherbrow Club in Manchester and his ever-continuing painting; his relocation to Rydal in Grasmere in 1870, living close to Wordsworth’s home, where his painting of the Lake District became well known; his death in 1880 and his burial in Grasmere.

Especially poignant are his drawings from that year, which were used in Robert Langton’s book “The Childhood and Youth of Charles Dickens”, a highly successful book. William died halfway through his commission and his younger brother, Edward, was called upon to complete the drawings. So excellent did he consider William’s work that Langton wrote: “It is most probable…that had Charles Dickens lived to complete Edwin Drood, some of the views of Cloisterham given here would have been engraved as illustrations to the story.” It is also the only place I have found a drawing of William.

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For now, a “Rest Along the Way” (by William Hull).

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All the People

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Part I – The mission to Manchester

February 2020 is the month that my novel, All the People, gets published (February 28 2020 by Troubador Publishing). It was more than ten years in the making: spent researching and writing, then more research and re-writing to result in a book on which my editor’s commented as follows:

“All the People is an absorbing tale of a city, the people who lived in it, and the often unforgiving spirit of the times…it successfully marries political conflict with human drama, delivering a plot that is both compelling and moving. You bring the setting to life with great eloquence and convincing authenticity, and your characters are intricately and thoughtfully constructed.”

I was compelled to write this novel because the stories of a family that I had unearthed were so fascinating and completely unknown. Students are given the histories of kings and prime ministers, army generals and those other leaders that reach the pinnacle of one definition or other of success. How little we learn of those who fight their battles just as hard, within the toughest of environments, but who do so to survive in the supposedly lower reaches of a society that effects to ignore them, despite their extraordinary achievements.

I will write about the journey on which I discovered the stories shortly, but, for now, I want to tell a little about the story , the characters and places that dominate All the People.

Our Lives are Harsh‘ – the natural order of England in 1832

All the People contrasts the rural life of James Hull, a farmer in Bedfordshire, to the harsh  conditions he would face in the depths of a ‘nether world’: the slums of Manchester, under the rule of mill owners. Here, most of the people existed on the edge of starvation, with illnesses that killed many at childbirth and sought them out throughout the short length of the lives. They subsisted in houses that shook violently when the winds blew and collapsed when it blew hard, close to the River Medlock into which the mills and factories discharged their waste, transforming it into a solid waterway, foul-smelling, with a viscosity of unrefined oil.

This contrast is between the farming world and the new existence he would be plunged into as a missionary. As one of the characters says towards the end:

“Our lives are harsh for there is starvation and intolerance of us, of all the people here as if we were a different race or wild animals.”

England had hardly been altered by the Reform Act of 1832, which only gave the business owners better representation in Parliament. For most, like those that All the People describes jeering at the building owned by Hugh Hornby Birley, the man that led the deathly charge of the yeomanry at Peterloo in 1819, on the anniversary of that event, life was a relentless struggle for survival. Many worked for Birley, whose family had bought the Chorlton Mill. The mill forms the cover of my book (shown above) and it exists to this day, on the corner of Cambridge Street and Hulme Street, where it remains  as an apartment block that also houses The International Anthony Burgess Foundation.

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When James came to Manchester, living in Granby Row, later the home of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, he was shocked by the poverty and deprivation. Imagine the change of life he and his family would experience.  James and Elizabeth had lost their eldest daughter just a few years before. Elizabeth had, in the book, refused the call to move north, but, when her daughter died, she relented. She suffered from what we would now call depression until her death in 1842. Her husband wrote of her at her funeral: “She had a bad nervous attack in May 1820 from the effects of which she never recovered. …..she could never bear to hear even good things…and she would never comfortably enjoy the singing at our (church) and other meetings.” In the book, it is the death of their daughter, Mary, that causes her depression, but, whatever the cause, she was clearly a very troubled soul.

James’s sanctuary from the relentless horrors of Little Ireland, the location in Manchester that was his mission and one that Friedrich Engels later called “the most disgusting spot of all” (The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844), was the Fairfield Settlement. This was a settlement of the United Brethren (the Moravians), an evangelical Protestant religion that James had joined when John King Martyn, a wealthy landowner in Pertenhall, Bedfordshire, had espoused the cause locally. In All the People, it is John that proposes James as a missionary.

Fairfield was a glorious testament to the way of life that the Moravians embraced. They built Fairfield to be a self-contained village (near Droylsden, six miles east of Manchester). It had everything needed including a farm, schools, factories for embroidered linen and even a tavern. Several of the buildings remain today under the auspices of the United Brethren. I was welcomed there to carry out a good deal of my research. It is where Elizabeth was buried in 1842 and James in 1856.

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James lived as a missionary near Little Ireland. It was the home, as its name suggests, of many Irish immigrants. Bringing evangelical Moravian protestantism to Catholics must have been quite a mission and All the People surmises that James, when he saw the evils that befell the inhabitants of Little Ireland, paid more attention to their survival in this world rather than the next. This set him against a society that viewed the natural order as God-given.

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Those that God appeared to have given most included the mill owners like Hugh Hornby Birley. In 1832, he was the most hated man in Manchester because of his deeds 13 years before at Peterloo. That there has never been a biography of Hugh Hornby Birley is perplexing. He was a man that was viewed as a successful businessman and civic leader but All the People suggests that, deep down, he was a very troubled man.

Part II – Hugh Hornby Birley……

 

 

The Ripples from Peterloo

16th August 1819 should be a date that the British hold in its memory just as the world applies itself to Tiananmen Square. That there are such commemorations of its 200th anniversary this year is down to the hard work and insight of those like the Peterloo Memorial Campaign who, rightly, refuse to let a key date in our history fall from our memories.

In my research for All the People, the story of people caught up in the deprivations and class warfare of early nineteenth century Manchester, I was continually reminded of Peterloo. For years after 16 August 1819, it was remembered as the prime example of how people in this country rise against oppression: peacefully, with intelligence, wit and good humour to confront oppressors that are determined to ground them down. Mike Leigh’s film captured this well as do the wide range of books* on the grand assembly headed by Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt that was destroyed by the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry’s killing and maiming.

That British history has mainly been written by the victors is a truism attributed to Churchill, Nehru and many others but it remains valid. Peterloo had no victors but those in power sought to recast the massacre as a battle. Fortunately, the journalists present, like John Tyas of The Times, were better able to record the truth and his editor was brave enough to print it. Yet, there has been an almighty struggle to retain the memory of that day in August, 1819.

For years, workers in Manchester would assemble around buildings owned by the Captain of the Yeomanry, Hugh Hornby Birley. He led them, sabres swinging, cutting into and trampling with their horses over men, women and children. At those buildings would come the workers and out of work from the town and surrounding areas to jeer as a sign of their hatred and torment, their conditions (starvation, ill-health and extreme poverty) unchanged or worsened. When the Reform Act of 1832 was passed through Parliament, giving the wealthy industrialists the vote and some towns like Manchester representation for the first time, nothing changed for those with no property.

Feargus O’Connor, an Irishman that led the Chartists in the latter part of that decade, used his newspaper, The Northern Star, on 20th August, 1842 to remind the world (or at least that part that read his working people’s paper) that the memories of Peterloo still rippled powerfully.

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Crucial to O’Connor’s editorial that day was the memory of Henry Hunt and the memory of the Yeomanry. A memorial to Henry Hunt had just been erected in Manchester at John Stephenson’s Roundhouse Chapel that the ‘Plug Plot Rioters’ (as they were disparagingly termed) would have passed on their way through Manchester earlier in August 1842. They were on strike, still fighting for universal suffrage just as Hunt and those at Peterloo had been in 1819. Hunt was a hero to O’Connor and Peterloo the singular moment in history that acted as an inspiration in 1842.

Just as ‘memorial’ were the Yeomanry, signified by O’Connor’s insertion of the names of each member that took part on St Peter’s Fields on 16th August, 1819, headed by the name of Hugh Hornby Birley, mistakingly shown as “Commander’. Birley had spent the last 23 years as a businessman, philanthropist and civic leader in the town of Manchester, working to leave the legacy that he wished to be remembered by. The only one he left was the memory of his murderous deeds at Peterloo: O’Connor saw to that.

177 years on from that day, Manchester is alive with the memory of Peterloo in a way that could not have been expected 100 years ago when the centenary was commemorated by informal gatherings of those like the Independent Labour Party. In 1919, World War One had not long finished and working people (excluding most women) now had the vote but little power and few resources. Civic society remained class-bound and Peterloo was seen as a working class revolt, separate from those that ran the country and ill-suited to a collective celebration.

We live (at least for now) in different times. There remains so much to be done in the field of human rights and equality that the newer burdens of climate destruction and popularism and our own torture of Brexit seem to overwhelm. It is a good time to remember Peterloo and it is always a good time to recall a brave fight for justice. As we all watch the scenes from Hong Kong, a 2019 fight for universal suffrage and democracy against an unyielding foe that believes itself above the law, we know that much of the world remains as this country was 200 years ago. As we read surveys that show young people might prefer a type of leader that runs roughshod over democracy, it is a good time to remember the fight for democracy and the vote and the reasons it was always held to be so vital. For those put into positions of power quickly assume the mantle provided and rarely, if ever, remain uncorrupted. Without the checks and balances that democracy (via universal suffrage) provides, the risk of deprivations for the majority grows. It is why Peterloo must remain in our memories as one of the most important events in our history, why the ripples of Peterloo must always wash over us.

  • Amongst Books on Peterloo, please read: Robert Poole, Peterloo, The English Uprising; Peterloo, Witnesses to a Massacre (Polyp, Eva Schlunke – a graphic representation); Peterloo, the Story of the Manchester Massacre, Jacqueline Riding.
  • My book, All the People, is due for publication on 28 February 2020.

Transcript of part of O’Connor’s editorial:

And this was the way the middle-class men

of Manchester and Cheshire, the ” Yeomanry”

served a peaceable and unarmed people, seeking to

petition For a Reform in the system of Representation!

These were the terms of  theUnion between

the middle and labouring class at that period.

This was the way one class, bleated, ‘blustering,’ big,

and inflated with gin and pride.—brandy and arrogance;

this was the way they attempted to prove

 the ” interests of the two classes are identical’ ‘ !

and that the middle classes are the ” natural leaders

and protectors of the labouring portion of ihe community”

! O ! how arrogant, how puffed-up with

pride, they were then! How they sneered, and

scoffed, and turned up the nose of affected contempt !

How they gloated and glorified over the blood they had

shed—the suffering they had caused—the life they had

sacrificed! What ” heroes ” they then were!

Where are they now How many of them are

Yeomen now? How many of them have been able to

keep out of the Gazette, or out of the Insolvent

List? How many of them have been able to keep out

of the workhouse ? And how many of them have cut

their throats, or hanged themselves! Where is the

 amongst them that would now glory in the

bloody deeds be then committed? Where is the

thing amongst them that would not give his ears to

have his name erased from the damning record—the

list of the “heroes”; of Peterloo?! It is in vain , however,

that he so wishes ! The character in which those

names are written are those of blood. They cannot be

washed out, but by the waters of Justice  and those

have not yet been applied,—or Thistlewood, Ings,

Brunt, and Tidd would not have been the last

men Executed and BEHEADED in England for

High Treason !!! No ; the names are not to be

obliterated from the bloody list ! Here it is

Let the actors of the fiendish deeds of 1819 feast

their eyes upon it ! !!

Names, of the Manchester Yeomanry on the 16th of

August 1819:

Hugh Hornby Birley, Commander…………………

A People’s Charter for Fair Voting

 

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Fair Voting

Changes in the way we vote operate on a geological scale in this country. The ‘40 shilling   franchise’, that gave the vote to all men in England and Wales who were property freeholders valued at or above 40 shillings, was introduced under Henry VI in 1430 and was not overturned until the ‘Great Reform Act’ of 1832, a wait of 402 years!

185 years’ later, on 30th October, 2017, there was a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall on the merits of Proportional Representation. It was inspired by a public petition of one hundred thousand electronic signatures via email. Petitions to the King in England were introduced under the reign of Edward I around 1275, another ancient method. Yet, they were not commonly used by the general public on any large scale until the Chartists’ pursuit of the People’s Charter. After Peterloo, which will commemorate its 200th anniversary on 16th August, 2019, the Chartists attempted to gain universal suffrage with the 6 demands of the People’s Charter and brought forward several petitions to the House of Commons. These included millions of signatures, written on vast sheaves of paper and carried to the House of Commons by armies of volunteers that stretched several miles along the route to Parliament. These marches were major events in themselves, bringing out tens or hundreds of thousands of working people, waved on by large street crowds, still disenfranchised by the 1832 Act that gave the vote only to around 5% of the population (adding the capitalist class to the landowners). Each petition resulted in a debate in Parliament but, each was summarily dismissed by a ruling elite that would not relinquish power to those that they considered beneath them. The last Chartist Petition under their ‘leader’, Feargus O’Connor, was in 1848 and the cry for universal suffrage was defeated with no further extension to the vote until 1867.

Move forward 150 years and the result of the latest petition will, in the short term, be no change and no parliamentary debate on the floor of the House of Commons but the arguments for PR that were heard in Westminster Hall clearly outflanked those (mainly C/conservative) opponents.

It was not just the voting system but it is clear that democracy itself was being debated just as it was 200 years ago when Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt was speaking to a crowd of one hundred thousand in St Peter’s Fields in Manchester. The resultant charge of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry that murdered around twenty and injured hundreds was named ‘Peterloo’ to resonate with the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

It is now ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP) system that is on trial. FPTP has been our system for election to the Commons from at least 1430 but where, as the six demands of the People’s Charter of 1837 showed, democracy was only available to a few. In the 180 years after the People’s Charter was written, gradual changes have been made so that, once registered, every citizen of eighteen years and over has the right to vote in a local constituency, of which there are 650. The candidate with the most votes wins a constituency – a situation that remains the same as in 1832 (or even 1430) except that the votes are now by secret ballot. The winner of most ‘seats’ has a majority in the House of Commons. What could be wrong with that?

What is wrong is that ‘Winner-takes-all’, constituency-by-constituency, disenfranchises the vast majority of voters. The Electoral Reform Society calculated in 2015 that 74% of votes cast in the General Election were completely wasted as they are either votes for the losing party or votes for the winning party that exceeds the amount needed to win. Since I was first able to vote (at the 1974 General Election, when living in Manchester, when the Party I supported, the Liberals, gained 19.3% of the votes and only 13 seats!), I have not, at any General Election since, believed that my vote counted for anything – my preferred candidate has always lost! This is a form of disenfranchisement that results in reduced voter turnout, tactical voting that requires voters to vote for a second party to unseat their least favoured, protest voting in bye-elections and referendums (the Brexit vote has been viewed as, at least in part, such a protest) and a sense of voter irrelevance. So, despite having the ability to place a cross against a political party, the feeling is that the action is useless. At a time when the traditional two-party system is under siege, this results in the largest two parties obtaining government with lower votes than ever. It is a reason that Non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) are more popular than before because people believe that the political party system is not one where their vote counts and that pressure points have to be obtained through other means.

Of course, it is even worse than this because many of the individual constituencies are in areas where particular parties have had complete control for many years: Labour in inner-city heartlands, Tories in rural areas. Voting in these areas is akin to the rotten boroughs of the 1820’s so that anointed individuals take up their seats without the need to strive for election.

This leads to parties putting their efforts primarily in those constituencies that are properly contestable, where the luck of location means that more than one party has a chance of success. In these seats, just a change of a few percentage points can mean success. It can be easily argued that just a few thousand people in the whole country decide general elections. The fight for votes in the UK comes down to far less than 5% of the population, the situation that existed prior to 1832.

Of course, no system is perfect. The UK needs a system where every vote can count but there is a desire in this country to hang onto constituency representatives that work for that constituency. That entails a well-thought out plan for a form of proportional representation. The Jenkins Commission in 1997 produced a system that attempted to combine the benefits of constituency and proportionality but, after support from the Labour opposition, came to nothing when Labour gained power.

Will the UK ever achieve an improved form of democracy when those in power get there through FPTP? Is there enough pressure from the public that will drive politicians to proportional representation and change the system that has endured since 1430? Perhaps we need a charter for democracy in 2017. The People’s Charter of 1837 did not bring the Chartists universal suffrage but all except one of its demands (annual elections) have been met. What the People’s Charter did not envisage was that better forms of communication (even O’Connor’s Northern Star newspaper was no match for today’s online communication revolution) would engender the ability of so many viewpoints to be held and argued over that leads to the increased number of political parties. We now need a voting system that re-enfranchises all the people and also motivates people to become active participants in the election process.

 

We need a People’s Charter for Fair Voting.

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